Mystery shopping or a mystery consumer or secret shopper, is a tool used externally by market research companies, watchdog organizations, or internally by companies themselves to measure quality of service, or compliance with regulation, or to gather specific information about products and services. The mystery consumer's specific identity and purpose is generally not known by the establishment being evaluated.
Mystery shoppers perform specific tasks such as purchasing a product, asking questions, registering complaints or behaving in a certain way, and then provide detailed reports or feedback about their experiences.
Person (Mystery shoppers) hired by a market research firm or a manufacturer to visit retail stores, posing as a casual shopper to collect information about the stores' display, prices, and quality of their sales staff. The stores have mystery shoppers and restaurants have food critics.
When a client company hires a company providing mystery shopping services, a survey model will be drawn up and agreed to. It defines what information and improvement factors the client company wishes to measure. These are then drawn up into survey instruments and assignments that are allocated to shoppers registered with the mystery shopping company.
The details and information points shoppers take note of typically include:
- number of employees in the store on entering
- how long it takes before the mystery shopper is greeted
- the name of the employees
- whether or not the greeting is friendly, ideally according to objective measures
- the questions asked by the shopper to find a suitable product
- the types of products shown
- the sales arguments used by the employee
- whether or how the employee attempted to close the sale
- whether the employee suggested any add-on sales
- whether the employee invited the shopper to come back to the store
- cleanliness of store and store associates
- speed of service
- compliance with company standards relating to service, store appearance, and grooming/presentation
- integrity check by giving bribes etc
Shoppers are often given instructions or procedures to make the transaction atypical to make the test of the knowledge and service skills of the employees more stringent or specific to a particular service issue (known as scenarios). For instance, mystery shoppers at a restaurant may pretend they are lactose-intolerant, or a clothing store mystery shopper could inquire about gift wrapping services. Not all mystery shopping scenarios include a purchase.
While gathering information, shoppers usually blend in as regular shoppers at the store being evaluated. They may be required to take photographs or measurements, return purchases, or count the number of products, seats, and people during the visit. A timer or a stopwatch may be required to measure the speed of service.
After the visit the shopper submits the data collected to the mystery shopping company, which reviews and analyzes the information, completing quantitative or qualitative statistical analysis reports on the data for the client company. This allows for a comparison on how the stores or restaurants are doing against previously defined criteria.
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