Mystery shopping is a research tool used by market research companies, watchdog organisations, and companies themselves to gather information about products and/or services, customer service standards, compliance with regulations or promotions and more.
Before visiting a store, mystery shoppers receive a detailed brief or questionnaire to understand and remember. After visiting each store, the mystery shopper completes a questionnaire that is used to prepare reports on the shopping experience.
Companies who mystery shop use the information gathered by the mystery shoppers to help them make business decisions. A number of different people within each organisation read the reports shoppers write up on their experience.
Companies generally mystery shop in ‘cycles’. Some businesses have their stores mystery shopped in monthly cycles, whilst others shop on a quarterly or just when they need them. The frequency of shops within each ‘cycle’ can also vary from weeks to as little as a few days. Mystery shops can be required to be completed on certain days of the week or times of the day depending on what the business wants the shoppers to check.
The mystery shopper themselves are often given instructions to the make the transaction atypical to make the testing of the employees service skills more stringent or relevant to a service issue that the business may be having. In addition to this, shoppers will often blend in the crowd of regular shoppers while they are evaluating. They might be required to take photographs or measurements, return purchases, or count the number of shoppers in the store at the time. Also, they may be required to use a timer or a stopwatch.
The rate of pay for each assignment depends on the complexity of the questionnaire and what the shopper has to do. The pay rate is determined based on the complexity of the assignment, length of time taken to complete it and whether a purchase is required.
Mystery shopping projects are extremely deadline driven. The project cycle does not end when mystery shoppers have submitted their reports – there are further steps which need to occur before a report can be generated to a business.
What also needs to be remembered is that the results supplied by mystery shopping organisations should only be used for the advantage of employees. In other words, employees should not be sacked over the way that they perform when they are being assessed by a mystery shopper as it is an inappropriate use of data. However, there have been instances where an employee has been fired on the basis of the returned data.