[RETHINK Retail] — She walks in the door with a carefully hidden script in her pocket. Or, maybe she’s typed notes in her smartphone, glancing at them occasionally as though she’s checking texts or emails. She checks her watch to see how long it takes store associates to greet her in the aisles. She keeps track of how long it takes a manager to resolve a purchasing problem. She looks for expired signs or apparel with no clear pricing on it. She peeks her head in bathrooms and in store aisles to see if the merchandise is arranged neatly.
Sometimes you’ll even find her in bars, nightclubs, mortgage companies and ride-sharing vehicles, observing their work policy practices too. She’s a mystery to the employees and almost all of the managers. The company that hired her knows she’s human, usually from a background check or a copy of her license, but even the retail headquarters couldn’t tell you her physical description. They just know she was there after she leaves, if they bother to check the video cameras to verify her arrival and departure times.
She’s a mystery shopper, and corporate headquarters (or store owners) often hire her to see if their store locations are up to par. But in the age of technology and store survey receipts, is mystery shopping becoming a lost art?
What exactly do mystery shoppers do?
Their job description is in their name: A mystery shopper is someone who shops quietly and efficiently in order to be very vocal about her results. She may be a window shopper or buy a bag full of items, so she knows how to blend in with every other shopper in the store.
She walks into her assignment already armed with a list of the client’s expectations of what’s supposed to occur. Things like:
- Was she greeted within the first minute of entering?
- Did the greeting include a smile and eye contact?
- Was the greeting sincere?
- Was she asked open-ended questions, NOT “can I help you”?
- Was she directed to what she was looking for or escorted?
- Was there good product knowledge shared?
- Were other items suggested in such a manner that would be helpful?
- And so on………
So basically, mystery shoppers know your required deliverables, the ones you have spent thousands of dollars and time training on, to make sure they are happening on a consistent basis.
Retailers can pay mystery shoppers to complete a variety of assignments, including recorded phone calls to their own businesses or recorded calls to competitors. While retail stores can hire managers to listen to recorded calls or utilize those same managers to resolve consumer disputes, store owners’ and headquarters run into a brick wall when they’re not sure that the source of store problems (or money loss) is with those same managers. They also may lose money by paying managers to do these types of tasks when their time could better be served in other parts of the stores’ daily needs.
Mystery shoppers contractually have no affiliation to the store nor any employees who work there. So, their opinions (ideally) are neutral with a goal of helping retailers receive a holistic approach of the entire store, managers included.
Are mystery shoppers still necessary in today’s economy?
With review sites such as Yelp, Google Reviews, SurveyMonkey, Facebook feedback and the Better Business Bureau, customers have the option of sounding off whenever they have a pleasant or uncomfortable experience in retail stores. Customers even have the option of sharing their thoughts with the store by completing surveys listed on the bottom of receipts. So why pay a mystery shopper to do it?
Retailers may not understand that these are two unique groups of people who are both providing their opinions. A mystery shopper has already agreed to give a detailed report about whatever the company needs to learn more information about. A customer taking a survey is sharing an opinion but not providing detailed facts so that the service opportunities can be solved, only made aware of.
According to OpinionLab via Forbes, 66 percent of customers prefer to voluntarily reach out on their own instead of doing surveys. Approximately 72 percent feel surveys (usually pop-ups) get in the way of their online shopping. Eighty percent don’t even bother completing a survey they’ve started. And 52 percent won’t spend more than three minutes on any survey. Retail stores also don’t always do the best job of announcing the winners of store survey contests, leaving customers wondering if anybody actually did win.
Meanwhile, a mystery shop assignment can take anywhere from a few minutes to more than an hour. It is entirely up to the company to decide how long the mystery shopper needs to be at the retail facility and how much feedback needs to be given in order to confirm the mystery shop is complete. The mystery shopper knows the complete assignment ahead of time.