27 Oct, 2014
Mystery shopping trips being conducted every month in the UK for both large nationwide stores and smaller, local businesses. In most cases mystery shoppers treat it as a part-time job and sign up as a mystery shopper as a way of enjoying meals out, nights away or even just to get a little retail therapy.
Participants specify their areas of interest, location, whether they can drive and so on before then visit a business, posing as a customer. The mystery shopper will usually buy something with the cost of which they are reimbursed for (up to a certain value). Depending on the mystery shopping company people may also be paid a small amount – somewhere between £5 and £20.
When the mystery shopper goes on an assignment they will focus on the areas that are important to the client. Some businesses want to make sure locations are clean and tidy while others might want to make sure staff are providing the right level of customer service. The mystery shopper may record the visit on a smartphone or hidden camera and after the visit will write a report on their experience.
In terms of rewards, some earn as much as £40,000 per annum. However, for the majority the benefit lies in getting free products, such as restaurant meals, cosmetics or hotel visits.
The primary benefit to business is that it gives companies the opportunity to see their company through the eyes of their customers, providing an impartial assessment. Reading the mystery shopping reports and watching the video recordings highlights areas where operations are going well but also where they can be improved.
Companies that are trying to achieve ISO certification sometimes use mystery shoppers as part of a gap analysis exercise to help identify which areas of the business require addressing in order to achieve the ISO 9001 Quality Management Standard. Mystery shopping provides senior management with an objective evaluation of how staff are performing in real life situations. This can then be used to tackle training issues and also recognise staff for excellent performance.
Another, perhaps lesser known use of mystery shopping is to better understand competitors’ operations. Companies sometimes commission surveys into how other businesses in their sector work, which can point to strengths in the service offering but also weaknesses, which may need be addressed.
Critics argue that it is fake and outdated as they may not be looking for the things that real customers pay attention to. Some companies have used alternative methods of gathering customer feedback such as asking actual customers but this can cause a distortion in the results if done in the heat of the moment and can also mean employees raise their performance if customer feedback is being gathered for a period of time which will again distort the findings. Furthermore, the process of collating and analysing all this data can be time consuming.
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For a more detailed description of what mystery shopping entails, click here.
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