Add mystery shopping to your toolbox

A few years ago, I became a victim of the stagnating economy.  Messages of condolence followed, including one from a former boss of mine.  She expressed her sympathies and explained she might have a line on some part-part-time work, if I was interested.  Intrigued, I took the bait and wrote her back.

It was then that she revealed that she had a secret hobby.

She was a mystery shopper.

And more baffling, she LIKED it.

She explained that mystery shopping might be a way for me to enjoy some leisure pursuits while getting paid to do so.  Sounds good, right?

I signed up and found a campaign evaluating a movie theatre.  Sounded great – I just had to make sure that the ticket takers were wearing their proper hats, the popcorn was not burnt, submit a report, and I would get to see the movie for free!

… after they refunded you two months later…and if you can make the Wednesday Matinee (starting in 10 minutes)…and if you pass the pre-qualifying quiz…


Fortunately, I returned to the land of the employed before too long, and promptly forgot all about mystery shopping.

I didn’t think about it again until I read “New Profits in Wireless Retailing” by Ed Legum.  Ed devotes several pages to mystery shopping.  Turns out it is a great tool for any retailer to have in their toolbox.  And most importantly, you can do it yourself.

Legum suggests you don your mystery shopper cap, and head out to evaluate your competitors.  Seeing how they do business is a great way to identify areas for improvement in your own business.

Some things to look for include:

  • What products and services do they sell?  How do they project their image?
  • What do their displays look like?
  • How knowledgeable/helpful are their salespeople?
  • Did they answer your questions?  Would you buy from them?

Identify questions that are relevant to your business, and create a report card for each store you visit.  This is a quick way to determine how you stack up to the competition.

Definitely much more rewarding than a free movie.

Have you used mystery shopping in your business?  Was it a useful exercise?


Posted on December 13, 2011, in 'We Get Retail' Business Tips and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. A well run mystery shopper program is an excellent information gathering and training tool in a retail store. A poorly run mystery shopper program, however, will set your employee engagement back a great deal if you aren’t careful. Every single retailer I have worked for has developed and implemented a secret shopper program. I have seen tremendous benefit gained from programs that are properly aligned with the key performance indicators of the business. A good program will line up directly with the training that is developed and delivered to the store teams.
    Unfortunately, more often than not, I have seen programs that have caused disengagement among managers and store staff. Too often the secret shopper companies hire folks who are more interested in the freebies or perks than they are in giving a thorough and consistent report of the shopper experience. It is also very difficult to hold your associates accountable to a secret shopper report if the shopper get’s the name of the employee wrong. More than once we have received reports with the name of an associate that isn’t even on staff. The result is that the store teams feel as if the shops are not even valid. You then lose engagement with the process which makes training any issues that arise a much bigger mountain to climb.
    I say absolutely implement a secrety shopper program, just be smart about how you do it.

    • Thanks for your comments Tina. I hadn’t considered the dis-engagement factor, but I could see how it could happen. Would you say that secret shopping initiatives are more successful when businesses develop it themselves, vs going with a “out of the box” service? Or can an “out of the box” service do ok if the proper information is passed along to the shoppers?

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