Mystery Shopping, also known as Secret Shopping is a marketing research technique that is used by companies to evaluate the performance of their products or services in an uncontrolled environment.

The company that wishes to conduct the research usually hires a mystery shopper to carry out specific tasks and assignments or delegates this assignment to a marketing research firm.

A mystery shopper is a certified individual who visits the specified location, where the staff is unaware of her identity. Mystery shoppers may be required to make a purchase, ask questions, lodge complaints, observe employee behavior, or comport himself in such a way as to evoke a certain reaction.

Reasons for Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopping, introduced in the 1940s as a way for companies to measure the integrity of their employees, has become a much used tool as the marketing emphasis has shifted largely to focus on customer satisfaction. While almost all industries can avail themselves of this innovative research method, service industries tend to use it the most.

Retail stores, restaurants, hotels, banks, medical facilities, movie theaters, and health clubs are some of the most popular places where mystery shopping is carried out. Often, mystery shoppers are also used to evaluate the performance of non-profit organizations such as shelters, churches, orphanages, and other charitable organizations.

Mystery shopping can assist companies in their quality improvement initiatives.  Mystery shopping can provide them with essential information that can aid them in improving their products, services, or business practices. Mystery shoppers interact with both the customers and the employees and extract a strategic insight into the perceived levels of quality. Mystery shoppers can also be used to evaluate competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.

How it Works

A client or the research company furnishes a well-defined survey model that specifies the areas that need to be evaluated and provides a complete description of tasks that mystery shoppers need to perform. Often, time limits and timing points are also indicated.

Generally companies use shoppers to evaluate service times and delivery speed, the number of employees and their behavior, their knowledge regarding different questions, their compliance with company standards, and the cleanliness of the location. Since these criteria are qualitative in nature, the company provides a basic standard example for all of them.

After her visit, the mystery shopper is required to fill out a questionnaire or write a detailed report. Often, she may be required to submit both. She can also be asked to obtain a partial or complete video or audio recording of her trip.

Mystery shopping is quickly becoming a lucrative career choice for people looking for flexible part-time or full-time work. In order to become a qualified mystery shopper, a certification is required from the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). Companies pay mystery shoppers contingent on the specific information required to be obtained and its accuracy. Companies also reimburse these shoppers for any purchases that are made in the course of their assignment.

Mystery shopping may be an effective tool to measure both consumer and employee satisfaction, especially for service-oriented industries. It may allow businesses to successfully improve their services and practices.

Case Study

In the summer of 2014 SIS International Research conducted a multi-country quantitative pricing study in the automotive industry sector. The main objective of this study was to research official dealer prices of specified car parts in the aftersales market.

The client wanted to get a feeling of the price range of usual car parts which are being sold in both the Independent Aftersales Market (IAM) as well as in the Original Manufacturer Market (OEM). IAM are independent workshops as for instance ATU or Pit Stop in Germany. OEM workshops are officially authorized workshops of the original vehicle manufacturers like for instance of BMW, Audi or Mercedes.

The study was global involving data collection in eight different countries which were the UK, Ireland, France, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. A very tight time frame of roughly 6-7 weeks per country with a simultaneously start date of all countries increased the overall complexity of this study. In addition, the overall volume per country, speaking of approximately 11,000 prices per country presented opportunities and challenges.

In summary, SIS was able to support the client in this demanding, multi-country quantitative study successfully. Continuous communication, direct project management and quality assurance tools all strengthened and enhanced the execution of this project.