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The Hidden Value of Mystery Shopping

Entering discreetly, she carries a carefully concealed script in her pocket, or perhaps she’s opted for typed notes on her smartphone, subtly checking them like messages. Monitoring the aisles, she times how long it takes for store associates to greet her and observes the manager’s efficiency in resolving purchasing issues. Her discerning eye scans for expired signs or items lacking clear pricing, and she discreetly inspects bathrooms and store aisles for merchandise arrangement.

Occasionally, you may spot her in diverse locations such as bars, nightclubs, mortgage companies, and ride-sharing vehicles, discreetly evaluating work policy practices. A puzzle to employees and most managers, her physical description remains unknown to the retail headquarters that hired her. They only confirm her presence through video cameras if they bother to check.

Meet the mystery shopping solution provider, often hired by corporate headquarters or store owners to assess the performance of their locations. In the era of technology and store survey receipts, the question arises: Is mystery shopping becoming a lost art?

What Does A Mystery Shopper Do?

The role is encapsulated in the name: a mystery shopper quietly and efficiently shops to later vocalize her findings. Whether she’s a window shopper or makes substantial purchases, she seamlessly blends in with the regular crowd. Earnings for a mystery shopper vary based on the volume of work, similar to freelancers. Some are compensated with free apparel or products, akin to Amazon Vine reviewers.

Unlike online reviewers or window shoppers, mystery shoppers physically visit locations or make human-to-human calls. Their earnings can range from a few hundred dollars to five digits with consistent work. Companies like Secret Shopper estimate payments for a single assignment to be between $12 and $25. Mystery shoppers can undertake various tasks, from recorded phone calls to in-person assessments.

Mystery shoppers, contractually independent from the store and its employees, aim to provide neutral opinions, assisting retailers in gaining a comprehensive understanding of their entire operation, including managers.

Are Mystery Shoppers Still Relevant?

In the age of review platforms like Yelp, Google Reviews, SurveyMonkey, Facebook feedback, and the Better Business Bureau, customers can easily express their experiences. Retailers may wonder why they should pay mystery shoppers when customers willingly share their thoughts through surveys and reviews.

However, mystery shoppers and regular customers serve different purposes. Mystery shoppers commit to providing detailed reports through inspection checklists based on specific criteria outlined by the company, while regular customers primarily want to make purchases and leave. According to Forbes, a significant percentage of customers prefer to voluntarily reach out rather than participate in surveys.

Mystery shop assignments can take varying durations, from a few minutes to over an hour, as determined by the company’s requirements. The mystery shopper is aware of the complete assignment before starting.

Do Retailers Still Utilize Mystery Shoppers?

The actual number of mystery shoppers remains unknown, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating around 4,800 in recent years. Contractually bound to maintain anonymity during the shop, mystery shoppers risk disqualification if their identity is revealed. Mystery shopping research companies typically avoid assigning the same shopper to the same location to prevent familiarity and bias in their analysis. In the age of social media, remaining discreet about their affiliations is crucial for mystery shoppers to secure repeat assignments.

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