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Mystery Shopping: What is it and what are its benefits?


Mystery Shopping is an important resource for any company that wants to improve the level of customer satisfaction, increasing the quality of the products and, in general, the consumer experience. This is achieved through a real evaluation of the sales process, assuming the customer's perspective.

For this, the figure of the Mystery Shopper is used, also known as a 'mystery customer', 'ghost customer' or 'incognito customer'. It is a classic methodology within market research, born in 1940, which is quite useful when applied professionally and you know exactly the type of information you want to collect.

The person acting as the Mystery Shopper will have to follow certain rules, codes of conduct, and manage some technical questions. In essence, he is a researcher who goes to the company's points of sale and performs the complete purchase process, with the aim of detecting the strengths and weaknesses of the organization from the consumer's perspective.

What is Mystery Shopping?

Mystery Shopping is a market research methodology that consists of using the figure of the 'Mystery Shopper', who is in charge of visiting a company's point of sale, interacting with sellers and making a purchase or consumption of different products and services.

Meanwhile, it conducts observation exercises on the operation of the commercial and information services of the company in question. These exercises are completed according to certain parameters that are established by the company in charge of the study, and can even be commissioned by the competition.

Unlike other investigation methodologies such as the Focus Group, information is not collected from real clients, but rather an undercover agent who has been specially trained to offer a critical opinion, based on the observation of the sales process, is used.

Based on the information obtained by the Mystery Shopper, who works as an evaluating agent, the company has the possibility of obtaining feedback that allows it to redefine its sales strategies, raise the quality of customer service, improve products or services and apply innovations to increase the customer base and business profits.

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Who uses Mystery Shopping and what kind of information do they collect?

It is a research tool used by companies that depend on the correct functioning of a network of commercial establishments or points of sale, in which sales transactions and customer service are carried out. Businesses such as pharmacies, gas stations, fashion and footwear, banks, restaurants and supermarkets use this technique.

For the collection of information, different work instruments are used, mainly a questionnaire with objective questions, which the Mystery Shopper will have to complete once the observation has been made, to report on the experience. In addition, they have a manual that provides support and guidance in the event of any eventuality.

Correctly designing the questionnaire is crucial for the investigation to deliver the desired results. It should evaluate in an organized and objective way the essential aspects about the customer's experience, through criteria that the investigation leader must provide to the Mystery Shopper directly.

Some of the criteria developed in the questionnaire are usually the following:

  • Number of people in the establishment dedicated to customer service.

  • Greetings and farewells.

  • Customer way to the product they need.

  • Matters related to the environment (lighting, order and arrangement of items, cleanliness).

  • Neatness, friendliness and interaction of employees with the customer.

  • Speed at which the service is rendered.

  • Time spent by the customer during the payment process.

A well-known example of the application of this technique is the case of Microsoft in Spain. In 2005, the company carried out a Mystery Shopper campaign on 4,330 of its points of sale, discovering that 41% of these were installing fraudulent copies of its computer programs, and initiating legal action against 400 of them.

Development of a Mystery Shopping study

The steps to be followed to carry out a market study using this methodology are summarized as follows:

  • Establish a strategy.. It is essential that the objectives of the study are defined and the most effective strategies are recognized to determine the level of customer satisfaction based on their expectations of the brand.

  • Consider all the factors that can influence the study.. It is necessary to define the target audience and based on that information, proceed to create the rules and guidelines that will direct the market study carried out with the help of the Mystery Shopper.

  • Create an assessment tool. A tool is required that allows formally evaluating the visit and the interaction with the brand, this being the way to recognize if the study offers a solution to the objectives set.

  • Present hypothetical situations. Investigators who work as Mystery Shoppers must be trained so that they know how to respond and cope with certain situations, ensuring the quality of the results.

  • Final analysis of the study. . A set of preliminary questions, a hypothesis, and a list of issues to be addressed must be posed. By doing it this way, there will be a route that makes it easier to validate the results obtained.

Benefits obtained with the Mystery Shopping methodology

This research strategy is effective for any company or brand that wants to have a broad, real and detailed vision of the customer experience within the commercial establishments of its business or those of the competition. With the data obtained, it is possible to face the problems and provide effective solutions.

Without a doubt, Mystery Shopping is an essential technique to improve customer service and discover weaknesses that can negatively affect the purchase decision, identifying areas for improvement on which to work on.

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