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The One Thing Everybody Gets Wrong About Mystery Shopping
Matthias Marino
The One Thing Everybody Gets Wrong About Mystery Shopping
The more data we have the better, right?


Actually the more data, the more problems…
Problems for the mystery shopper who is supposed to gather that data.
We make the mystery shoppers jump all over the place (metaphorically), asking questions just because they are on a spreadsheet whether or not it makes sense in the situation.

We give the mystery shoppers an endless list of items to check in order to cover "everything".

There is this idea that we have to collect as much data as possible during a mystery shopping visit, so we cram every last question we can think of into a checklist.

But have we stopped to think why? Do we actually need "everything" and do we really evaluate what we think we are?
The Fallacy:
Prioritising quantity over quality of information.

We have to remember what we are trying to achieve: gaining insights into the real experience customers have when they interact with our brands. These insights are only valuable if the interactions are authentic.

Let's just imagine:

You're the mystery shopper:
You walk into the store to buy some running shoes, you select a pair, you try them on, you ask about the features and how they will benefit your workout routine, ….so far so good…
now you go to buy them and suddenly you ask about gift wrapping… why?
Do you want to gift them to yourself? Unlikely…

But you have to ask, because the company wants to know about that part of the experience, whether it fits this specific journey or not. You also have to ask about the loyalty system and the website and if you can return the shoes online and in-store and special offers, shoes for men, women and children and and and… you get the point.
Let's recap:

You're given a set of a thousand questions unrelated to the actual experience you have in the store in order to tick all the boxes.

Because you have so much ground to cover, you don't wait for the sales assistant to say anything from their side and bombard them with questions about every conceivable thing: What are your opening hours? What is the story behind the company logo? How many different payment methods do you accept?

While you're at it why not ask him about the meaning of life and where your socks disappear to when you put them in the washing machine… you will get equally meaningful results.

You wouldn't behave like that in a store and that means neither should our mystery shoppers. Otherwise we stop evaluating authentic interactions, but rather cheap copies that are closer to a role play exercise during a training workshop.

If we send the mystery shoppers into a store with a laundry list of questions they need to evaluate, it will be impossible for them to behave naturally and have anything resembling a normal customer experience.

Continue reading below the break for the other way we end up making the same mistake
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Don't get testy with me!
(my apologies for the bad pun)

There is another way we end up making the same mistake.
Here is an example I come across all the time:

Mystery shoppers asking about the loyalty system, how it works, what the benefits are etc instead of giving the sales assistant the opportunity to introduce the loyalty system themselves and seeing what information they give without being prompted.

We end up staging a weird quiz to test the sales assistant's knowledge.

Isn't it much more important to measure what actual customers are being told about the loyalty system and if they are told anything at all!

Too often we look at our training manuals and use them as a blueprints for mystery shopping surveys. But the survey should assess what the customer experiences, not test the memory of our staff. Whether they remember to rattle down some facts when prompted has exactly zero impact on the average customer.

I'll illustrate the issue with another example:

One of the most common issues we face is that sales staff are trained to do x but do not do it in real life. There can be many different reasons for this, however often we find a simple root cause:

We might have taught them what to do/say but not how.

They may know exactly what is expected of them, but they don't do it, because they don't feel equipped with the right tools, the confidence and the experience.

Now if I send mystery shoppers in to test the staff's knowledge I will be none the wiser, as they know all the theory – what we need to test is what happens in practice, with real customers, when the manager is not around.

More often than not, we find that the loyalty system is never even mentioned at all…
Here are a few points to consider for your next mystery shopping program
Limit the amount of questions to what is actually relevant to the customer experience
Don't ask questions an normal customer wouldn't ask either
Only ask questions that make sense in the context of the visit
Don't test your staff's knowledge, but understand their real behaviour