Why Mystery Shopping Is The Key To Better Overall Store Management

Measuring Conditions Vs. Engagement
A recent post of ours struck a chord with quite a few readers. The question we raised (How can brands excel at both store conditions and customer engagement?) confounds retailers in every category.

Hundreds of times a day, associates must decide where to direct their attention and energy. If managers prioritize the in-store environment, associates will, too.

Customers, meanwhile, are left to do their own thing. A completely forgettable experience. So many opportunities lost!

But this needn’t be the case.
The fact is, store management is not a zero-sum game. An appealing store doesn’t have to happen at the expense of engagement, or vice versa. You can create an all-around exceptional customer experience. You just need the right tools.

Done Right, Mystery Shopping Is the Most Useful Tool Out There

“You might not blink at spending $500 per month in advertising, but balk at spending a fraction of that on measuring customers’ experience in your store.” – Bob Phibbs

Of the three major customer research tools that benefit retailers—mystery shopping, customer satisfaction surveys (CSATs), and customer intercepts—mystery shopping is far and away the most revealing and actionable. It’s also the most frequently misunderstood.

It’s Not the Customer’s Perspective (and That’s Good)

Many retailers rely exclusively on the CSAT to evaluate the customer experience, citing its relatively low cost. (For the price of one mystery shop per month, per location, retailers can get 30-50 CSAT responses.)

Certainly, the CSAT is a great (and necessary) way to gauge customer impressions and determine whether you’re meeting expectations. But mystery shopping, by design, provides unique benefits that CSATs can’t. That’s why, given consumers’ sky-high expectations, retailers can’t afford not to mystery shop.

  • Mystery shopping is objective. Mystery shoppers are impartial third-party observers whose sole purpose is to report on store conditions and associate behaviors. They have no stake in the brand’s performance, and they don’t make value judgments. When it comes to survey results, there’s no reading between the lines; what you see is what you get.
  • Mystery shopping is precise. Mystery shoppers look for specific conditions and actions, such as suggestive selling, that customers shouldn’t be asked about, may not recall, and likely can’t speak to. The level of detail mystery shopping surveys provide allows retailers to pinpoint deficiencies, uncover patterns, and draw actionable conclusions.
  • Unlike CSATs, which probe customers’ feelings and impressions, mystery shopping definitively answers the big questions: Are desired behaviors happening, or not? And are they happening consistently, across locations?
  • Mystery shopping is tailored to corporate goals. Planned and executed correctly, mystery shopping is a blueprint for success. It makes clear to managers and employees what corporate expects of them, and by doing so, it encourages those behaviors. It also helps retailers improve their training (by targeting weaknesses revealed in the surveys), put new customer experience initiatives to the test, and boost revenues.

It’s Not Always Executed Well (and That’s Unfortunate)

Not all mystery shopping programs are worth the spend. In fact, the false picture that flawed programs provide can be detrimental to a brand’s image and bottom line.

Flawed mystery shopping programs tend to share common features. Shoppers themselves might be poorly vetted and trained. Survey questions might be poorly worded. Or survey results aren’t properly analyzed.

These are the programs that give mystery shopping a bad name.

The Difference Is in the Details

Over the years, we’ve been surprised at how few mystery shopping providers actually break down, and appropriately weight, each piece of the customer experience. A blanket mystery shopping score that doesn’t distinguish between conditions and engagement has little value for retailers.

In our analyses, we separate associate behaviors from store conditions. Because customer engagement is a bigger driver of customer loyalty, we weight it more heavily in our scoring.

Once our clients understand what’s really driving their mystery shopping scores, they can effectively communicate to store managers and staff what needs to be done. Clear direction from above, along with the knowledge that mystery shoppers may visit at any time, is what empowers and motivates in-store teams to excel on all fronts.

Where Do You Stand?

We believe mystery shopping is uniquely valuable, and most effective when used in conjunction with CSATs and customer intercept interviews. If CSATs and intercepts give you the “what” (what customers think of you), mystery shopping shows you the “why” (the diagnosis). And that “why” is the key to better store management, greater mindshare, and growing market share.