Mystery Shopping: definition, process, strengths and weaknesses

January 23, 2020

Mystery Shopping

Mystery Shopping – Definition

The term Mystery Shopping describes a method of testing the quality of services in which previously trained persons act as normal customers. These “normal customers” then evaluate the quality of the experienced service based on defined criteria. Testers can be amateurs in the field of services, but also experts. As a rule, test buyers are placed by agencies specializing in this field. Less often, the company management itself selects test customers to evaluate the services.

The most important aspect of Mystery Shopping is: the mystery shoppers must not be recognized as such by the staff, because this would make the test results useless. The staff would, consciously or unconsciously, be particularly courteous to the “exposed” test shopper.

This also explains the term mystery shopper: the apparently normal customers actually have a secret.
The general aim of the “secret customer” is to check within the company whether the services offered meet the company’s quality standards. The most important aspect here is customer satisfaction.


Expert or Amateur

Depending on the objective of the test, experts in the field or amateurs are selected as mystery shoppers.
Amateurs can assess general factors such as friendliness, alertness (shoplifting) as well as tidiness and cleanliness.


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Learn more about the Mystery Shopping service

Experts are needed when it comes to the accuracy of the advice provided and the observance of regulations. This type of mystery shopping is known as expert mystery shopping and is used, for example, in pharmacies.


Mystery Shopping is often mistaken

The aim of mystery shopping is a self-examination of the company. It is used to learn whether the staff comply with the guidelines and regulations. Therefore, the results of test purchases are not shared with the outside world.

The situation is different with testers who, for example, check hotels or restaurants without being recognized and publish the results in restaurant or hotel guides. This is about direct competition between companies. Mystery shopping only has an indirect influence on competition by ensuring the quality of service.


What is Customer Satisfaction?

The quality assessment of services focuses on customer satisfaction. In the end, customer satisfaction is decisive for the long-term success of a company. Why? Because competition in all industries has intensified, it is becoming increasingly difficult to acquire new customers and the importance of retaining existing customers has increased.

Customer satisfaction can be depicted as a pyramid.

customer satisfaction pyramid

First, there are the basic requirements. If these requirements are fulfilled, the customer will not notice them simply because he expects them. However, if these requirements are not fulfilled they reflect negatively. These include, for example, a clean salesroom or customer-friendly opening hours.

The performance requirements fulfill what the service promises. A car repair shop must know which tire is suitable for an alpine trip. And a shoe salesperson should be able to advise the customer about the right running shoes.

Enthusiasm requirements entice a “wow!” from the customer. They make customers into regular customers who appreciate this company. If, for example, an insurance broker makes a tangible commitment to his clients in the event of an insurance claim, they will reward it with loyalty. A used car dealer who also honestly states the weaknesses of the vehicle will also be rewarded with more trust than a windy smooth talker and, as a result, with regular customers.
Mystery shoppers help companies check whether all three levels of customer satisfaction are being met.


When is Mystery Shopping appropriate?

Recommended when assessing complex issues.
Mystery shopping provides very reliable results about the quality of the service. It is indispensable, especially when it comes to in-depth analyses of system processes and personnel.

Small changes in the service area can be assessed by customer surveys.
A customer survey is usually sufficient if a company wants to know, for example, whether a small change in the service system is well or poorly received by the customer. The benefits of customer surveys are that they are quick and economical.


Sectors, Survey Types & Criteria for Mystery Shopping

Important sectors in which the process is used:

  • Retail
  • Credit industry
  • Automotive industry
  • Public health
  • Telecommunications

Forms of Data Collection

The term “forms of data collection” describes the ways in which mystery shoppers test the companies.

  1. Personal visit to the store, office etc.
  2. Written request to the company
  3. Telephone inquiry


These are the criteria that test customers normally examine:

  • Quality of service
  • Appearance
  • Sales quality
  • Quality of advice
  • Honesty
  • Accuracy

Does Product Quality play a role in Mystery Shopping?

Product quality usually does not play a role; it is determined by other processes.


The Process of Mystery Shopping

Step 1: Determination of Objectives

The first step is to determine the objective of the mystery shopping. This can be found out by asking the company: What do you want to examine?
Usually weaknesses are suspected in certain service areas. These could include cleanliness in a self-service restaurant or the quality of advice provided in a mobile phone store. These suspected problems are anchored in the objective. Of course, objectives can also be formulated without any suspected weakness. For example, checking whether a new sales concept really convinces customers.
In the end, the goal setting process is about testing which customer satisfaction criteria are being met. (Read more: What is customer satisfaction?)

Step 2: Formulate Requirements

What criteria are used for the review?
In this step, the requirements that must be fulfilled are clearly defined. Sticking to the example of self-service restaurants: Are the tables and chairs clean? Are the dishes taken away quickly enough by the staff? These and similar issues can be defined in the requirements.
The requirements are usually summarized in a criteria catalogue.

Step 3: Concept

The third step is to determine whether amateurs or experts should act as test customers. Whether they call, write or test on site and whether an agency should be commissioned to carry out the test. In addition, the company or agency develops an evaluation sheet (paper, app or website) based on the criteria catalogue. The mystery shoppers use this sheet to record their impressions. Usually, test customer training is necessary to discuss the exact procedure and to avoid distortion of results.

Step 4: Implementation

During the actual implementation, the customers test the company’s service in the previously determined manner. This must be done in such a way as to ensure that the mystery shopping goes unnoticed by the staff involved.

Step 5: Evaluation

The evaluation sheets are then evaluated. Gaps and strengths of the service are revealed. The company can now close the gaps and expand the strengths.


Strengths and Weaknesses of Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopping only delivers reliable results if it is carried out professionally. Standards such as validity, reliability or representativeness must be observed.

Mystery Shopping only has weaknesses if:

1. Friends and acquaintances are used
In general, it is not advisable to use friends and acquaintances or even regular customers of the company as mystery shoppers. They are usually loyal and deliver falsified results.

2. Use of unspecific questions
Unclearly formulated questionnaires make it difficult to obtain evaluable results.

For instance

  • Was the staff friendly?

This is very subjective and only partially measurable. There are better ways to judge “friendliness”.

For instance:

  • Did the staff smile at you?
  • Were you asked how you are?
  • Did the staff focus their attention only on you during your conversation?
  • Were you offered a beverage?

3. Testers are overwhelmed with the task
In many cases amateurs are overwhelmed with the assessment of certain facts. How, for example, can a non-expert determine whether the correct fault diagnosis has been made at a car repair shop?

Mystery Shopping has strengths when:

It is well-founded, conducted according to objective and verifiable criteria. Then it provides your company with reliable results.

Since appropriate skills are required for professional execution, it is advisable to rely on specialized service providers for the implementation.


Summary of Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopping enables your company to review the quality of the services you offer and to reveal their weaknesses and strengths. If you are aware of both, you can apply appropriate measures to eliminate errors and promote positive aspects. This improves customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.


Dieser Artikel wurde am 23.January 2020 von Thomas geschrieben.