Dec 15

Mystery Shopping – What It Is and What to Do with It

Mystery shopping is a topic which several articles have dealt with in the past. However, it seems like not all companies have realized the great potential this form of market research offers. This may be due to the negative connotation mystery shopping still has in the minds of many people. A lack of knowledge about what it actually entails and what type of data can be expected as a result from it, may be just two reasons for this.

Have you considered mystery shopping for your company but decided against it because of all the negativity that is around about this topic? Are you interested in doing mystery shopping but don’t know what exactly to expect?

This blog post aims at contributing to the comprehensive understanding of the concept.  What exactly is mystery shopping – and what is it not? Why is it important and should be considered by pretty much any company in the retail industry? And how do we get rid of all the myths and misconceptions about this concept?

A lot to do, so let’s dive right in!

What Is Mystery Shopping?

Mystery shopping is one approach out of many to better understand the customer experience. It is the task of a mystery shopper to gather data on specified aspects and report the findings back to the company or business owner who commissioned the mystery shopping. Tested aspects could be, for instance, service provided by employees or the overall cleanliness of the store.

So, when you decide to use mystery shopping, you should have certain standards in place which can be tested against. It is then absolutely critical that these standards are clearly communicated to and known by all employees. Mystery shopping results which indicate that staff members aren’t working according to company norms could imply that the training they received was insufficient and consequently they might just not know better.

Now, who can be a mystery shopper?

Basically anyone could become a mystery shopper but, of course, you can’t just go into a shop, purchase something, rate your experience, and then call yourself a mystery shopper.

First, mystery shoppers are recruited for a specific purpose. In most cases this is done via a mystery shopping agency; but there may also be companies that rather have their own poolChecklist for Mystery Shopping of mystery shoppers. Before a mystery shopper enters any store that needs to be tested, they receive a comprehensive briefing of what to do once they are in the store and which aspects to pay particular attention to.

Ideally, mystery shoppers shouldn’t be recognized as such when they perform their task in the store. They are supposed to behave normally, just as any other customer would, unless they have been told otherwise by the commissioning company or business owner. The report, they generally have to deliver once a mystery shopping task is completed, usually is entirely objective.

The goal of mystery shopping is really to measure objective quality standards not subjective perceptions of the store. By using this method, you can find out if your desired standards are adhered to by staff. Therefore, mystery shopping can be considered an audit process.

However, mystery shopping should not completely replace internal process audits which may be focused, for instance, on safety or the adherence of financial standards. Traditional mystery shopping skills can be assumed for every recruited mystery shopper. You should, however, not overextend these; especially when it comes to risky areas such as food safety or financial reporting. Make sure to always have those inspections done by a professional employee in order to not risk getting into any kind of trouble.

Why Is Mystery Shopping Important?

For any company to be successful it is essential to be consistent and always keep their brand promise. This may be even more important in today’s world where companies are facing increasing competition and consumers can get information on product or brand performances without great effort by using the internet.

Information about Mystery Shopping

As we all know, however, it is pretty much impossible to manage something that we can’t measure. But how can we measure the execution of our brand strategies in stores across a whole business network? While smaller businesses with just one or two entities may be able to do this on their own, this can be very heavy for large corporations with multiple stores.

Especially for these companies, mystery shopping can be the answer to this problem. When it is properly implemented, mystery shopping can be considered the most effective way to ensure brand standards. So, when your company is active in retail and hasn’t thought about using mystery shopping yet, maybe now is the time to do so.

Now, if you haven’t thought about giving mystery shopping a try or have but then dismissed the thought again, it may well be because of the negative connotation that goes with the concept. This negativity is, however, owed to various myths and misconceptions that still persist. Let’s go back into the most prominent ones and see if we can straighten them out.

Is Mystery Shopping Really As Bad As Its Reputation?

One of the most prominent criticisms with regards to mystery shopping is that it only serves to catch employees doing something wrong and ultimately get them fired. With properly executed mystery shopping, however, this should not be the case. The main goal of using this method is to identify differences between defined company standards and the reality in everyday life. If the results imply that staff is not behaving according to the desired standards, this is not necessarily their fault. As mentioned before this may simply be a consequence of insufficient training and a lack of information. Before blaming it all on the employees, mistakes in execution should therefore firstly be discussed with superiors and management. If done effectively, mystery shopping is a powerful means for constructive feedback and the improvement of communication and training within a company.

Mystery Shopping can improve communication

Another aspect putting mystery shopping in a rather bad light is the persistent assumption that employees don’t like when it’s done to them as it’s simply a means to spy on them. This could certainly be the case when companies use mystery shopping in a wrong way, i.e. for example to fire people and blame any possible mistake on them. When executed properly, though, mystery shopping is intended to focus on a holistic understanding of the store environment and isn’t about focusing on one specific employee. Additionally, employees should be made aware of the purpose of mystery shopping. If they know that all the mystery shopper wants is to give constructive feedback and lay the ground for improvement, there’s nothing not to like about this method.

In this context it also has to be said that companies don’t always keep the use of mystery shoppers a secret from their employees. On the contrary, they want them to know why they think that this method is effective, which goals they’re pursuing with it and hence alleviate the doubts employees might have about mystery shopping. Telling your staff about your mystery shopping plans can also have an additional positive effect. Naturally, you won’t tell your staff when exactly the mystery shoppers are going to be around; at most you would give them a particular time span. A possible consequence of that may be that your employees are always on their best behavior, following all the rules and standards which you have taught them. Consequently, they will act according to your set norMisconceptions about mystery shoppingms even when there is no mystery shopper around.

Another misconception about the concept of mystery shopping which we want to address in this article is the still common belief that mystery shoppers are always difficult customers no one really wants to deal with. This is, however, also not true. Mystery shoppers are generally not supposed to stand out from the crowd. As mentioned before they should rather blend in and behave just like any normal customer would. Certainly, there are also cases in which companies want to see how employees deal with rather complicated customers but usually mystery shoppers won’t act any different than a usual customer.

One final false assumption concerning mystery shopping is that it is really only for big companies or for just one particular type of business such as retailers. While it may sure be retailers that first come to mind when thinking about the implementation of mystery shopping, there are many other industries that can benefit from it just as well. Let’s take hotels or restaurants for example: They also have standards and rules which they want their staff to adhere to. So why not use a mystery shopper to check if everything is going the way the management has planned it. Basically, any business that daily deals with cusMystery Shopping storetomers from face-to-face can and should consider mystery shopping to improve get detailed feedback about their performance.

Your business is “just” one store and you’re thinking it’s too small to do mystery shopping? Or you’re concerned that engaging a professional agency would break your budget? You’re still eager to try and see what mystery shopping can do for your business?

Why not consider mobile crowdsourcing? Small and simple mystery shoppings can be done even by not professionally trained mystery shoppers if they receive a comprehensive briefing in advance. For simple tasks it is even sufficient to do that in writing; training them in person is usually not necessary in such cases.

Have a simple mystery shopping project? Find out how we can help you!


Mystery shopping is a concept which many people still have doubts about. In this article we tried to clear up its image. Mystery shopping is meant to see if there are differences between how a company would like to perform and how it actually performs in the daily work routine. It should not be considered a replacement for overall customer satisfaction surveys. These two should be strictly separated as they lead to different results.

In today’s fast-paced world where people can access information from pretty much everywhere they go, it’s essential for companies to keep their brand promise. Measuring how this is executed throughout a business network is, however, not an easy thing to do. In this case, mystery shopping can be the solution.

Still, many companies are reluctant to use mystery shopping for their purposes. This is mostly because there may still be a slight negative connotation that goes along with it. When mystery shopping is properly executed, however, there is nothing negative to find about it. It really only aims at giving the company and its employees constructive feedback and help them get better in order to achieve their set goals.