The topic of “Mystery Shopping” is not an obvious one at first glance. Even the term is unwieldy. This article provides a brief overview of the field. In further articles, we will illuminate the concrete forms of Mystery Shopping and devote ourselves to the theories behind it from a more scientific perspective.

So what is Mystery Shopping?

Mystery Shopping is an objective and customer-oriented method for checking and evaluating service quality in companies and organizations.

Mystery Shopping is the covert gathering of information regarding the quality of each point of contact of a company or organization with their customers.
(Warmuth / Weinhold, 2005, p. 18)

Service quality can be measured with different methods. A customer satisfaction analysis is a subjective method, while Mystery Shopping belongs to the customer-oriented, objective procedures. In terms of methodology, Mystery Shopping falls into the realm of covert participatory and structured observations.

The method is used primarily in industries with a high level of complex advisory or consulting services, such as retail, banking, insurance, travel agencies, restaurants, hotel chains, airlines and car dealerships. But it also comes to play in many other areas where service contributes to the success of a company, association or authority. Mystery Shoppers are deployed in museums, public transport, pharmacies, public authorities or gyms, to name but a few.

What are the advantages of Mystery Shopping?

The scientific foundation of the method has not yet been fully developed (see Schmidt, 2007, p. 4), but it offers a number of advantages, particularly with regard to its applicability in business practice:

  • Evaluation of the employees’ behavior in customer contact situations
  • Objective and covert evaluation of service quality
  • Gathering of details
  • Investigation of not only deficiencies but also their cause
  • The procedural nature of services is taken into account in order to establish a holistic picture
  • Conscious approach to service quality on the employees’ side (motivator)

What are the potential obstacles in using Mystery Shopping?

The method can bear ethical and qualitative problems. Especially when the employees are not informed about the tests, the accusation of “spying” is close at hand. An open conversation about the goal of Mystery Shopping, which is to identify potential for improvement, can dispel negative assumptions such as these. It is also important to perform a sufficient number of tests to counteract possible one-off effects.

Objectives and areas of application of Mystery Shopping

A Mystery Shopper with a checklist stands smiling at the checkout of a supermarket.In the 1970s the concept of Mystery Shopping was already used by approximately 35% of all major banks in the United States. The aim of “silent shopping” or “test shopping” is primarily – but not only – to record and evaluate service quality. And who could do that better than the (mystery) customers themselves?

Mystery Shopping is a young method. Literature about it is rather hard to find, especially in German-speaking countries. And yet this approach promises a number of things: personal experience is brought to as objective a level as possible. The method draws on the paradigms of qualitative and quantitative market research. It is particularly popular in consulting and advising businesses, but also in retail, in short: everywhere where service standards are to be held high.

The best known and most common applications of Mystery Shopping:

  • Assessment of the perceived service quality
  • Definition, introduction and review of service standards
  • Benchmarking
  • Oberservation of market competitors
  • Test to reveal discrimination of customer groups
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness of training programs

With professionally conducted Mystery Shopping studies the client obtains results of a specific quality. The Mystery Shopper tests the real sales situation in accordance with predefined parameters such as friendliness or the quality of the consultation. In addition to quantitative evaluations almost all questions also leave room for open answers or reasons for the answer. A sufficient number of test cases provided, the client receives a very good insight into the status quo of service quality and the staff’s approach in certain sales situations.

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