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How To Get The Most Value From Your Mystery Shopping Program


Companies across all industries realize the importance of mystery shopping. It’s an excellent service, but one that can face hardships when budgets are cut or are limited.


I’ve seen companies who, in good faith, are trying to get the most information possible from their mystery shopping program.  There are times, however, when it’s not a good idea to move forward with a program that is too intense or makes it obvious when a mystery shopper is present.


The first example focuses on the retail stores with multiple departments. Many larger companies are inclined to have shoppers visit multiple departments within one visit to evaluate as many staff members as possible. The thinking behind this is valid, but doesn’t work across the board. In a grocery store, for example, this can work well – customers typically visit the deli, baker, and checkout in one visit. Adding a question of a staff in an aisle or in the produce section won’t make shoppers appear any different from the average customer. This could even be successful in a larger retail or big box store.


If you have a small drug and grocery chain, however, where the stores are much more compact and perhaps not as busy, this will not work as well. I know when I visit my local drug store, it’s not always very crowded and, because it’s rather small, I would stand out like a sore thumb if I stopped to ask questions at the pharamacy, beauty counter, from a staff in the aisle, and the photo center.


The second example revolves around quick serve restaurants that offer a drive thru. I’ve seen many programs where shoppers are required to dine in and then make a drive thru purchase. Again, in some (more rare) cases, this is okay; however, if this process is done month in and month out, employees will start looking for this pattern to peg the shopper. In these cases it’s best to mix it up if you really want to have both aspects of your restaurant to be evaluated consistently – maybe include the drive thru component one month, then do separate dine in and carry out shops for a few months, rinse and repeat. Not only does it keep employees on their toes, but it  also keeps your program fresh.


When shops are ungrouped like this, I realize there can be additional cost involved that you may not be able to handle. In that case, perhaps rotating departments to be evaluated each shopping period will give you the data you need while keeping the program anonymous.


Do you have any tips for mystery shopping businesses with multiple departments? Feel free to share with the community – we can all learn from each other!