Mystery Shopping Goes Deeper Than Customer Service


Sometimes you’ll learn more than you bargained for with a mystery shopping program.


While mystery shopping focuses primarily on customer service levels and adherence to operational procedures, there have been times when fieldwork uncovers other matters that a company may or may not have realized before, giving unique insight and additional areas for improvement and/or awareness.


One example is related to discrimination; okay, maybe discrimination is a harsh word, but we’ve seen it happen in the past. As a program rolls out, shopper reports start to show trends where levels of service provided may differ based on who the shopper is. Consider these two examples:


1. An electronics retailer uses a program to ensure that associates are knowledgeable about the products and encourage a sale when customers show “buying signals.” A program noted trends in when sales were encouraged vs. discussions that did not encourage a sale. The client learned that the associates were more inclined to encourage sales from those who “dressed the part” and “looked” like a customer who could afford a higher end product. As an expansion of the program, shoppers were divided into two groups – one was required to dress in a casual manner, while the other group had a more “business” or “professional” appearance to gauge service levels across the two groups.


2. A home improvement retailer implemented a program in which shoppers were inquiring about products for a home project. At one location, two female shoppers reported that they felt as though they were not taken as seriously, possibly because they were female, with one reporting that the employee suggested she “let her husband handle the project.” As this appeared to be a location specific concern, additional shops were conducted, this type with males and females, to gauge the differences in customer service, if any. This was helpful to pinpoint any discrimination that existed and retrain associates as needed.


It can go even farther than differences in customer service provided. A recent article cited a study conducted in 2014 in which mystery shoppers visited retail stores and dressed differently, with some neat and professional in appearance, and others more casual. The findings of this study revealed similar results to what our clients experience, but also some surprising results, including:


  • Well dressed shoppers experienced more pressure to make a purchase than their casual counterparts
  • Well dressed shoppers were quoted higher prices in some cases than those dressed more casualyl/less neat


Whether intentional or not, humans tend to perceive situations based on what they see. It’s important for employees to be aware of their perceptions and provided consistent service across the board.


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