The Psychology Behind Mystery Shopping Reimbursements


Retailers utilizing a mystery shopping program have come to understand that evaluating the purchase transaction is a very important part of the program – not only can companies ensure that cashier staff are asking for email addresses, offering enrollment in loyalty and/or credit card programs, and ending the transaction in a positive manner, but they can ensure that this last leg of the customer journey ends on a positive note – one that will leave the customer with a positive experience and may be more likely to return.


On a peripheral note, including the purchase, along with a maximum reimbursement spend, can do more than that. We’ve studied the purchasing behavior of mystery shoppers to determine how they spend at certain retailers, and what might make them spend more. Traditionally, when a client sets a maximum reimbursement limit for mystery shops, the mystery shoppers understand that they will be reimbursed up to that amount, and any overage is at their expense.


It’s an interesting aspect to look at….do shoppers tend to spend the maximum, less than that, or go overboard?


It all depends on the type of shop, what the maximum reimbursement is, and the state of mind of the shopper.


Our informal research has shown that, in the example of a retailer who sells clothing and accessories, a higher reimbursement typically results in a higher spend. From the mindset of the shopper, they may see that a reimbursement is maybe $10, and that may sway their decision to focus on smaller items during the evaluation, perhaps accessories or less expensive clothing items. On the other hand, a larger reimbursement may set their mind on the bigger ticket items, realizing that if the reimbursement is $30 and they see an outfit they love for $50, they may be more inclined to purchase it.


We have found that shoppers tend to spend approximately 10-15% more with a lower reimbursement, and up to 25% more with a larger reimbursement. This results in additional sales for the company, making the program a bit more profitable. This is one way to think of the reimbursement as a cost effective measure of your mystery shopping program.


The shopper’s state of mind is also important – are they a current customer of the retailer, or is this their first visit? First time shoppers who have a positive experience may be inclined to be regular customers after that initial shop, which again results in a new customer and additional sales. Comments from reports suggest that mystery shoppers, especially those who have a strong customer service experience, tend to be very likely to return as a true customer. Report comments indicate that they may have not visited the store in the past because they weren’t familiar with the brand or their perception was different with regards to what the store had to offer in terms of products, or it was a retailer they had not previously heard of.


It’s important to consider reimbursement for mystery shopping programs for these reasons, but it’s also a good way to think of the reimbursement in terms of cost efficiency. Typically, the per shop costs are reduced, even if slightly, when reimbursements are included for purchases, and a wider view of the entire experience is captured. Of course, depending on the retailer, a reimbursement cannot be offered all the time – you wouldn’t want to set a reimbursement for a high end furniture store, for example – but for many retailers, adding the purchase transaction to the evaluation can be effective and a valuable part of your program.



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