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Difference Between Mystery Shopping and Overt Operational Audits

Mystery shopping and overt operational audits are two different approaches used by businesses to assess and improve their operations, especially in the context of customer service and retail environments.

We discussed Brand Audits in a previous blog, which is another type of overt audit. Brand audits are designed to protect brand image in the context of the physical sales environment. Auditors record location details (which may include digital photographs and embedded video) to confirm that the sales environment mirrors corporate expectations.

Operational Audits are quite different but equally important. Here are some differences and key points to consider.

Nature of Assessment

  • Mystery Shopping: Mystery shopping is a covert and often unannounced evaluation method where individuals, known as mystery shoppers or secret shoppers, visit a business or interact with its services as regular customers without the knowledge of the employees. They assess various aspects of the customer experience, such as service quality, product knowledge, and adherence to company standards.
  • Overt Operational Audits: Overt operational audits are a formal and openly conducted evaluation process. Auditors, who are typically internal or external, assess a business’s operations, policies, and procedures in a planned and systematic manner. This process is usually known to the employees being audited.

Often, retailers use profits as their main method of measuring success, but when you carry out frequent store audits, you have a lot of extra analytics that provide a broader picture of what state your business is in. 

What they both have in common is the desired outcome. Neither is designed to create a “gotcha moment” but rather to evaluate and train where needed to insure the highest of standards and customer service. When done together, it provides businesses with some powerful data.

Key Areas of Focus for Operational Audit

An operational store audit is a comprehensive assessment of a retail store’s performance and adherence to operational standards. The exact components of an operational store audit can vary depending on the specific industry, company policies, and the goals of the audit, but it typically includes the following elements:

  1. Store Appearance and Cleanliness:
    • Visual presentation: Assess the store’s layout, signage, and product displays.
    • Cleanliness: Check the overall tidiness, cleanliness, and organization of the store.
  2. Inventory Management:
    • Stock levels: Verify that inventory is adequately stocked and meets customer demand.
    • Stock accuracy: Ensure that inventory records match the actual stock in the store.
  3. Adherence to company policies: Check if employees are following established company guidelines and procedures.
    • Safety protocols: Ensure that the store complies with safety regulations and standards.
  4. Maintenance and Repairs:
    • Equipment functionality: Assess the condition and functionality of store equipment and fixtures.
    • Repair needs: Identify any repairs or maintenance that need attention.
  5. Security:
    • Loss prevention: Examine security measures in place to prevent theft or fraud.
    • Security camera functionality: Check that surveillance equipment is working properly.
  6. Compliance with Local Regulations:
    • Ensure that the store complies with all local, state, and federal regulations, including zoning and health codes.

The specific details and format of an operational store audit can vary from one organization to another, but it typically involves a combination of observations, interviews, document reviews, and data analysis to provide a comprehensive assessment of the store’s operations. The findings of the audit can help identify areas for improvement and drive strategic decisions to enhance store performance and customer satisfaction.


Author: Ann Michaels & Associates

Ann Michaels & Associates has been providing customer experience measurement services since 1998. We provide a full range of services to meet the needs of all industries and company sizes, including mystery shopping, customer and employee feedback services, and social media management.