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Mystery Shopping

1. Aims of Mystery Shopping

For me, mystery shopping is one of the most exciting and creative ways to check whether the ideas that our retail customers have come up with at their desks really work and can be implemented on the shop floor. These covert test purchases are independent quality checks from the consumer’s perspective. The client defines the SHOULD (e.g. “How should my staff behave in the situation?” or “How should the product be placed?”) and we, as an independent consultant, check systematically and in an audit-proof manner whether and where reality deviates from these expectations. What works and where is there potential for optimisation? 

The mystery checkers take on the role of the consumer for these covert tests and enter into realistic shopping situations – whether in store or at home. For example, they carry out test purchases in the shop or seek advice. Strengths and weaknesses in addressing and caring for customers can be identified in the same way as when making a purchase or being at the checkout. The testers can also check whether advertising material and products are presented in accordance with specifications.

This is also exciting because the results must be available incredibly quickly, virtually in real time, so that the retailer can act promptly. If we notice, for example, that there is mouldy fruit in the displays of a branch, it is in the interest, above all, of the individual retailer that this defect is not only recognised quickly, but that it is eliminated even faster. IWD can significantly shorten the reaction time from detection to adaptation on the shop floor with the aid of technology.

2. Areas of application on the shop floor and online

On the whole, test purchases would have to be carried out as a (self-)audit whenever the retailer meets the consumer, whether on the shop floor or through other channels. For example, we support our customers in checking the presentation of goods, identifying undesirable weaknesses in cleanliness or in the freshness & quality of the goods on offer. This is particularly relevant in the area of perishable fruit & vegetables. We also monitor the appearance of the employees on the shop floor. In addition to cleanliness and friendliness, we also monitor if employees are able to actively promote advertising campaigns or provide information about customer loyalty programmes.

In addition to these classic tests on the shop floor, it is just as important to check whether, for example, the garden sauna ordered online is delivered to the consumer on time, undamaged, complete and with the ordered installation service.

The range of tasks makes the product “Mystery Shopping” incredibly exciting, because no other type of research allows you to get closer to the customer’s shopping experience.

3. Relevance for retail

It is important for our customers to see how best to support the staff on the shop floor or in the office in their day-to-day work. The employees and the range of goods on offer are the relevant interfaces in the day-to-day work on the shop floor, as they have direct and unfiltered contact with the most important player in the game – the buyer.

The test purchases are used to see which points still need to be addressed in order to make the shopping experience even better. Ultimately, the classic KPIs such as shopping basket size and shopping frequency can be increased with higher satisfaction rates.

For example, if there are deviations from the SHOULD, follow-up training for employees on various consulting topics, or measures to check the freshness of fruit & vegetables at shorter intervals may need to be implemented.

4. Classic mystery shopping on the shop floor vs. e-mystery shopping

The majority of our customers are not located only on the traditional shop floor but have also built up an online business in parallel. If it is important that the shopper enjoys a perfect shopping experience in the shop itself, then this high standard must also be applied to online shopping. In contrast to the shop floor, e-mystery shopping is more about the handling, comprehensibility and usability of the online shop. The retailers’ aim is to make shopping online as easy and uncomplicated as possible for their consumers – to avoid confusion, long wait times and technical bugs. In addition to this, an external supplier is normally also in the chain. Here, it is also important to check whether the supplier in turn is doing their job as agreed. Will the delivery be on time? Is the contents correct, intact and complete? 

5. Added value of online mystery shopping

Buyers are becoming more diverse and expect to use both channels in tandem. The shop floor is rarely completely replaced by the online shop – they complement each other harmoniously. With regards to online shopping, our customers are now facing a whole new competition – the established online shops such as Amazon and Zalando. Consumers have the same high expectations of their online shop that they are used to from these big players. Same day delivery, free returns, intuitive ordering interface – these are the challenges that have to be overcome if you want to play the game for the long term.

Both channels can influence each other strongly from the buyer’s perspective. If I have problems with my online order, i.e. if it is all too complicated and ling-winded or if, in the worst case, it doesn’t work, it is automatically associated with the company’s reputation as a whole. The motivation to visit the retailer on the shop premises decreases. If the employees on the shop floor are not briefed on how to deal with in-store returns, or if they are unable – or worse still – do not want to provide adequate information about the online shop, the entire company image suffers. An online shop is only as good as the people behind it, and that includes the employees on the shop floor.

6. Procedure of a mystery shopping project

First of all, we agree in advance with the customer which aspects are to be tested. For this purpose, it is first of all important to know which internal guidelines and regulations exist regarding these specific aspects. This is how we determine the SHOULD state.

On the other hand, it is important to prepare the test buyers for carrying out these checks. To ensure that all checks meet objective test results, regardless of the person performing them, it is essential to calibrate the testers in advance, i.e. to adjust their test behaviour.

Then, for example, they put these measures into practice on the shop floor.

All test items are programmed and sent to the tester’s smartphone. The tester can use the sheet undetected during normal shopping, as smartphones have become part of everyday life and would not arouse suspicion if the testers are carrying one on the shop floor; whether it is to write messages, check shopping lists or even look at recipes. Based on the programming, the test buyer is guided through the store. At each test point, the evaluation can be entered immediately and, if necessary, photos of the areas that are not up to standard found can be added. With calibration and documentation measures, the checks can be implemented in an audit-proof and standardised manner, regardless of whether the tester checks one or hundreds of locations.

In the end, the immediate communication of the check results to the customer via online dashboards is essential. Using short feedback loops, the customer can work directly with the test results and immediately eliminate any areas that are lacking on the shop floor  – all this in an agile, fast, digital and flexible manner.

7. Mystery shopper – Requirements & Briefing

You quickly learn that not every interviewer is automatically suitable as a mystery shopper and vice versa. Based on the experience of the last 20 years, my colleagues in project management have defined a number of criteria that a person must meet in order to be employed as a mystery shopper. In addition to a good amount of self-confidence, which is necessary to carry out an undercover test and to behave as inconspicuously as possible, you also need good powers of observation and an eye for detail. When you think of counselling interviews or direct conversations with the staff – acting skills are certainly quite helpful.

The mystery shoppers have to be trained in various areas. In addition to the already mentioned calibration of the answers via an online platform, they must also be trained how to behave on the shop floor in order to be able to carry out the checks as undetected as possible. Mastering technology is also part of the briefing process.

8. Quality criteria

The retailer must be able to rely on the results. Therefore, the highest quality and audit-proof integrity of the data are the most important prerequisites. As an ISO20252-certified institute, it is crucial for us to check at all stages time and time again whether the processes are safe and effective. As described above, the testers are recruited, reviewed and individually selected in a long selection process and trained for each project. The technical implementation of the checks allows the evaluations to be transferred immediately.

The project team in our office is the second pillar for highest quality in implementation and results. The digital management and evaluation of the testers as well as regular feedback ensure transparent communication of our high expectations. Recording the tests digitally enables us to check the data extensively for plausibility and completeness immediately after it has been entered. This way, the client gets their results quickly and we can contact the tester immediately should there be any questions. The fast, digital feedback of the results in the dashboard is the decisive factor as this enables the customer to react immediately to the areas that are possibly lacking.

First published: (28.01.2020): Mystery Shopping: dem Service auf der Spur

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