When mystery shopping services, also known as secret shopping services, first started, they mainly focused on evaluating retail stores, restaurants and bars. Mystery shopper employment has grown to span every industry that provides services to the public. Mystery shoppers may evaluate public areas, such as movie theaters, sports parks, hotels and health clubs. Shoppers also may investigate such businesses as airlines, hospitals and schools—even tax preparers.
Any business that depends on customer satisfaction for success probably uses a mystery shopping organization to evaluate customer approval and pinpoint areas for improvement. Marketplace competition is powerful, and retailers have few options to measure customer satisfaction; any measurement tools to help identify areas of weakness are important.
The majority of secret shopping jobs require the shopper to remain anonymous as he follows a scenario established by the client and mystery shopping company. Following the visit, a detailed report generally is completed and submitted for review. The reporting process is normally done online and within 24 hours of the evaluation. Some shopping assignments involve an instant, on-site evaluation by the mystery shopper, and a reward is immediately given to the employee if he meet the required standards.
Accuracy is of utmost importance in mystery shopper employment evaluations. Shoppers must clearly identify associates who help them; they often are required to provide direct quotes used in greetings, up-selling attempts and parting remarks. Other factors demanding precise commentary include the physical interior and exterior conditions of the store or location, the attire and hygiene of employees and the time frame in which each service was provided. Reports usually involve multiple-choice questions regarding service and product quality and narratives describing the overall shopping experience.
Market research companies that contract mystery shopper employment through third parties typically hire shoppers online and train them to be observant and follow report guidelines. These secret shopping companies provide most mystery shopping services. Large corporations sometimes directly hire mystery shoppers to work exclusively for them, although maintaining anonymity is more difficult with this method.
If an independent company is utilized, it provides several approaches and sample reports to the potential client to assess their needs and recommend formats and scoring options. The price the mystery shopping company charges depends on the level of customization required to meet the clients’ needs. The length of the contract, the number of required shoppers and the amount of time needed to complete the project also can affect the price. Some companies contract only for specific seasons or to evaluate their personnel at a specific location. Other firms hire year-round mystery shopper services.