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All you should know about mystery shopping

mystery shopping tips


Despite the intriguing term, the essence of the mystery shopper is clear: it’s a person who is hired to check the compliance of the company’s work with industry and corporate standards.

How to choose the mystery shopper and how to use the results of his work to increase the quality of the service – we will tell in this article.

Who’s the target of a secret buyer?

Most often retailers, airlines, restaurants – in short, all industries where positive customer experience is an essential key to success, are interested in such «auditors».

Generally, these companies, especially online, have common quality standards. Mystery shoppers help find out how these businesses are respected in reality.

This is very important: if a customer is rudely served in one of the stores or banks, he may consider that any other office or store of this brand will be rude as well.

The mystery shopper can play the role of the customer – make a purchase or use the service, and can just observe. For example, a young man is passionately reading a book in a cafe.

In fact, he’s not reading, he carefully evaluates how waiters work, whether the room is clean, and whether visitors are satisfied.

Sometimes the mystery shopper checks the company for a certain period: stays in a hotel, comes daily to a store, or often uses planes of a particular airline.

But he can be hired for a couple of hours – for example, to check how the promoters are doing at the exhibition or whether the layout of goods meets the requirements of the supplier.

He can even, as a normal buyer, communicate with the company employees: ask about the availability and properties of the goods and the terms of service.

From time to time mystery shoppers’ task is to take photos – for example, to fix the layout of the goods or compliance of employees’ appearance with corporate rules and sanitary norms.

In any case, the main result of the work of the mystery shopper is a report where he describes the experience.

These reports can be made on a variety of media: from a standard paper questionnaire to an online form or mobile application.

Pros and cons of mystery shopping

The main thing is this man doesn’t know your employees, and they don’t know him.

Therefore, you can be sure that the review will be objective and you will be able to see what experience actually gets your customers: what pleases and what disappoints them.

Mystery shopping has many advantages:

  1. If employees know that a company uses this technique, they are more likely to follow corporate rules. Ethics is very important here:  you should explain to employees why the company attracts mystery shoppers and what they evaluate.
  2. The obtained data allow to assess how the level of service in different regions or branches differs from certain corporate standards in a realistic way.
  3. The identification of weaknesses in the service and sales processes allows to focus more clearly on the training of employees, business processes, and requirements for applicants.
  4. Feedback data collected by the mystery shopper can help the team create a product development strategy or a list of priority improvements.
  5. The mystery shopper whose demographic profile matches the target audience can help clarify the customer’s profile, preferences, journey, and ways of interacting with the brand.
  6. He can identify «pain points» that prevent a brand from attracting new customers or keeping existing ones.

But there are drawbacks to the mystery shopping service.

  1. Misunderstanding the situation. Let’s say the mystery shopper became a witness to poor-quality service and recorded it in the report. But, if you don’t know all the circumstances (maybe the staff member was feeling bad or had insufficient experience), this can lead to incorrect interpretations of the situation.
  2. Subjectivism. The mystery shopper is also a person and can be biased against different people even not on purpose. And of course, this may affect the accuracy of his estimates.
  3. At a certain point in time. A mystery shopper evaluates a product or service at a given time and place. This information is difficult to use for long-term assessments and policy decisions.
  4. Differences in behavior. No one works equally well or equally badly. Therefore, it’s difficult to compare the results and identify patterns.
  5. The quality of the report. The mystery shopper reports what he thinks is important – you will never know what he hasn’t said or what he hasn’t noticed. This way, there is always a chance that the estimates of a mystery shopper are subjective and inaccurate.

How to help the mystery shopper?

First of all, you should clearly see the goal: why do you hire the mystery shopper; for what? Most often, mystery shopping is used for such areas as:

  • – Quality and efficiency of employees’ work.
  • – Compliance of products and services of a brand with standards.
  • – Corporate compliance.

In general, a mystery shopper’s task is to evaluate how big the difference between expectations and reality is.

This may apply to both the properties of the product or service and the quality of the employees’ work: from a neat appearance to empathetic skills and a thorough knowledge of the product they offer.

First of all, in questionnaires, you should use closed questions that require answers «yes» or «no» (and their options). Then you’ll get clear quantitative data that are easy to analyze and work with.

However, open questions (Who, What, Where, When, Why, How?) are useful, especially when assessing the interaction of employees. Questions can be grouped into categories.


In general, working with mystery shoppers gives a lot of valuable information. But it becomes more accurate if you compare this data with the high-quality surveys that you can conduct among your real customers.

This allows you to narrow the gap between customer expectations and reality.

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