How to Execute a Mystery Shopping Program for a Franchise

Woman shopping for a Pink Dress

There is a great deal of trust involved in franchising a business. Many stores, restaurants, or other retail locations operate independently from the main franchisor.

In fact, recent research shows that roughly 300 businesses open franchises per year.

With such a variety of locations and franchisees, how do you know if your customers are receiving a consistent, high-quality experience? One valuable way to become more informed is by executing a mystery shopping program.

But wait, what is mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping is a market research methodology in which mystery “shoppers” posing as customers evaluate a process or gather data about a product or service.

It can be a powerful tool for franchisors to anonymously audit customer experience among various store locations and learn how they differ. 

Not sure where to start with mystery shopping for your franchise? Check out three important components in the post below from our mystery shopping company.

Benefits of Mystery Shopping for a Franchise

Franchises come in all shapes and sizes. Whether you are a national fast-food chain restaurant or a regional grocery store, chances are each location could benefit from mystery shopping.

By executing a mystery shopping service for a franchise model, different locations can be compared based on various factors such as:

  • Cleanliness
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Store layout
  • Knowledge of services or products by staff
  • Friendliness of staff
  • Other key performance indicators

Mystery shopping allows a third party to evaluate each store in the most natural environment. 

There is no other type of market research where business leaders can truly put themselves in the shoes of a customer.

This is essential for the success of a business. For example, brands that provide a good customer experience have a 17% chance of consistent, year-over-year growth.

Additionally, a mystery shopping program can be executed online or by phone. For instance, say you are the founder of a digital marketing agency with several locations across the country.

A mystery shopping firm like Drive Research can perform mystery calls and pose as a business looking for help. Each location will be evaluated based on the criteria you'd most like to test and compare.

Want to learn more benefits of executing a mystery shopping program? Watch this 60-second video!

💡 The Key Takeaway: While there are many benefits of mystery shopping, the biggest advantage is earning insights that can provide a franchise with an objective viewpoint on the customer experience. 

#1: Know more about the location of each branch

Mystery shopping for a franchise can be used to obtain the nitty-gritty details of what customers encounter every day. Learn about the unique traits of a location such as parking options, staff, proximity to competitive stores, etc.

Locations can be compared by these measures, or a single franchise can be explored in detail. Perhaps there is a specific branch that consistently receives the lowest reviews of any franchise.

Consider secret shopping to observe any negative factors during a typical customer experience. This same approach could be used to pinpoint what a location does exceptionally well if it regularly boasts the highest customer satisfaction ratings.

By testing the two locations with a mystery shopping program, managers are presented with factual evidence and data to understand how their store can improve and perform on the same level as the top branch.

Competitor franchises may also be evaluated via a competitive assessment. Mystery shopping can be a main component of this type of methodology.

Learn more about the value of mystery shopping and how to plan for success

#2: Have a brand standard and make sure everyone complies with it

Let’s say you run a restaurant with 15 franchise locations and a different owner at each location. You have been receiving general complaints about the brand not making food the same way across multiple dining experiences.

A conversation with each of the franchisees results in the same answer of adherence to the franchise guidelines. 

A great way to get to the bottom of a situation like this is to conduct mystery shopping at each of the franchise locations. Mystery shoppers can take note of the customer service, how the food was prepared, the restaurant's appearance, the taste of the food, and countless other aspects of the customer experience.

As head of a franchise or upper-level management of a store, it can be difficult to know exactly what goes on in the day-to-day business.

Organizations can overcome many retail challenges with mystery shopping and verify if all brand standards or practices are in place at a specific location.

Random check-ins from franchisor employees can also work, but the best way to know what really happens is through the lens of a customer.

💡 The Key Takeaway: It’s no secret that each franchise needs to have a base standard for their products/services. A mystery shopping program can help solidify this factor. 

#3: Learning what (and what not) to do from competitors

Want to be the top franchise in your area? 

The competitive assessment aspect of mystery shops works as a tool for businesses of any kind–franchises included. There are multiple types of competitive assessments that companies can invest in, with mystery shopping being one of them. 

A mystery shopper can be sent to a competing location to see what they’re doing right, and what they’re doing wrong. This information will then be relayed to the franchise they’re doing the research for. 

In turn, this franchise can target key areas based on where its competitors are failing. For instance, a competing franchise may have long wait times for a service. Another franchise can use this to ensure they prioritize customer waiting experiences. 

That said, a franchise can also learn from what competitors are doing right. 

They can take this positive information and create a version of it for their own customers.

What if your competing franchise offers a great service that you don’t have? While it’s not necessarily a negative that your franchise does not offer this service, it will likely help your location to implement something similar. 

Combining both the negatives and positives of a competing franchise can work wonders for customer retention and loyalty rates.

Here are some other competitive metrics setting up a mystery shopping program can bring you:

  • Pricing information
  • Customer outreach strategies
  • Additional information not present on the competitor’s social media or website 

The last point is especially important. Wouldn’t you like to know a “secret” strategy your competing franchise is running? Think of it as a hidden treasure for your business. 

Nothing gets by a customer, specifically when dealing with service and overall experience. Consider running mystery shopping in competing locations for the ultimate source of information.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Running in-depth competitive analysis via mystery shopping has the potential to catapult a franchise into success. It acts as a way to gather what competing locations are doing right and wrong, along with other unique services they may offer. 

Recommended Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Conducting a Competitor Analysis

#4: Choose the appropriate mystery shopping agency

A self-assessment may seem like a good idea, but there are several advantages of hiring a mystery shopping firm to audit your franchise customer experiences.

To start off, one of the key benefits of using a third-party firm is that it gives you the most candid look at your business.

Mystery shoppers with no connection to the franchise will greatly reduce bias and prevent employees from having an unnatural reaction to any questions.

You can also rely on the expertise and insights of a mystery shopping firm.

The planning stage of a mystery shopping effort alone is a time-consuming and complicated process.

Some of the materials needed include mystery shopper instructions, an efficient way to record the data, and a schedule of the mystery shops. Research firms with the right experience will handle all the logistics and deliver actionable results. 

To run a mystery shopping program for franchises, a market research provider with a history of retail and consumer studies is a strong qualifier. 

Retail market research is a unique breed and needs to be dealt with carefully.

You will want a mystery shopping firm that is familiar with a range of customer experiences and knows just what to look for.

Lastly, a mystery shopping market research company like Drive Research can offer a detailed yet digestible report.

  • A market research report will help break down the feedback from mystery shoppers per location as well as compare and contrast each branch.
  • A market research report delivered by Drive Research will also include recommendations and action items for the next steps after the mystery shopping program is completed. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: An effective mystery shopping solution will only be fruitful if it’s executed correctly. To ensure this, businesses can partner with a market research firm. 

Recommended Reading: What to Look for in a Mystery Shopping Company


Contact Our Mystery Shopping Market Research Firm

Drive Research is a national market research company in New York. Our team of mystery shopping professionals has experience in numerous industries like banking, retail, restaurants, transportation, and others.

Each mystery shopping study is customized for your specific industry, market, and business goals.

To learn more about the process for conducting mystery shops or to receive a proposal, contact us through one of the four methods below. 

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

tim gell - about the author

Tim Gell

As a Senior Research Analyst, Tim is involved in every stage of a market research project for our clients. He first developed an interest in market research while studying at Binghamton University based on its marriage of business, statistics, and psychology. 

Learn more about Tim, here.

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