How to Overcome Challenges in Retail with Mystery Shopping

Retail is a more competitive space than ever before. Brick and mortar stores are suffering from declining foot traffic. Online retailers are struggling to differentiate from competition. As a result, executing an informed customer strategy is critical for any retail business.

What is mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping market research (or secret shopping) is one effective way to help tackle these challenges faced within the retail sector. This market research practice involves a "mystery shopper" hired to interact with a company by posing as a prospective customer.

The shopper collects information for a client by often browsing or purchasing a product/service. The data is then reported to provide insight into what the mystery shopper learned.

Why is mystery shopping valuable to retail stores?

This methodology is valuable for retail businesses who may be out of touch with their customers' experiences or competitors' offerings. Certain key information can only be obtained by walking through a customer process as a third party.

Retail market research such as mystery shopping also has the ability to dive deeper than a standard secondary search or online customer survey. It can gather a variety of information such as measuring specific metrics or recording subjective interpretations of an experience. The findings are in-the-moment, comprehensive, and reliable.

Read more here about the benefits of mystery shopping.

mystery shopping for retail | shirt, store front, online shopping on phone

Mystery shopping research helps a company understand all aspects of the customer experience through the lens of a professional mystery shopper. Below are four specific ways to leverage mystery shopping for a retail business.

1. Customer Experience

A critical component of any retail business is the customer experience. The best companies in the world pay attention to even the tiniest details through all customer touchpoints. Using your own knowledge and other secondary data to design the experience is important, but mystery shopping can be instrumental in optimizing it.

A process may appear to be flawless on paper, but a mystery shopping study could reveal unforeseen hiccups or bottlenecks.

For example, mystery shopping in a clothing store could set out to research the purchase experience. The mystery shopper could be tasked with identifying:

  • A specific shirt on sale
  • Asking a salesperson for assistance
  • Buying the shirt at the cash register and then returning it the next day

Some hypothetical findings could include it taking 5 minutes to get the attention of a salesperson, the shirt being out of stock, or return protocol being ignored.

These potential negative experiences for the customer help identify improvement areas for all company store locations. Identifying positive aspects of the experience can be just as significant to confirm the retail strategy is meeting company objectives.

At the end of the day, a customer's perception of the browsing or buying process is more important than that of the company. To really understand the entire customer journey, a retailer should also consider developing an ongoing customer experience (CX) program.

2. Multi-channel Interactions

Most businesses these days have a customer experience that reaches across several channels. Interactions in-store, online, through email, or over the phone are all relevant for as long as a business offers them to customers or prospective customers.

Mystery shopping can explore the individual experience with each of these channels to see how each compares to one another.

Customers expect each interaction to be of a consistent quality across channels. With mystery shopping, a business can understand where certain channels come up short of customer expectations. A retailer could learn that customer support via the phone is not able to answer basic questions or maybe emails take an average of 3 days to receive a reply.

When all the data is gathered, a retail company receives a holistic view of customer touchpoints across channels. Actions can be taken a direct result such as investing additional resources in a particular channel or eliminating one altogether.

3. Online Transactions

According to a survey conducted by BigCommerce, ninety-six percent (96%) of American consumers spend 5 hours per week doing their shopping online. The online experience for customers can no longer be an afterthought.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to an online shopping experience for users. At the very least, a website must be easy to navigate, function properly, and be valuable to customers. A mystery shopper can dive into all corners of a retailer's website to see how well it's working.

Components such as website search, live chat, account setup, adding an item to the cart, checkout, and shipping options can all be evaluated by a shopper without even to having make a purchase. This can be as simple as a checklist or as thorough as a website user-experience (UX) interview.

Learn more about the What, How, and Why of Website User-Experience Interviews.

4. Keeping tabs on the competition

Lastly, mystery shopping can offer a retailer an inside look into their competition. Whether you have a single competitor or hundreds of competitors, it's tough to assess their customer experience strategies from the outside.

Mystery shopping can be your best tool to understand their processes. Competitors won't share an ounce of information with an inquiring company, but undercover shoppers can likely learn any public knowledge available to a customer.

An organized approach can allow a retailer to see how they stack up to as many competitors as they are willing to assess. Mystery shopping here provides a detailed market view of what each competing organization offers and how it interacts with its customers.

The mystery shopping results can provide takeaways like who is considered best-in-class and what competitive processes or offerings are worth adopting to improve. Mystery shopping can be also be a piece of a larger competitive assessment that constructs in-depth profiles of competitive retailers.

Contact Drive Research

Drive Research is a national mystery shopping company located in New York. Our team of professionals have a breadth of experience with mystery shopping projects in the retail industry.

Interested in learning more about our market research services? Reach out through any of the four ways below.

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