Mystery Shopping: Overcoming Greatest Retail Challenges with Data

Retail is a more competitive space than ever before.

Brick and mortar stores are suffering from declining foot traffic. And while becoming a more popular form of shopping, online retailers are now struggling to differentiate their products and services from competitors.

As a result, executing an informed customer strategy is critical for any retail business. There are many market research options for retailers. However, perhaps the most powerful is mystery shopping.

In this blog post, our market research company shares an in-depth review of mystery shopping, its advantages for retailers, and ways to leverage the data to overcome challenges in this sector.

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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.

The Value of Mystery Shopping to Retail Stores

There are many benefits of mystery shopping for retailers. To start, this methodology is valuable for stores and eCommerce sites that may be out of touch with their customers' experiences or competitors' offerings. 

However, certain information or key performance indicators can only be obtained by walking through a customer process as an unbiased third party.

Here lies the value of retail market research. It has the ability to dive deeper than your average online customer survey.

Additionally, a mystery shopping company can gather a variety of information such as measuring specific metrics or recording subjective interpretations of an experience.

Plus, the findings are in-the-moment, comprehensive, and reliable.

To learn more, watch our short video where we discuss the different benefits of mystery shops. Or, keep reading to learn how it can optimize your customer experience

1. Customer Experience

A critical component of any retail business is the customer experience. In fact, 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience. As a result, the best companies in the world pay attention to even the tiniest details through all customer touchpoints. 

Using your own knowledge and other secondary research 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, the goal and objective for a mystery shop in a clothing store could be focused on 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 the 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

The Value of a Customer Experience Program 

While mystery shopping is a great tool to gain insights into the customer journey, it typically measures a single transaction. Whereas, a customer experience program focuses on their journey as a whole. 

This type of market research involves more than a single survey or focus group. Instead, it utilizes various qualitative and quantitative studies to thoroughly map out a customer journey.

  • Where did they travel from before entering the store?
  • How long did the customer stay in the store before buying something?
  • Did their experience in the store meet their expectations?

A CX study can help retailers answer these questions to identify what impacts motivations, engagement, loyalty, and so much more.

💡 The Key Takeaway: CX programs allow companies to carefully track a customer’s experience from beginning to end, allowing for the collection of in-depth, actionable data. 

Recommended Reading: 3 Reasons Every Company Should Have a Customer Experience Program in Place

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 consistent 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 as a direct result, like investing additional resources in a particular channel or eliminating one altogether.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Consistency can be measured with the use of multi-channel interactions. Specific interaction channels like email, in-store, on online relationships can be compared once sufficient data is gathered. 

3. Online Transactions

The online experience for customers can no longer be an afterthought. Studies show that heavy shoppers reported spending over 44 hours a month on online shopping activities.

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 having made a purchase. 

This can be as simple as a checklist or as thorough as user experience (UX) market research.

The Value of UX Market Research for Retailers

Live interaction plays a crucial role in retailer success. Therefore, any website, app, or other digital platforms can benefit from user experience (UX) market research.

A user experience company such as Drive Research focuses on gathering live feedback from users as they navigate through the site.

By doing so, we can identify how customers interact with the platform and where there are possible bottlenecks.

In many instances, the feedback gathered from user experience market research provides brands with areas of opportunity for how and where they can improve their website.

The value here is that it is based on real user insights rather than best guesses and assumptions.

💡 The Key Takeaway: UX interviews offer detailed live feedback on how users interact with eCommerce sites, apps, and other platforms. Through the gathering of valid critiques, companies can target specific areas of improvement. 

Recommended Reading: 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. 

This method provides a detailed market view of what each competing organization offers and how it interacts with its customers.

Results provided by a mystery shopping company can offer valuable takeaways, like who is considered best-in-class and what competitive processes or offerings are worth adopting to improve.

Mystery shopping can also be a piece of a larger competitive assessment that constructs in-depth profiles of competitive retailers.

Competitive assessment is comprised of both primary and secondary research. The aim is to gather as much necessary information from competitors as possible. 

Through this, a company is able to adjust tactics for better retail outcomes. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Benefits of mystery shopping for retailers include gleaning important information about competing companies. Through this, a retailer can see how to better their market according to rival companies. 

Contact Our Mystery Shopping Company

Drive Research is a national mystery shopping company located in New York. Our team of professionals has 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.

  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 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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