Secret Shopping: How it Works and the Benefits

We are biased, but our team believes all market research methodologies to be a little bit of fun. Regardless of whether that is an online survey, focus group, in-home usage test (IHUT) or another project. But when shopping is involved, isn't it fun for everyone involved?

Secret shopping is a form of market research where shoppers are sent into stores to shop or make a purchase as part of the project. The key is that the shopper knows they are part of a secret shopping experiment but the store and customer services representatives do not. This allows the experience to be as natural and as controlled as possible.

Learn more about secret shopping below.

Learn more about what secret shopping is, how it works, and the benefits of the methodology with Drive Research.

Both qualitative and quantitative

Secret shopping is considered to be both a qualitative and quantitative market research project. Qualitative, if the experiences are fewer in numbers and more depth is acquired as part of each secret shop (i.e. think 10 shops). Quantitative, if the experiences are greater in numbers and are intended to measure the customer experience (i.e. think 100+ shops).

Qualitative market research is aimed to explore and gather anecdotal feedback about a small number of experiences. Because the number is smaller, the secret shopping firm can likely make the experience longer or acquire more details as part of the mystery shop.

Quantitative market research is aimed to measure and collect statistically reliable data from a large number of experiences. Because the number of experiences is larger, the secret shopping company can make inferences and statistically driven conclusions on the feedback.


Using professional shoppers or real-life customers

An organization pursuing secret shopping has 2 options: (1) using professionally trained market research staff to pose as a mystery shopper to conduct the experience or (2) using real-life customers recruited to be part of the mystery shop.

The benefits of using professionally trained staff is they often have a background in the arena and understand the objectives of the market research with the client. They know how to ask specific questions and know what to look for as part of a secret shop. The details and quality of a secret shop with a market research staff member is normally of higher caliber.

The benefits of using a customer for the secret shop is the experience is more natural. They are already a customer so they are familiar with the business and would likely be more natural with the experience. However, some training is required on what is expected as part of the evaluation so they can pose not only as a customer, but as a market researcher as well.


How does secret shopping work?

Secret shopping projects follow a streamlined path at Drive Research. If you engage a secret shopping company like ours, this is typically the process you will follow.

① Secret shopping proposal which includes process and costs.

② Kickoff meeting to recap goals, objectives, timeline, and next steps.

③ Project workplan to highlight locations, dates, and tasks to be completed.

④ Secret shopping evaluation guide creation which is used to guide the experiences.

⑤ Recruiting secret shopping staff (either in-company or with customers).

⑥ Conducting the secret shopping fieldwork.

⑦ Analysis and reporting.

⑧ Debriefing on the results.

What are the benefits?

There are plenty of benefits to pursuing a secret shopping project at your organization. When it comes to analyzing the customer or sales experience, nothing can replicate being in-the-moment. It is the most accurate and reliable data you will receive. Far more accurate than asking a customer to remember an experience from a month ago through an email survey.

If an evaluation guide is created beforehand, the secret shopper knows exactly what he or she is looking for as part of the experience (cleanliness, customer support, wait time, etc.) Therefore the analysis is more comprehensive and accurate.

Finally, a quick third benefit is the secret shopping is typically completely unbiased. We've all seen surveys at the end of a receipt when you leave a store. In some cases you've even had the customer service representative or technician say: "Please take this survey and rate us highly. You can enter for a chance to win a $100 gift card." This is a biased way of delivering this message. With secret shopping, since the evaluation is on the experience itself with very specific data points, this is less of a concern.

Secret shopping works extremely well for any objectives or unanswered questions you have about the in-store experience or experiences with staff at your organization.

Contact Drive Research

Drive Research is a secret shopping company located in Syracuse, NY. We work with partners across the country to fulfill staffing for secret shopping projects. Our team can manage the setup, fieldwork, and reporting for your secret shopping market research study.

Interested in learning more? Contact us below.

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

Mystery Shopping