What is Mystery Shopping in Market Research?

There are several unique and engaging types of market research methodologies to choose from.

One that rises to the top of the list of investigative approaches is mystery shopping.

In this blog post, our mystery shopping company discusses everything you need to know about the study including its definition, benefits, process, examples, and more.

defining mystery shopping blog post

What is Mystery Shopping in Market Research?

First things first, let’s start this article off with a basic definition.

Defining Mystery Shopping
Mystery shopping is a type of market research that uses a secret shopper to act as a true customer to evaluate the customer experience in-person, over the phone, or online.

The professional mystery shopper evaluates several different aspects of the customer experience which often include:

  • Levels of service
  • Product availability
  • Staff helpfulness
  • Staff knowledge
  • Cleanliness of establishment

While secret shopping is often seen as an evaluation of internal operations, it can also be executed on competitors’ operations.

For example, our market research company has posed as a tenant looking to move into an apartment building to learn more about the pricing, amenities, and other information not readily available on their website.

The information was then passed along to our client who was looking to build a competing apartment building across the street.

Is Mystery Shopping Considered Qualitative or Quantitative?

The answer is both. It is always recommended to start with qualitative research to explore the customer experience in detail.

However, mystery shopping can eventually be scaled to conduct a series of shops each week, each month, and each year to obtain measurable data.

As a result, brands can see data and benchmarks from time-period to time-period.

What are the Benefits of Mystery Shopping?

There are many reasons brands choose to conduct a mystery shop.

A few mystery shopping advantages that come to mind include:

  • Interacting with employees and stores in their most natural environment or state.
  • It’s a flexible methodology that can be completed in-person, online, or over the phone depending on your objectives.
  • Brands can evaluate the competition and gain access to information that is only available to customers or prospects.

For more context to the benefits of secret shopping, watch this 60-second video.

How Does Mystery Shopping Work?

A mystery shopping market research project is most commonly conducted in one of two ways.

  1. Pre-scripted questions
  2. Natural experiences and interactions

In the pre-scripted experience, the mystery shopper is typically trained in detail before entering the store or making a phone call.

Based on the client’s objectives, our market research company creates a script or interview guide that professional secret shoppers must follow.

Oftentimes pre-scripted questions or guides include details about what to evaluate and specific scenarios to test

The secret shopper often is given an evaluation form that he or she needs to fill out at the completion of the mystery shop.

In the more natural experience, the shopper receives basic information and is blind as to what he or she will evaluate until the experience is over.

Pre-Scripted vs. Natural Experiences: Which Approach is Better?

Both approaches have their pros and cons.

The pre-scripted scenarios allow the client to ensure the shopper is probing on areas they view as important to the customer experience.

This can help guide the shopper and ensure data is gathered on pertinent topics.

Whereas, in the more natural approach, the experience is less biased and more like a true customer visit.

Satisfaction ratings of the experience can be more reliable with natural shops because the shopper was not told to play out a specific scenario.

Here is an example to explain the two approaches in better detail.

Let’s say "cleanliness of the store" is an item the client wanted to test. In the pre-scripted version, the shopper may notice the dirty shelves or dust on the counters.

However, if the shopper went in as a natural experience, they may not have noticed those same observations because they were not told to look for "cleanliness" ahead of time.

Contact Drive Research to Conduct Mystery Shopping

Drive Research is a full-service market research company that can meet custom project requests to meet your needs.

Whether your organization needs only a few mystery shops to explore a customer experience through qualitative research or a full plan for longitudinal mystery shopping for the year, Drive Research can accommodate.

Need more information? Contact our team today.

  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

Author Bio George Kuhn

George Kuhn

George is the Owner & President of Drive Research. He has consulted for hundreds of regional, national, and global organizations over the past 15 years. He is a CX-certified VoC professional with a focus on innovation and new product management.

Learn more about George, here.

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This post was originally posted in January of 2017. It was last updated on October 21, 2021.

Mystery Shopping