What is mystery shopping and how can you measure it?

What is mystery shopping and how can you measure it? Cheryl Flink, Ph.D. is a global executive with deep experience in entrepreneurial, public, and private companies. As Chief Strategy Officer for Market Force, she leads the analytics, marketing, and NA client services teams and holds business unit operational responsibilities.


New data-driven insights and management tools have transformed our understanding of the power of delivering exceptional customer experience (CX). In fact, customer experience is now gaining the recognition it has long deserved as a key tool for differentiation and driving growth.

Mystery shopping programmes have enjoyed increasing popularity in the UK with total annual spend now surpassing £1.1bn. 

Used by retailers and marketers alike, mystery shopping programmes offer invaluable objective and data-driven customer experience measurement insights.

However, too many businesses are failing to harness the full potential of customer experience measurement and mystery shopping programmes. To properly link these to profitability and growth, a more strategic approach is required.

Location-level customer experience measurement is at the cutting-edge of techniques available today. Indeed, the proliferation of our digital devices – including mobile apps, smartphone cameras and online reporting – has made mystery shopping more efficient than ever before.

As such, we wanted to build on our years of experience and share our top tips for making the most of your mystery shopping programme:

Prioritise objective measurement

With compliance standards and guidelines now commonplace – as well as training programmes for staff – obtaining tangible data insights is key. Carrying this out with sufficient diligence requires focus, investment and pre-defined targets.

The best measurement systems usually review conformance to brand standards, risk management, service levels and sales efficiency.

Mix and merge your data

Linking mystery shopping data with other data – like customer satisfaction surveys – lets the first shape to second.

Better performance on brand standards should lead to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty

Although objective mystery shopping sheds light on operational factors that create customer perceptions, subjective customer satisfaction data reveals what customers value, providing insight into what areas can be improved.

Link mystery shopping to financial results

Linking mystery shopping and customer satisfaction data to financial metrics by location is an optimal combination. By adding the financial metrics, you can identify precisely which behaviours will give the highest ROI by location.

Clear differences will become apparent in the financial outcomes between the locations that score highly on mystery shopping and customer satisfaction and others that do not.

Keep brand standards in mind

Brand-standards must be brought in to line with overall business performance and mystery shopping is the most effective measurement tool. You can then start to benchmark performance against retention and referral trends.

Mystery shopping offers excellent precision and lets you focus on and target any particular aspect.

Keep your questionnaire objective

Avoiding subjectivity is achievable through simple yes/no answers when gathering gathering factual observations. Don’t add on unnecessary questions that don’t reveal change drivers – concise and targeted is the benchmark.

The golden rule is to test, test and test again. Obtaining a sample of mystery shoppers across the spectrum to check the questionnaire can expose information gaps, other snags and sections to augment.

Assess the outcomes throughout

Better performance on brand standards should lead to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty. If not, review the originally defined brand standards and compare them to your current results.

Not doing so will result in slow performance – regardless of the best efforts of your staff.

Set the ideal parameters for data collection and reporting

Establishing the best practices for data collection and reporting processes provides the highest data integrity.

Preventing the same mystery shopper from shopping too frequently – as well as implement a mystery shopper auditing programme – also offers the best protection for your data integrity.

Establish a plan of action

Identifying the actions that drive the highest ROI provides a clear blueprint of the key factors to improve the customer experience.

Locations are then able to create action plans to both improve the customer experience in addition to driving revenue.

The bottom line

Your goal should be to delight your customers as well as improving the overall customer experience. Achieving this will increase return visits and referrals, driving growth.

To deliver ROI you absolutely must recognise the specific behaviours that increase both loyalty, and financial results. These behaviours are the blueprint for your success.

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