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Is Mystery Shopping Still Valid?

When I was in my early twenties, during college I was hired a few times to be a mystery shopper. I never really understood the importance of it at the time, or that companies paid a lot of money to have this type of assessment done routinely. Thinking back on it now, I wonder with all of the advancements in technology and market research online communities and experience management platforms, are mystery shoppers still valid?

First let’s define what a mystery shopper is. A mystery shopper is a person who is hired to act as if they are a customer and then rate the experience to see if the standards were met. The customer can provide feedback as to the experience or they can fill out a scorecard assessing the metrics provided. The undercover shopper is in fact a mystery for the staff, as they have no way of knowing who is a real customer and who is the mystery shopper, which allows for a clear account of what a customer would experience.

An organization will usually hire an outside firm, like a market research company to audit their customer service. These audits in the form of mystery shoppers are often done for hotels, airlines, and retail stores. This could include staying at a hotel for a period of two to three days and interacting with the staff on numerous occasions. The length of time or repeat visits ensures more sound data than a one time visit. These experiences can also include photos and videos highlighting the observations.

A more modern version of mystery shopping was created by a market researcher in Thailand who incorporated a market research community with mystery shopping. His contracts were with 7/11 and several brands that were sold in the 7/11’s. They would connect with members of the community and give them a mission to visit a 7/11 at a specific time, and take photos of the displays of Doritos for example. This was done to see if the shelves were well stocked with the product. The individual would have to take a photo and upload it to the app at the time specified in order to get the points which would be convertible to cash. By accessing members from a community the app was able to provide feedback from locations across the city and at various times to create greater reliability in reporting.

Is mystery shopping as valid as it once was? I would say yes. However I think with the combination of MROC’s or experience management platforms, this type of research can be done faster, and for cheaper, using technology to gather text, photos, and videos as well as faster reporting.

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