Mystery Shopping for Beginners: Enhancing Customer Experience Through Objective Evaluations

Appinio Research · 16.08.2023 · 8min read

Mystery shopping is a market research method that allows companies to check their own customer service and customer experience

Have you ever imagined detectives embarking on a covert mission? 

While mystery shopping may bring up such dramatic images, the reality behind it is not as enigmatic. In fact, mystery shopping is a widely employed method of market research that enables companies to enhance their service quality and improve the overall customer experience. 

But what exactly is mystery shopping?


In this blog article, we will provide you with:

  1. A comprehensive overview of how mystery shopping works
  2. Its benefits and drawbacks
  3. Ideal scenarios for conducting mystery shopping studies, and 
  4. Valuable tips for companies to grasp the underlying concept of mystery shopping more effectively.

Let’s jump in!

What is Mystery Shopping?

Mystery shopping serves as a valuable market research method for companies to assess their customer service and overall customer experience. 


It involves the careful selection of mystery shoppers or test shoppers who go undercover as regular customers.


These individuals are tasked with visiting various places, like shops or restaurants, to gather objective data on a range of factors, including customer service, product quality, product displays, and other relevant aspects.

What are the Benefits of Mystery Shopping for Companies?

In highly competitive sectors, a deep understanding of the needs and expectations of the target audience and customers is key to break through the noise and secure customers. 


In this context, mystery shopping plays a crucial role by providing a fresh perspective and enabling an objective assessment of service quality from the customer's standpoint.
Unlike relying solely on potentially biased or unrepresentative customer feedback (usually feedback comes after a very good experience or after an exceptionally bad one), mystery shopping gathers reliable and objective information. 


Companies often commission mystery shopping studies to identify and address weaknesses in areas such as customer service and customer experience. Objective mystery shoppers can also verify compliance with company standards. 


The insights gained through mystery shopping are then utilised to optimise customer service protocols and provide targeted training for employees

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Mystery Shopping?

By analysing the shopping experience, businesses can identify areas of weakness and initiate improvement initiatives. 

  • One of the primary advantages of mystery shopping is the opportunity to assess the customer experience firsthand and free from external influences. 
  • Allowing companies to provide more targeted training for employees and ensure adherence to company standards. 
  • Furthermore, mystery shopping provides valuable insights into target audiences, competitors, and the company's market positioning.

However, it's important to acknowledge that mystery shopping also has its limitations. 


  • Acquiring knowledge through mystery shopping comes at a cost, as it can be an expensive endeavour. 
  • The planning and preparation of realistic shopping scenarios, the selection of suitable mystery shoppers, and the analysis of results require substantial time and expertise. 
  • Additionally, there is a potential risk that employees may become suspicious and alter their behavior if they become aware of the mystery shopping exercise, thereby distorting the results.

Where does Mystery Shopping Come Into Play?

Mystery shopping finds applications wherever customer service and the shopping experience are involved. 

  1. For instance, in the retail sector, mystery shoppers provide objective evaluations of crucial elements like customer service, product presentation, and adherence to company standards within stores. 
  2. In the gastronomy industry, mystery shoppers assess the quality of food, service, and overall atmosphere in restaurants.
  3. Moreover, mystery shopping is employed in the financial sector, healthcare, and online retail to evaluate service quality and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

How Much does Mystery Shopping Cost? Where Can Mystery Shoppers Be Found?

The cost of a mystery shopping study can vary depending on several factors. 


The extent and complexity of the mystery shopping program, the specific goals a company aims to achieve, whether an external service provider will be engaged, and the level of training and compensation provided to the mystery shoppers all contribute to the overall expenses. 


It is crucial for companies to define their expectations and objectives in advance and critically evaluate the budgetary considerations. 


Popular mystery shopping online providers include BARE International or BestMark.

Explained in 8 steps: How Mystery Shopping Works

Although each mystery shopping endeavour is unique and can vary significantly based on its objectives and execution, it generally follows a similar process:

  1. Planning: Clearly define the specific aspects and objectives to be investigated in greater detail, such as assessing the quality of customer service.
  2. Establish Evaluation Criteria: Develop concrete evaluation criteria that the mystery shoppers will use to examine various aspects, such as employee behavior towards customers or the cleanliness of a branch.
  3. Select Mystery Shoppers: Not everyone is suitable for mystery shopping; individuals need to have the ability to objectively observe and produce relevant reports aligned with the criteria and objectives at hand.
  4. Training: Prior to the fieldwork, participants undergo preparation and training. They are instructed on how to conduct themselves discreetly and professionally, enabling them to make the needed observations and assessments.
  5. Implementation: The mystery shoppers start with test purchases and interactions. They observe the service, ask targeted questions, make purchases, or utilise the services being evaluated.
  6. Data Collection and Reporting: The mystery shoppers diligently document their observations and evaluate them according to the predetermined criteria.
  7. Evaluation: Companies analyse the collected data and reports to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement.
  8. Feedback: The results and recommended actions derived from the mystery shopping exercise are communicated to the company's employees.

Mystery Shopping: 3 Things Companies Should Watch Out For

When considering the implementation of a mystery shopping program, companies should focus on three key points:

  1. Clear Goals Yield Precise Results: The effectiveness of mystery shopping is enhanced when specific goals are defined in advance. It is crucial to identify the key aspects to be evaluated, such as customer service, product quality, or compliance with company standards.

  2. Thorough Preparation Is Key: The adage "preparation is everything" holds true in the case of mystery shopping. Extensive training of recruited mystery shoppers, coupled with clear instructions, equips them to observe, draw meaningful conclusions, and accurately reflect their observations in their reports.

  3. Effective Utilisation of Findings: The results of mystery shopping carry both a significant cost and value. Therefore, they should be carefully examined to make the most of them. Can trends and patterns be identified? The findings should be used in targeted training programs, process adaptations, and a continuous pursuit of improved service quality.

This Is Why You as a Company Should Rely on Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopping serves as a potent market research method that empowers companies to enhance their customer experience and improve service quality. 


The objective assessments provided by mystery shoppers provide invaluable insights into a company's strengths and weaknesses.
These results serve as a solid foundation for implementing improvement measures related to customer service, customer experience, employee training, and strategic decision-making.

Moreover, mystery shopping presents an opportunity to foster customer orientation, gain competitive advantages, and cultivate long-term customer relationships.
By carefully planning the process, providing targeted training to mystery shoppers, and effectively utilising the obtained results, companies can leverage mystery shopping as a valuable resource in their pursuit of excellence in customer experience.


For comprehensive testing and actionable insights, Appinio offers a wide plethora of methodology to improve your business and brand, including SWOT analysis, Brand tracking studies or concept tests and visual tests, such as logo testing and design evaluations.


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