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How Can My Independent Bookstore Use a Mystery Shopper?

These are strange times to be peddling published paper reading materials, bookseller: Borders has very recently gone belly up, Barnes & Noble hangs on but barely, and Amazon’s Kindle boasts millions of titles and is bigger than ever. And you’re supposedly the low man on the totem — the quirky, local independent shop, the David to these behemoths’ Goliaths.


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This is nothing you don’t know. You also know that your prices are higher than anything Barnes & Noble or sells; you’ve never tried to compete on price. Instead, you rely on customer loyalty and a level of service that these other retailers can never provide.

In a smaller store, it’s certainly easier to monitor how well things are going in your store, and one week of stunted sales is often wake-up call enough to jolt you back on track. But your perspective from the back office may be different from that of your customers’; how can you be sure you’re taking care of your loyal customers and giving them the experience they need to come back again and again?

Enter mystery shoppers. When you hire a company specializing in mystery shopping, they’ll carefully select people to come to your store like ordinary customers and evaluate everything from the parking lot to the checkout process. When they’ve finished, they’ll compile a report of their experience and you’ll get a cold, hard look at everything you’re doing wrong and right.

Here are some things they might look for:

  • Is the store logically organized? Is there good signage to direct them to what they’re looking for?
  • What’s the store’s ambience like?
  • Is there a kid-friendly area?
  • Are there areas with seating or a place for customers to preview the books they’re about to buy?
  • Are employees helpful and knowledgeable about what you carry? (Can they offer recommendations of their favorites?)
  • Do you have the latest bestsellers and other popular titles in stock?

You’ll work directly with the mystery shopping company to determine which criteria are most important to you and get results that will help you improve the customer experience. With the low prices and sheer stock volume of Barnes & Noble and the lightning speed of Kindle downloads nipping at your heels, you can scarcely afford to cut corners with your store and service.

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