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Retail Mystery Shops

Retail mystery shops — having professional mystery shoppers visit a retail store — are one of the most valuable ways for retailers to gain insight into many facets of their business operations. With the ever-growing popularity of online review sites such as Yelp.com and Google Places, even the most successful retail stores are turning to mystery shops as a means of improving their customer experience.

Some big-box retail stores are over-illuminated.

Some big-box retail stores are over-illuminated. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a retail store hires an agency to conduct mystery shops in their store, an unannounced, unidentified professional secret shopper will visit their store in order to complete an assigned task – typically to make a purchase or receive product information. During the transaction, the mystery shopper will engage sales associates in conversation and ask questions in order to evaluate the staff’s friendliness, product knowledge, attentiveness and willingness to help.

During the mystery shops, the auditors will also take note of the retail store’s overall environment, including cleanliness and organization. They will ensure that products are in their proper place, items are neatly displayed, easy to find and well-organized and, if applicable, clothing is nicely hung and folded in the proper manner. During the mystery shops, the shopper may also evaluate the cleanliness of customer areas such as dressing rooms or restrooms.

In addition to evaluating customer service and environment, many retail stores also opt to have a brand audit performed. As the name implies, the mystery shopper will ensure that everything is in compliance with the proper brand guidelines. They will check all store signage, including interior posters and outdoor signs, and ensure the store is displaying current pricing and that all sales or promotions are being properly advertised.

Many retailers also use mystery shops to identify potential loss prevention issues. By measuring the amount of time it took for them to be served by an employee, mystery shoppers can provide insight into loss prevention weaknesses due to negligence, as unobservant employees can be making it easier for shoplifters to commit their crime. Immediate attention is the last thing a thief wants, because the longer he goes unnoticed, the more opportunities he has to steal.

When the mystery shops ar completed, the shopper will provide a detailed report of their findings. This unbiased, third-party feedback allows retailers to identify staff weaknesses and strengths, current or potential customer service issues, operations and management issues, etc. This allows them to make better staffing decisions, streamline their employee training program, and focus on improving any weaknesses before they turn into customer complaints.

When orchestrated through a reputable agency, mystery shops are a wise investment that offers benefits that stand apart from traditional market research panels or customer surveys. Retail stores that have added mystery shops to their arsenal find it to be a process that provides invaluable feedback that helps their brick-and-mortar improve upon their customer experience management program.

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