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What A Mystery Shopper Can Teach You About Your Business
Darren GilbertAug 18, 2017 3:49:26 PM6 min read

Here’s What A Mystery Shopper Can Teach You About Your Business

Are mystery shoppers still relevant today? Depending on who you speak to, you might get a different answer. They could be highly relevant for one store, while another might not see the value in using them. But that could be down to the way that a mystery shopper is used.

When used properly, a mystery shopper can provide you with invaluable information.

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The role that mystery shoppers play today

When the idea of mystery shopping first came onto the scene, it was used as a tool to prevent theft by employees at banks and stores. That was in the 1940s when private investigators would pose as employees in an attempt to discover if anyone was stealing or undermining the company.

That is probably why many argue that mystery shoppers can be viewed as nothing more than spies. Such an argument could work back then since that was its purpose, but today, it’s not fair to label them as such.

Why? Mystery shoppers are not hired to catch employees out. Rather, they’re hired to evaluate all areas of your store. That includes everything from the quality of the customer service that you offer to customer satisfaction to the performance levels of your employees and even how easy it is to find a product on the shelf. And it’s all done for the purpose of improvement.

That is why they play such an important role in stores today. They enter your store with a more critical view than most and take note of the finer details. This critical view is vital since it can help you to develop the correct overview of what is happening in your store so that you can fix it.

That said, due to the nature of mystery shopping, they can and will catch out any employees who are either lackadaisical in their approach to customer service or are willingly undermining your store.

Unless a store manager is asking that they look out for this, it’s usually coincidental.

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What mystery shoppers can teach you about your business

As mentioned above, the role of a mystery shopper today encompasses far more than simply monitoring your employees and seeing if they’re performing.

So what can they teach you about your retail store? We unpack a few details below:

1. The level of your customer service

You may believe that the customer service at your store is up to standard. It is only until you hire a mystery shopper that you can truly know. That is because they will uncover the true shopping experience as opposed to giving you answers that you want to hear.

Just to note, when looking at your customer service, the attitude of your staff should also be included here since it can have a direct effect on customer satisfaction. After all, a bad attitude can offend a customer to the point that they will never return.

But staff attitude is more than that which is directed at your customers. It’s also about how your staff treat each other. It’s all good and well if they are helpful to your customers, but what are they like when they interact with their colleagues?

Any discord between colleagues can have an indirect impact on your store. For example, while they may come to work, they won’t put any effort into what they do. Or, if taken further, they could sabotage the work done by fellow staff members.

2. The level of your stock on shelves

Do you have adequate stock on your shelves? Are your stock levels well maintained? For that matter, is the stock on your shelf old?

These are all questions that mystery shoppers will consider when going through your store. They’re not the only questions and observations though. In observing the level of stock on your shelves, they’ll also be able to determine if you’ve employed any incorrect stock replenishment procedures.

If your store looks like it’s potentially going out of business because there is so little stock on the shelf, or there is too much stock that doesn’t all fit on the shelf so you have to place it on pallets, you need to consider your approach.

Another question that mystery shoppers can help you answer refers to the accessibility of your products. Can your customers both find those items they’re looking for, and reach them without having to ask for assistance? If not, you need to look at whether you’ve employed any category management solutions. If you haven’t, perhaps now is the time to consider it.

3. The level of hygiene and cleanliness in your store

No one wants to walk into a store that looks messy and cluttered. Even worse than that is a store that is unhygienic. Especially if your store stocks food items.

A food item may sit on your shelf for a month before it's sold, for example, which means that it could literally gather a thin layer of dust. Now imagine not knowing that, and a customer walks in a picks that item up. You’ll most probably lose their business and the business of everyone they talk to.

But what if you could prevent that from happening?

That is where you mystery shopper can help, checking for this as well as other things such as proper head attire in service areas and whether your store is following health and safety rules.

Mind you, this isn’t just for your food retailers. Regardless of what you sell, you need to adhere to hygiene and cleanliness standards.

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When should retailers make changes based on observations of mystery shoppers?

The point of having a mystery shopper enter your store is to help you highlight any issues so that you can implement changes.

That said, before you implement any changes, you need to ensure that they are based on a large base of mystery shoppers. After all, you can’t possibly make radical changes based on a handful of opinions.

Also, detailed feedback should always be provided so that you can ensure all corrective action is taken if needed.

If you find that you have staffing issues or concerns, then it’s worth implementing training programmes that can help to ensure understanding of all protocols and procedures. If there is a concern around stock on hand or stock accessibility, then a full investigation into operational procedure and protocol is a possibility.

Just to note, if you are indeed interested in implementing any changes, they first need to be understood at an operational, procedural, and process level. That is so that you can ensure that any ripple effects of change are fully understood and that procedures are correctly documented.


Mystery shoppers have an important role to play in helping you to improve the performance of your store. Without them, you could miss those fine details that mean the difference between poor or great service. With them, you stand a better chance at ensuring you stand out as the go-to store for your customers.

Interested in improving the way you provide and cater for your customers? Our FREE Shopper Ebook can help you, taking you into the mind of your shoppers, giving you ways in which you can impress them and put them first, and helping you to address anything they dislike about your store.


Darren Gilbert

Darren Gilbert joined in 2017 and is the content manager. He has a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies from the University of Stellenbosch.