Mystery Shopping – Why the Bad Rep?


In the 1940s Mystery Shopping was invented. We’re sure it was used previously; 200 years ago a baker may have asked his friends to check his employees were doing the right thing, but in the ‘40s it became a measurable service.

Mystery Shopping was an innovative way to monitor and analyse customer service. The standards were focused on features and benefits, overcoming objections, and heavy closing techniques, instead of the current focus on company culture, making connections, and providing outcomes, but the concept was sound.

The reputation of Mystery Shopping has suffered, along with the passing decades. Considering it is an important tool to assess consumer based businesses, we have to wonder: what happened?


The Scams

Mystery Shopping is a target for money laundering and, sadly, people still fall for it. Here’s a tip, a reputable Mystery Shopping company won’t ask you for money. Here in Australia we are now seeing companies advertising on Facebook and Instagram offering $200 giftcards for well known companies like Aldi, Lorna Jane and Myer Mystery Shoppers. They use statements like “Become a Mystery Shopper and get a $200 giftcard to spend at…” it sounds too good to be true because it is.

They probably do give away a giftcard for every few thousand sign-ups, but it has nothing to do with Mystery Shopping. What they are doing is collecting all of your personal data and selling it. Get ready for a whole bunch of spam. That is NOT Mystery Shopping!


Service gave way to audits

Somewhere around the 80s and 90s big corporations figured they could use the Mystery Shopping tool in place of audits. Suddenly, Mystery Shoppers were looking for blown lightbulbs, what music was playing, dust on the shelves, the correct promotions, staff uniforms, etc. For fast food giants’ Mystery Shopping programs lost the link to customer service in favour of focusing on speed and timing. If your burger took longer than 90 seconds, the manager missed out on a big monthly bonus.

Using Mystery Shoppers in this way forced them to be spies, looking to catch out team members and save the companies thousands of dollars on bonuses they didn’t have to pay out. No wonder so many employees in retail and fast food hate Mystery Shoppers. This created an “us” against “them” culture.

The best Mystery Shopping programs are ones where the shopper is encouraged to identify, appreciate and celebrate exceptional customer service, not seek out problems or be deliberately difficult.

Sure, if problems exist they will be included in the report, but in an objective tone and a positive view to improvement.


Cocky providers

The third trend we are seeing is disrespect for the industry by some of the actual Mystery Shopping Providers. We rely heavily on Mystery Shoppers doing the right thing and being honest; we need to lead by example.  To provide a quality service, you have to believe in what you are doing and conduct yourself with integrity and honesty. Not all MSPs do this.

In the last 12 months we’ve seen CEOs making video rants calling their own clients ‘morons’, calling their Mystery Shoppers ‘idiots’, and bragging about how little they pay their shoppers. We’ve seen competitors creating fake Facebook profiles so they can join groups and recruit Mystery Shoppers (tip: if you are going to create a fake profile, don’t use a famous person’s profile picture). 


Has the industry lost its way?

The good news is, no it hasn’t. While some providers may be lost and some clients have less than ideal objectives, there are still many benefits to Mystery Shopping and Providers who care.

If you are looking to partner with a Mystery Shopping Provider, be clear on your objectives. What do you want out of the program? What outcomes are you seeking? Once you are clear on your needs you can find a Provider who fits them. There ARE great Providers out there, putting together quality programs. Bottom line, choose a Provider who will respect you and its Mystery Shoppers.


Take action

At Above Benchmark, we’re passionate about helping our clients deliver exceptional service to improve customer loyalty and increase sales. We believe every business needs a customer service benchmark, so employees know what to work towards.

If you’d like to have more loyal customers and increased sales contact us today for a complimentary 30 minute Customer Service Strategy Session.

Simply call 1300 400 716 and let us help you achieve above your benchmark.