3 Reasons Why Mystery Shopping is Dead

By Brian Harris


It’s time to toll the bell for mystery shopping programs. Some retailers may be resistant to the change, and it’s sure to disappoint some faithful shoppers who earn extra money with these programs. However, the process of mystery shopping is outdated, time consuming and limiting when it comes to determining actionable insights.

Top 3 Reasons Why Mystery Shopping is Dead


3. Shoppers no longer see the time-cost benefit

Take, for instance, Johnny and Joanna’s mystery shopping experience. They are a young couple who were trying to make ends meet while living in New York City. At first, they enjoyed the free perks, extra cash and flexible schedule that mystery shopping provided. In the end, however, they decided the pay wasn’t worth their time and effort. They called the process of logging information and writing reviews “labor-intensive” and found that they were making less than minimum wage.

Likewise, retailers must consider the time-cost benefit of their current programs. While a retailer may be paying a company to help them sort through paperwork and countless photos, is the cost worth it? As a senior management team, do you have the time and resources to decipher the actionable insights from this data and create a course of action?

2. Mystery shopping has been linked to a growing number of scams

Consumers across the country have reported mystery shopping scams and are increasingly skeptical of becoming involved in these programs. The government has confirmed there are dishonest mystery shopping promoters and scammers who issue fake checks in an attempt to get people to wire money to a third party. Of course, these scams are detrimental to retailers who operate honest programs.

Technology is the double-edged sword for mystery shopping. On one hand, it makes more scams possible. On the other hand, consumer awareness is heightened as people self-educate.

1. Mystery shopping falls short on tracking progress over time

Mystery shopping data may serve as a snapshot of your stores, but it doesn’t provide the kind of thorough analysis retail operators need over time. Ultimately, the need for mystery shoppers is decreasing as district managers in the field employ mobile technology on their store visits. By uploading photos and videos, store managers and employees can be the senior management team’s eyes and ears in the field. Plus, the company’s own employees are better at spotting issues related to their stores.

Also, these staged situations can sometimes tip off employees that they are being evaluated. The “big brother” aspect of mystery shopping – the idea that management is looking for things that are wrong in the consumer’s experience – can cause a salesperson to become defensive when they discuss results with managers.

However, with transparent, employee-led auditing, the senior management team gains the ability to assign tasks when problems are reported at individual stores and track progress to ensure that these issues are resolved. When tasks are completed, employees can be commended for performing their duties, which leads to a more positive work environment.

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