How to recruit the best mystery shoppers
The most important success factor for Mystery Shopping projects is using the right testers, specifically the process of recruiting and training them. It is key to make sure they appear authentic, regardless whether they are real customers or just trained for that purpose. Test customers need to represent the target group of the tested product or service in a credible way.
There are three fundamental approaches to recruiting test customers for Mystery Shopping projects. You can either
- recruit and train new testers for your study
- rely on an existing database of already experienced testers
- recruit real customers to perform the tests while doing their ordinary shopping.
The specific parameters of your project will help you to decide what approach works best for you: will your test buyers have to meet a certain profile (e.g. a high level of prosperity for buying luxury products), will they need a lot of experience with performing these tests (e.g. when testing the customer service) or will they need to be available at large scale all across the country (e.g. when evaluating retailers).
Regardless of your preferred approach, you should put some thoughts into profiling, training and incentivizing your testers properly.
To decide whether a certain candidate is eligible for becoming a tester, a standardised test should be performed at the beginning. It makes sure that all testers have a comparable profile and that, as a result of this, the risk of inconsistent data is brought to a minimum. Mystery Shoppers are typically selected by their demographic profile (e.g. age, gender) and sometimes by their outer appearance and existing branch-related knowledge and experience.
Once you have recruited the tester, you need to prepare them for the tests. Depending on the complexity of your project, this may go far beyond merely providing them with a project briefing. Some projects may even require a workshop with role plays in advance, to make sure the testers are prepared for any eventualities. Remember, the ultimate goal of your testers is to remain unrevealed during the study.
The remuneration of test buyers typically goes beyond granting a small incentive. The time and effort of getting briefed and trained, carrying out the test purchases and giving a de-briefing at the end of the study should be reflected in the compensation. The right amount can vary a lot, depending on the complexity of the study and extent of prior training. However, if the compensation is not considered as being fair, it may harm the test buyers’ motivation during the performance of the test.
Finally, a few words on the right sample size. The sample size of Mystery Shopping projects can vary a lot, but most often these studies work with rather small numbers. The price per interview is typically high in Mystery Shopping projects and, in addition to that, test purchases may involve opportunity costs for the tested company, as the service staff is not able to cater for real clients while being tested. However, there are also projects with large sample sizes (e.g. when recruiting real customers of retail stores via an online panel).
Recruitment through online panels
Another recruitment method we would like to recommend is through online panels.
Recruiting mystery shoppers via an online panel is indeed highly cost efficient and allows you to do nationwide tests without having travel expenses. In addition, doing tests with real consumers may lead to more authentic and relevant insights and help you to achieve larger sample sizes.
However, you will also need to set up additional routines for maintaining the quality. In the most likely case, you will not be able to train these shoppers extensively. You may even have some participants in your sample who don’t take their tasks as seriously as others. Try to verify their feedback, e.g. by capturing the geo location or asking for (a photo of) the receipt.
An additional challenge is that employees of the tested shop may become aware of your project, once you start recruiting on a large scale using an online panel. This may conflict with your goal to remain unrevealed until the end of your study.
As with many things, online is not necessarily the silver bullet for efficiency. If you’d like to hear a second opinion or discuss the right approach for your specific project, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!
As indicated, Mystery Shopping is not only about sending shoppers to a local point of sales, but there are other approaches worth considering. For example, Mystery calls and emails can help to evaluate the quality of support teams. Another option is doing mystery shopping in online shops to evaluate the whole customer experience from the first visit of the website to getting the order delivered and finally how possible returns are handled. The advantage of these approaches during data collection is clear. Mystery Shoppers are less likely to be uncovered, as they can better mask their identity with the help of conversation guides.
But even if you send shoppers to a local point of sales, you should provide them with a standardised interview guide or checklist on their mobile device. Someone checking the smartphone in a store has become so ubiquitous that mystery shoppers are unlikely to be uncovered because of using them while shopping. The opposite is true, online forms can give shoppers the opportunity to comprehensively document all observations in a standardised way and enhance the quality of their feedback. This data can also be used to validate the information and perform quality checks. You can, for example, check the geo-location to make sure the tests have been performed in the right place. The upload of images can give additional insights into the standardised feedback of the test buyers. In any case you should always include open text fields to allow test buyers to complement standardised feedback with personal observations.
It should have become clear that mystery shopping projects are quite complex and require a lot of knowledge and experience. Therefore, we strongly recommend to partner with an agency that specialises in Mystery Shopping in order to avoid possible pitfalls. An important criterion for selecting a quality provider is its membership in renowned industry associations, such as the MSPA (Mystery Shopping Professionals Association). Needless to say, we are also a member and stand for the highest quality standards.
All data collected during Mystery Shopping projects can be delivered in the typical ways, e.g. raw data, tables, charts or dashboards.
In any case, we need to make sure that all data is compliant with the legal requirements, i.e. that no employee or other customer is personally identifiable. Depending on the specific project, this may require an additional manual step to revise all data before sharing it with the contracting client.
Using a dashboard is an especially interesting option whenever data is collected online. Dashboards allow you to visualise the results right away and enable your client to monitor the progress in real time. This is particularly important if serious issues are detected during the test purchases (e.g. expired food in a store). In such cases, shop owners should be able to react in a timely manner.
As real-time reports may conflict with the legal requirements, you may consider a “dashboard light”-solution to monitor all progress in the field with preliminary data and only for selected variables and get a final overview once all data has been revised. As with most studies, this depends a lot on the specifications of a given project.
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