Why Mystery Shopping is obsolete and how to replace it?

Why Mystery Shopping is obsolete and how to replace it?

News / Tuesday, 11 December 2018 - 16:53

Why mystery shopping is obsolete?

Mystery Shopping, the act of sending a ‘fake customer’ into a retail store has long been seen as the end all solution for assessing a store’s compliance versus pre-defined guidelines/standards. But, turns out that knowing how well a store is compliant is often detrimental to good customer experience and business optimization.

Mystery shopping is used mainly because:

  • Brands would like to understand how compliant frontline staff is towards Standards, SOP, Guidelines, etc.
  • Brands would like to assess (and mix) all aspects of the shopping experience: Store environment, staff grooming and the entire client interaction from the welcoming words used down to the farewell process.
  • The “Mystery Shopping overall score” (out of 100% most of the time) encourages brands to rank the regions/countries/stores according to compliance versus pre-defined standards, guidelines, SOP and its evolution over time.
  • Action Plans based on Mystery Shopping scores are designed to increase or maintain the level of compliancy. Once a brand knows where “points are missed”, the attention is immediately put on these items (sometimes ‘question by question’).
  • Incentive programs are frequently put in place to reward the most compliant stores.

However, there are major flaws with the above key principles of Mystery Shopping. Main reasons being:

  • A ‘high Mystery Shopping overall score’ does not mean clients are positive nor convinced by the experience received; it “simply” means that standards, SOP, guidelines were respected. Furthermore, a ‘high Mystery Shopping overall score’ does not mean the clients’ interaction is optimized from a brand equity perspective (positive word of mouth) or from a business perspective (willingness to purchase).
  • Mystery shopping is encouraging robotic behaviors (to “tick the maximum number of boxes”) that can easily be spotted and disliked by customers.
  • Mystery shopping is mostly a “look inside” activity (understanding how each store is compliant versus internal standards); putting aside client’s opinion about the experience felt.
  • Having a focus on a mystery shopping ‘overall score’ kills any sense of initiative as the front-line team must behave in the same way, no matter the situation, otherwise risk a reduced score. There is no room to dare, innovate or cater the performance to local cultural trends or simply to behave differently based on the situation (Example: clients in a hurry)
  • Mystery shopping, being understood as a check-list approach, encourages frontline teams to spend time in front of CCTV to “check/challenge” each survey with the hope to “increase the overall score”.
  • The mystery shopping programs, little by little, become disliked by frontline teams. They become defensive and feel pressured by the management when receiving results.
  • Finally, it is almost impossible to correlate the ‘overall score’ with store profitability or any other business KPI.

Eventually, Mystery Shopping reached its own saturation point: after few waves, most of the stores achieving ‘almost impossible to increase’ high scores (above 90%). On top of that, Mystery Shopping questionnaires are painful to modify as any modification would go against historical comparison; Leading to programs repeated year after year without any update/improvement.

What is the solution if not Mystery Shopping?

The solution, in fact, relies on being focused on the Customer Experience felt, not on the compliance with pre-defined standards, SOP, guidelines.

Albatross CX replaced few years ago the Mystery Shopping dogma by a Customer centric approach.

What is Customer Experience Evaluation (CXE)?

Albatross CX still asks carefully selected and certified customers to visit the stores of its clients (or interact with any other touch point: website, call centers, events…) and fill out a questionnaire. However, this questionnaire is not focused on standards, SOP, guidelines, but on the experience felt. This questionnaire does not generate an “overall score” but indicates the word of mouth created and the main reasons behind it.

  • Mystery shopping is a “look inside” activity, CXE is a “customer-centric” approach.
  • Mystery shopping output is an “overall score” focused on compliance, whilst CXE’s main indicator is 100% focused on the creation of a positive word of mouth and intention to purchase.
  • Mystery shopping is creating robotic behavior, CXE is encouraging initiatives as long as they reinforce the brand equity and optimize the traffic.
  • Mystery shopping is not correlated to business, CXE is strongly linked to it.
  • Mystery shopping overall score is impossible to benchmark across the industry, CXE, by being focused on the word of mouth, gives access to the widest CX Benchmark.

Over the last years, we have been helping Premium and Luxury brands transition from Mystery Shopping programs to Customer Experience Evaluations, step by step.

If you already feel the negative consequences of your Mystery Shopping program (robotic behaviors, absence of correlation with business KPI, stagnating “overall score”…) please contact us, we will be delighted to guide you, step by step, to a customer centric approach. We will start where you are!