Mystery Shoppers Do Reconnaissance

Jul 09, 2004
George Anderson

By George Anderson

It’s like a scene from Dirty Harry, minus the facial grimacing, gritted teeth and background music.

A shopper pushes a cart up to a checkout and the cashier hears a silent voice, “Do you feel lucky today? Do ya?”

No, this isn’t a story about retail store crime.

It’s about store employees understanding the customer in front of them may be taking notes on how they’re treated and sharing that information with the boss. They may be the dreaded (dum-de-dum-dum) secret/mystery shopper.

As Don Harrison, a spokesperson for Home Depot told The Washington Times, “We want our associates to treat every customer like they are a secret shopper.”

Mystery shoppers are a fact of life for retail workers because companies depend on them to give a realistic account of shopping in a chain’s stores.

“Consumers have more choices than ever before,” said Jeff Hall, president of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. “The smart companies realize they can compete by creating an optimized customer experience.”

Today, many retailers, including McDonald’s, Starbucks, Home Depot and Giant Food, are making greater use of mystery shoppers to remain competitive. According to the National Center for Professional Mystery Shoppers and Merchandisers (NCPMS), companies are spending up to $600 million annually to judge and improve on their customer service.

As Jeff Marr, vice president of Walker Information, pointed out, “When it comes to retailing, you’re only as good as your last interaction.”

Moderator’s Comment: Is mystery shopping a valid tool for evaluating a shopper’s experience and customer service levels
of a store?

Mystery shopping accounts are of a single experience. It’s important to remember that the most customer-friendly employee can be “caught” having a few bad minutes
while those who are personality-challenged sometimes appear charismatic and helpful.

George Anderson – Moderator

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