What is mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping, secret shopping, mystery visits, mystery guests, there are various terms for evaluating customer experience by consumers. This research method is essentially straightforward: a mystery shopper visits a store, goes through the customer journey, and shares the experience via a questionnaire. In this article, we delve into the origins of mystery shopping research, explain the different methods of measuring customer experience, and discuss the approach of Secret View.

What is mystery shopping?

Different Research Methods for Customer Experience 

Every retailer or restaurateur has different questions and desires regarding customer experience surveys. Each of these needs may correspond to different research methods. Almost everything is measurable, including customer experience. Still, measuring and visualizing these individual experiences isn’t easy. 

The five most used methods for measuring customer experience are the Net Promoter Score, Customer Effort Score, Customer Satisfaction Score, online reviews on platforms like Google or Tripadvisor, and mystery shopping research. Each research method uses a different approach for measuring customer satisfaction. 


Net Promoter Score (NPS)

NPS is a metric for customer loyalty and satisfaction determined by asking customers how likely they are to recommend a product or service to others on a scale of 0-10. Customers giving a score of 9 or 10 are considered ‘promoters,’ likely acting as brand ambassadors. Those giving a score of 6 or lower are ‘detractors,’ who may spread negative word-of-mouth. The NPS is calculated by subtracting the percentage of ‘detractors’ from the percentage of ‘promoters.’ It is a quantitative measurement that can help predict business growth and customer relationships. 



Customer Effort Score (CES)

CES measures how much effort it takes a customer to resolve an issue, make a request, purchase/return a product, or get an answer. The typical question asked is how easy or difficult it was to interact with the company on a scale from ‘very easy’ to ‘very difficult.’ A lower CES indicates a better customer experience and can suggest higher customer loyalty. CES is a quantitative measurement.



Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)

CSAT measures customer satisfaction with a company, purchase, or interaction. It is obtained by asking customers a simple question, such as ‘How satisfied were you with your experience?’ with a corresponding scale that can range from 1-3, 1-5, or 1-10. The CSAT score is the sum of all positive responses, divided by the total number of responses, multiplied by 100, resulting in the percentage of satisfied customers. This is a quantitative measure that can be asked immediately after a specific experience and can help predict customer loyalty. 


Online Reviews

This is not an official form of customer experience research, but customers freely share their opinions on platforms such as Trustpilot, Facebook, and Google Reviews. It is essential to handle both positive and negative reviews appropriately to maintain your reputation. However, online reviews are often concise and tend toward extremely negative or extremely positive experiences. 



Mystery Shopping Research

In this method, anonymous store visitors, or mystery shoppers, observe the customer journey to identify areas for improvement. After the visit, the mystery shopper fills out a survey providing feedback on various aspects of the customer journey. 

From the above research methods, most give you only quantitative data. This can confirm that there is an issue, but the reasons behind the issue often remain unknown. That’s where additional qualitative research comes in. This type of feedback helps you gain deeper insight into the underlying causes. Qualitative research methods, such as mystery shopping, offer the opportunity to unravel the 'why' behind quantitative data.

Each method has its applications and can provide valuable insights into customer experience. Want to learn more about the different methods? Read more in the article ‘5 Types of Customer Experience Research’.   


The Origin of Mystery Shopping 

Mystery shopping originated in the 1940s in the United States, where companies hired private detectives to act as undercover customers. This primarily involved sensitive issues such as handling money and employee theft. Over time, mystery shopping evolved, with more frequent use of mystery shoppers, professionalization of research methods, and improved visualization of results. 

While mystery shopping was initially focused on control, the emphasis has now shifted to measuring and improving the customer experience. Many organizations increasingly value customer experience. Mystery shopping research is particularly well-suited to improving just that. 

With the rise of the internet, mystery shopping regained popularity, with more advanced possibilities and data analysis. Despite the availability of better technological options, many organizations continue to adhere to a traditional approach focusing on control and supervision. To collect data, many businesses still use software that they do not own but license. This means that companies are tied to specific methods imposed by the software, leading to a lack of flexibility and innovation. After all,these companies have to adapt to the limitations of their licensed system rather than being able to adapt to their customers' needs. This is one example of how the choice for 'safe' and familiar options can hinder progress and prevent companies from exploring new and potentially more effective ways of working.


The Purpose of Mystery Shopping 

The aim of mystery shopping research is to map and improve the overall customer experience and human actions in stores or hospitality establishments. For this research, mystery shoppers are deployed who pose as ordinary customers to provide an observation of a customer journey.

The main goal is to identify specific improvement points in human interactions and business processes. The customer experience is directly shaped by these interactions, forming the core of the relationship between customer and company. Mystery shoppers therefore pay attention to all aspects that people on the floor can influence, such as attitude, communication, service, and expertise of the staff.

It is best to conduct mystery shopping research regularly, with mystery shoppers visiting various company locations and going through the customer journey with a pre-prepared survey. Ideally, they come weekly to monthly. This not only provides sufficient data to make a judgment but also keeps staff alert and emphasizes the importance of customer experience through regular feedback loops.

In the evaluations, the entire customer journey is considered. Think of reception, determining needs, advice, product knowledge, upselling, checkout, and the appearance of the store and team. The results from the research are then analyzed and presented clearly in a dashboard, enabling the management team to monitor and evaluate the performance of different store locations.

This process offers valuable insights for companies at various levels. Store managers use feedback from mystery shoppers to advise their employees and offer training where necessary. Regional managers can support the different branches and contribute to the implementation of working methods. Country managers have an overview of performances in different regions and can make strategic decisions to improve customer satisfaction and business results. 



Customer Experience Research at Secret View  

In the traditional form of mystery shopping, this research is sometimes seen as a method that places more emphasis on control than on development. Instead of supporting employees in their learning process, the results may primarily be used as a control tool. This creates a culture of fear, rather than a culture of improvement. In this approach, shoppers often visit only once or twice a year, which leads to a temporary improvement, but the results soon regress.

Secret View does not believe in this approach, as it does not lead to better performances but makes employees more fearful and therefore less customer oriented.

A great example is found with our client, Dutch supermarket chain AH to go; here, the frequency of visits is high, and shoppers come weekly. This keeps employees alert and focused and creates a continuous conversation between store managers and employees. This ensures that customer experience comes to life on the shop floor and that attention to it does not wane. Read more about the experience of AH to go here.

The customer's journey consists of different contact points. Secret View enables you to precisely map how teams perform at each stage of the customer journey. When setting up the research, we go through the customer journey with the client. Each phase consists of a set of related questions that the mystery shopper pays attention to during the visit.


At Secret View, we offer customized solutions to our clients. This customization is possible due to our in-house team of talented developers. This allows us to offer a dashboard with many more options, which continuously develops and is tailored to the needs of our clients.

The customization is realized through a tailor-made case, a specifically designed questionnaire, and a personalized dashboard setup. This allows our clients to obtain deep insights that match their needs. Moreover, our dashboard offers the ability to analyze scores by time, customer journey, question category, and location. Compare all your store locations on every aspect of the research and delve deeper into the questions you ask the community and read constructive feedback back.

Good mystery shopping research starts with selecting mystery shoppers who belong to your target group, as they understand the relevant needs. With a community of over 55,000 mystery shoppers, active in 30 countries and in 15 languages, you get the most valuable insights for improving customer experience. Secret View wants to get as close as possible to a real customer experience, so we work with shopping budget. This way, mystery shoppers choose assignments at companies that match their interests. This creates real experiences from the people who are important to the organization. And the shopping budgets are returned to the cash register of the client.


So, what is mystery shopping? 

Mystery shopping is a research method to measure customer experience. For this research, an anonymous person, or the mystery shopper, visits a store, restaurant, or other (online) environment and evaluates the experience. The mystery shopper assesses aspects such as friendliness, helpfulness, product quality, product knowledge, and the overall shopping experience. A mystery shopping survey provides concrete examples of customer experiences that are useful for training and evaluating employees. 

At Secret View, we value a culture of learning and transparency. Our community, consisting of over 55,000+ mystery shoppers worldwide, provides concrete input from which employees can learn. We value real customer experiences and encourage our mystery shoppers to choose assignments they are genuinely interested in by rewarding them with shopping credits instead of financial compensation. In this way, we support our clients in obtaining feedback from real consumers who belong to their target group.


Curious about the possibilities of Secret View?

Discover more about our dashboard and read the experiences of our clients. 

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