How Smartphones Help Retailers Do Mystery Shopping Better

Little doubt exists about the importance of mystery shopping to omnichannel retailers in ensuring a positive and consistent, 360-degree shopper experience.

Mystery shopping is a secret weapon of sorts, allowing retailers to recruit shoppers to visit specific stores to make and record observations about everything from customer service to display compliance. In the old days, this was done with a pencil and a clipboard, but just as smartphones with geo-location replaced paperback road atlases, mobile technology is bringing a new normal to the industry.

When it comes to smartphones in retail, the app is front and center. Retailers today use apps to communicate with in-store beacons and map store traffic patterns, to capture consumer data using rewards programs, and even to drive sales with geo-located, push notification coupons.

Mystery shopping is the next on the list for smartphone evolution. While traditional mystery shopping has its benefits, the crowd of smartphone users is infusing mystery shopping with a new degree of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Based on retail customer feedback, here’s a breakdown of each method’s unique benefits:

Traditional Mystery Shopping 

As a prevailing and well-understood methodology, traditional mystery shopping has serious street cred. It’s tried and tested, well-established and low risk in situations where the research process from problem to hypothesis to survey development and solution is well-defined.

Traditional mystery shopping has the advantage where familiarity, domain expertise and special skills are required. A large office supply retailer we work with uses this method for in-depth analysis of customer service, including store associates’ ability to diagnose and fix issues with products. Quick service restaurants (QSR) and niche retailers who require special skills to assess the quality and temperature of food or products also greatly benefit from old-school mystery shopping. However, for issues of scale and speed that don’t require particular expertise, retailers should turn to the smartphone.

Mystery Shopping Gone Mobile

The mobile flavor of mystery shopping relies on a crowd of smartphone users—and rather than tens of thousands of hired and trained mystery shoppers, the crowd is millions of users strong. Mobile-enabled shoppers can collect in-store data quickly and economically across a large geographic footprint, identifying local, regional or national trends to ensure consistency chain-wide. Mobile surveys can also be modified as hypotheses change.

Real-time, actionable feedback and alerts is one of the many advantages of mystery shopping gone mobile, allowing retailers across industries to identify and remedy issues related to inconsistent or competitor pricing, customer service indicators like store cleanliness, manager presence and associate knowledge, speed to checkout, promotional effectiveness and compliance and more. If something appears out of place, shopper feedback can alert the appropriate manager in real-time, who can take immediate, remediating action based on relevant KPIs. We’ve seen this with one of our major consumer electronics clients, who is using the crowd to determine when and where their marquee product is out-of-stock or missing a display.

A Successful Smartphone Strategy

Paired with current app-based and IoT initiatives, mobile mystery shopping helps create a 360-degree view of the “human condition” within stores. The crowdsourcing methodology is fundamental to this equation and has impacted our lives in many ways. Crowdsourcing is helping companies like Waze revolutionize navigation by allowing drivers to map and share real-time alerts about their commute. MyShake is crowdsourcing earthquake detection. Even the Smithsonian Institute has signed on, crowdsourcing history through its online Transcription Center. Though not (yet) as ubiquitous or buzzworthy, mobile mystery shopping is rapidly gaining traction in retail, providing retailers with insights that are critical in their quest to create a consistent, omnichannel experience.

It’s time to bring this smartphone-enabled technology in-store, to do mystery shopping better than ever before.

Hal Charnley is the CEO of Mobee,

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