Guest post by Jeff Hall, CEO, Second To None
The recession that began in 2007 has affected the mystery shopping industry. Not long ago, traditional shopping assignments were abundant, requirements were straight forward and payments were generous.
What a difference a few years make.
Many retail and restaurant operators have experienced measurable declines in revenue, as a rising unemployment rate and general economic anxiety have forced consumers to tightly manage spending habits. As brands have struggled with losses, many have reconsidered the resources allocated to market research and within this environment, mystery shopping.
This era has also ushered in a new corporate mindset regarding the value of market research, with increasing emphasis on custom research projects. Our firm has witnessed a shift toward non-traditional applications of mystery shopping—the type of assignments that demand significant preparation, instore interactions and increasingly complicated cognitive and observational requirements.
Today’s economic environment has forced businesses to assess their own operational performance through increasingly complicated mystery shopping efforts. While businesses continue to recognize the value mystery shopping adds via critical business intelligence, end-user (client) expectations are becoming more sophisticated.
What impact does this have on service providers, and shoppers?
For providers, the most pronounced change has appeared in client requirements regarding shopper selection. Whereas clients once allowed open standards with who could be offered an assignment, we now work within much more tightly defined criteria, including gender, age, household income, lifestyle attributes and the like. Once we have identified a pool of eligible shoppers for a particular program, the selection process is further refined through project-specific testing and interviewing.
Certifications and shopper “rankings” are prevalent among mystery shopping providers as a way to demonstrate the credibility clients expect. The same is true for extensive pre-shop orientation and testing. As a shopper, if you have not already, you will soon come to see more and more detail related to shop guidelines, a broad use of video-enhanced guidelines, as well as webinar training sessions. In order to be offered a wider variety of assignments, mystery shop providers will be looking to broaden their understanding of your lifestyle attributes – such as they type of vehicle you drive, the types of stores and restaurants you frequent, etc. Clients are increasingly interested in mirroring the mystery shopper with their target customer base.
Non-traditional applications are on the rise. These “shops” are often in health care, luxury brands, or in very specific areas of retail. For example, shoppers may be asked to negotiate for a specific price on a luxury item as a way to determine discounting practices among retailers.
What can shoppers do to prepare for non-traditional shops?
- Get certified. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) certifications are highly regarded. As well, many providers have their own certification programs. Certification demonstrates not only competency, but commitment.
- Allow for shop preparation time. Non-traditional shops often require shoppers to role play a specific customer-type. Jane Q. Public isn’t the target of these shops. Shoppers need to understand the shop scenario and, often, practice that scenario ahead of time.
- As part of your shopper tool set, have a digital camera, webcam or video camera. Not only will the camera help in role play prep, some mystery shopping providers are asking for video recorded responses to interview questions as a way to identify the best shoppers for specific non-traditional scenarios.
As the needs of mystery shopping end-user clients continue to evolve, we look forward to working with our shopper community to help each individual be as successful as possible.
About the Author
Jeff Hall is the CEO and Founder of Second To None, Inc, a leading mystery shopping provider servicing Fortune 1000 brands worldwide.
About Second To None
Second To None, Inc. is a multi-disciplinary customer experience and customer satisfaction measurement firm specializing in mystery shopping, customer feedback surveys, and compliance audits. We assist Fortune 1000 brands in measuring, understanding and optimizing their brand performance across all points of customer interaction by providing actionable, forward-looking information about the customer experience. For more information, visit www.second-to-none.com or call +1 (734) 302-8400.