As secret shoppers, we “check up” on employees to make sure they are following the policies and procedures set by their employers. But who checks up on us, to make sure we are doing our jobs properly?
Mystery shopping companies are (understandably) quiet when it comes to the procedures they have in place to verify mystery shop reports. There are always some shoppers who will try to game the system, so the less the companies say about how they check reports, the harder it is for lazy shoppers to cut corners and submit inaccurate reports without getting caught.
There are, however, some things that we know companies do to make sure reports are accurate. Some of these things may be done routinely to randomly selected reports, while others are more likely to occur when the mystery shopping provider or the client suspect a problem.
The shop guidelines include requirements that help to verify the shop. For example, secret shoppers may be required to submit a receipt, business card, brochure or comment card, digital photos or other proof that we actually visited the location. This is the bare-bones verification that we were there, but does not guarantee that our report is accurate.
Shop reports may include “dummy” questions. These are questions inserted by the mystery shopping company that do not appear in the client’s report. Their only purpose is to serve as a gauge for the accuracy and thoroughness of the mystery shopper. If the shopper answers “yes” to a question about whether the awnings were clean and in good repair, and there are no awnings at that business, that is a flag that may cause the mystery shopping company to check the shopper’s report a little more carefully. Although this is not done by every company, I have heard of it happening. (Note: The correct answer to the example question would be “N/A,” because there are no awnings.)
Clients have been known to compare mystery shop reports to video from the location. Almost every business uses video surveillance these days. Some clients will pull video for a few randomly-selected shop reports and compare the reports to the video. Others will check the video when they believe a report is in error. Be aware that you are almost always videotaped at some point while mystery shopping, and those videos may be used to verify—or dispute—your reports.
It is possible that a mystery shopping company would do a quality check by scheduling two shops at the same time. If the shop reports are drastically different, that indicates there may be a problem with one of the shoppers. I have not actually seen this done, but I would not be surprised if it (very rarely) happens.
What is more likely is that the mystery shopping company would look for significant changes in the report pattern for a location. For example, every month, the assigned shoppers answer “no” to a question and give the same details in the associated comment. One month, the shopper answers “yes.” It is not proof that the report is inaccurate (Hey, maybe that just got it right that month.) but it might cause the mystery shopping company to look at other details of the report more closely.
There are other things that mystery shopping companies and clients may do to verify reports, but now you know a few of them. Of course, if you read the guidelines carefully and do an accurate shop and report, none of these will have any effect on you.