Mystery shopping

Mystery shopping or a mystery consumer is a tool used externally by market research companies or watchdog organizations or internally by companies themselves to measure quality of service or compliance to regulation, or to gather specific information about products and services. The mystery consumer's specific identity is generally not known by the establishment being evaluated. Mystery shoppers perform specific tasks such as purchasing a product, asking questions, registering complaints or behaving in a certain way, and then provide detailed reports or feedback about their experiences.

Mystery shopping was standard practice by the early 1940s as a way to measure employee integrity. Tools used for mystery shopping assessments range from simple questionnaires to complete audio and video recordings. Mystery shopping can be used in any industry, with the most common venues being retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, restaurants, fast food chains, banks, gas stations, car dealerships, apartments, health clubs and health care facilities. Since 2010, mystery shopping has become abundant in the medical tourism industry, with healthcare providers and medical facilities using the tool to assess and improve the customer service experience. [1] In the UK mystery shopping is increasingly used to provide feedback on customer services provided by local authorities, and other non-profit organizations such as housing associations and churches.[2]



When a client company hires a company providing mystery shopping services, a survey model will be drawn up and agreed to which defines what information and improvement factors the client company wishes to measure. These are then drawn up into survey instruments and assignments that are allocated to shoppers registered with the mystery shopping company.

The details and information points shoppers take note of typically include:

  • number of employees in the store on entering
  • how long it takes before the mystery shopper is greeted
  • the name of the employees
  • whether or not the greeting is friendly, ideally according to objective measures
  • the questions asked by the shopper to find a suitable product
  • the types of products shown
  • the sales arguments used by the employee
  • whether or how the employee attempted to close the sale
  • whether the employee suggested any add-on sales
  • whether the employee invited the shopper to come back to the store
  • cleanliness of store and store associates
  • speed of service
  • compliance with company standards relating to service, store appearance, and grooming/presentation

Shoppers are often given instructions or procedures to make the transaction atypical to make the test of the knowledge and service skills of the employees more stringent or specific to a particular service issue (known as scenarios). For instance, mystery shoppers at a restaurant may pretend they are lactose-intolerant, or a clothing store mystery shopper could inquire about gift-wrapping services. Not all mystery shopping scenarios include a purchase.

While gathering information, shoppers usually blend in to the store being evaluated as regular shoppers. They may sometimes be required to take photographs or measurements, return purchases, or count the number of products, seats, people during the visit. A timer or a stopwatch may be required. In some states in the USA, mystery shoppers must also be licensed as private investigators in order to perform some of the tasks.

After the visit the shopper submits the data collected to the mystery shopping company, which reviews and analyzes the information, completing quantitative or qualitative statistical analysis reports on the data for the client company. This allows for a comparison on how the stores or restaurants are doing against previously defined criteria.


The mystery shopping industry had an estimated value of nearly $600 million in the United States in 2004, according to a 2005 report commissioned by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). Companies that participated in the report experienced an average growth of 11.1 percent from 2003 to 2004, compared to an average growth of 12.2 percent. The report estimates more than 8.1 million mystery shops were conducted in 2004. The report represents the first industry association attempt to quantify the size of the mystery shopping industry. Similar surveys are available for European regions where mystery shopping is becoming more embedded into company procedures.[3]

As a measure of its importance, customer/patient satisfaction is being incorporated more frequently into executive pay. A study by a U.S. firm found more than 55% of hospital chief executive officers surveyed in 2005 had "some compensation at risk," based on patient satisfaction, up from only 8% to 20% a dozen years ago."[4]

CBC Television's news magazine program Marketplace ran a segment on this topic during a January 2001 episode.[5]


The Trade Organization for Mystery Shopping Providers, MSPA has defined a Code of Professional Standards and Ethics Agreement for Mystery Shopping Providers and for Mystery Shoppers.

MSPA has also defined Standards for Mystery Shopping. The Standard is available in a full version and an Abstract version. The Abstract is available in 32 languages.

Other organizations that have defined standards for Mystery Shopping are: ESOMAR, MRS and MRA.


In June 2008 the American Medical Association's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs released a recommendation on the use of "secret shopper patients". The Recommendation: "Physicians have an ethical responsibility to engage in activities that contribute to continual improvements in patient care. One method for promoting such quality improvement is through the use of secret shopper 'patients' who have been appropriately trained to provide feedback about physician performance in the clinical setting."[6]

The most widely used set of professional guidelines and ethics standards for the Market Research industry is ISO 20252[7] ratified in 2006.


There is a fraudulent confidence trick (a form of advance fee fraud) perpetrated on people in several countries who wish to be mystery shoppers. A person is sent a money order, often from Western Union,[8] or cheque for a larger sum than a mystery purchase they are required to make, with a request to deposit it into their bank account, use a portion for a mystery purchase and their fee, and wire the remainder through a wire transfer company such as Western Union or MoneyGram; the money is to be wired immediately as response time is being evaluated. The cheque is fraudulent, and is returned unpaid by the victim's bank, after the money has been wired.[9] One scam involved fraudulent websites using a misspelled URL to advertise online and in newspapers under a legitimate company's name.[10] It should be remembered that this is not the only type of mystery shopping scam taking place which involves money being paid, as it has been widely reported in the UK that shoppers should "Watch out for some online mystery shopping scams which will cost you money for either training or for signing up without the promise of any work."[11]

Valid mystery shopping companies do not normally send their clients a cheque prior to work being completed, and their advertisements usually include a contact person and phone number. Some fraudulent cheques can be identified by a financial professional. On February 3, 2009, The Internet Crime Complaint Center issued a warning on this scam.[12] A legitimate company that occasionally sends prepayment for large transactions says "We do occasionally fund upfront for very large spend purchases but we use cheques or direct bank transfers which should mean you can see when they are cleared and so can be sure you really do have the money."[8] It is standard practice for mystery shopping providers evaluating services such as airlines to arrange for the airfare to be issued beforehand at their own expenses (usually by means of a frequent flyer reward ticket). In any case, it is unlikely that any bona-fide provider would allocate a high-value assignment to a new shopper or proactively recruit new ones for that purpose, preferring instead to work with a pool of existing pre-vetted experienced shoppers.

See also


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • mystery shopping — ˌmystery ˈshopping ; noun uncountable • Today, mystery shopping is primarily used by businesses to measure their customer service. Main entry: ↑mystery shopperderived …   Useful english dictionary

  • mystery shopping — UK US noun [U] COMMERCE ► the activity of pretending to be a normal customer when you are employed by a company to check how its products or services are being sold: »Many large chain stores, restaurants, hotels and banks engage in mystery… …   Financial and business terms

  • Mystery Shopping — Bezugsrahmen Mystery Shopping Unter Mystery Shopping bzw. Testkauf werden im allgemeinen Verfahren zur Erhebung von Dienstleistungsqualität subsumiert, bei denen geschulte Beobachter, sogenannte Testkäufer, als normale Kunden auftreten und reale… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Mystery shopping — El mystery shopping o Cliente misterioso es una técnica utilizada por las empresas para evaluar y medir la calidad en la atención al cliente. Los mystery shoppers actúan como clientes comunes que realizan una compra o consumen un servicio y luego …   Wikipedia Español

  • mystery shopping — Mktg the use of employees or agents to visit a store or use a service anonymously and assess its quality. Mystery shopping is used to assess such factors as the quality of customer service, including general and technical efficiency, and… …   The ultimate business dictionary

  • MYSTERY SHOPPING — [англ. метод «таинственного покупателя», или метод «инсценированной покупки»] метод оценки условий торговли, качества торгового обслуживания, сильных и слабых сторон работы персонала компании продавца с помощью покупок, совершаемых специалистами… …   Маркетинг. Большой толковый словарь

  • mystery shopping — /ˈmɪstri ʃɒpɪŋ/ (say mistree shoping) noun a tool used by retailers, service providers, etc., to test the quality of their products and services by analysing the reports of researchers who have posed as normal customers. –mystery shopper, noun …   Australian English dictionary

  • mystery shopping — / mɪst(ə)ri ˌʃɒpɪŋ/ noun shopping done by anonymous employees of a market research company to test staff reactions, etc …   Marketing dictionary in english

  • mystery shopper — noun An undercover researcher who poses as a customer in order to evaluate shops, restaurants, etc • • • Main Entry: ↑mystery * * * ˌmystery ˈshopper 7 [mystery shopper mystery shopping] noun …   Useful english dictionary

  • Mystery Check — Die Artikel Servicetest und Mystery Shopping überschneiden sich thematisch. Hilf mit, die Artikel besser voneinander abzugrenzen oder zu vereinigen. Beteilige dich dazu an der Diskussion über diese Überschneidungen. Bitte entferne diesen Baustein …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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