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Mystery shopping in a fluctuating auto industry

New research about the auto industry may affect car dealership mystery shopping opportunities and guidelines.

A recent study conducted by U.S. PRIG Education Fund and Frontier Group took an in-depth look at the travel habits of millennials, the young people born between the years 1983 and 2000. They are currently the U.S.'s largest generation. They also make up a large portion of the mystery shopping community and are using cars less than ever before.

The research revealed that this millennial generation is less likely to get a driver's license and 16 to 34 year olds that do drive with a license drove 23 percent less in 2009 than they did in 2001. Many people, millennials and older generations included, are opting to take different forms of transportation to work each day, often utilizing more than one method. 

This decline in driving can be attributed to many factors. The explosion of bike sharing programs and carpooling apps has definitely contributed to fewer drivers on the road. In addition, fewer young people are moving out of cities and urban areas to the suburbs than previous decades. A "walkable" neighborhood is now more appealing than a "driveable" one. Not to mention the fact that owning a car is an incredibly large expense; 53 percent of 18 to 34 year olds cite this as a reason they do not drive. Public transportation is more popular among young people than it is among their parents' and grandparents' generations. 

What this means for mystery shoppers
This information can contribute one of two very different ways to the mystery shopping industry. On one hand, it is possible that dealerships will increase the number of mystery shops they request. They may be looking for more sales among younger generations and find new tactics to appeal to millennial shoppers. Some dealerships may even have developed millennial-centric campaigns they want their salespeople to advocate. This would mean young people between 18 and 34 could be hired with more frequency by mystery shopping companies to conduct gigs at dealerships or used car facilities.

The data could also lead to a decrease in the number of shops at car dealerships, at least for college-aged shoppers. If car salespeople understand and accept the declining appeal owning a new car has for millennials, they may want to spend their time and energy focusing on how to sell more and better to older generations. This would mean perhaps increasing the number of shops conducted by retirees or people in middle age. Anything to better understand the target audience can qualify.

Conducting car shops
Shops at car dealerships are pretty unique experiences because shoppers are in the spotlight the whole time, interacting constantly with salespeople. Car dealers are notoriously competitive and convincing as they are pressured to meet sales quotas. Mystery Shopper Magazine suggested allotting a good amount of time to pre-, post- and mid-shop strategies.

  1. Prepare an exit line that guarantees to get you out of the shop for sure once it's complete. One that works well is, "Give me 24 hours to think about it." This is an understandable request and cuts off any more pitches.
  2. During the shop, be prepared to stand your ground, test drive a car and find ways to take discreet notes, as the salesperson will likely be near you at all times. It's also important to hit all the required phrases and questions requested. 
  3. Typically, reports for car shops are longer and ask for more detail. As these shops tend to be fairly complicated, be thorough and honest about the experience. 

Understanding the industry, especially when it comes to the automotive sector, for a mystery shop will help inform an assignment's purpose and improve the results.