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Boosting the retail experience through mystery shopping

Customer experience is a key part of retaining shoppers from one visit to the next. Retail Info Systems News reported that BRP's 2014 CRM/Unified Commerce Benchmark Survey indicated 95 percent of respondents said they planned to work on their customer experience.

The landscape of the retail industry is changing dramatically. People don't have to shop at a store if they don't want to. It's also very difficult to compete with a business like Amazon because typically digital retailers offer a better inventory of goods along with cheaper prices. The overhead associated with running a large retail outfit doesn't exist for online companies.

The best way to compete - and one of the major reasons that people shop inside a store - is customer experience. People come to a retailer not only so that they can avoid fees and wait times, but also because they want to experience the classic service that a good store presents, as well as to remember before the days when everything was bought online.

Creating a new customer experience with mystery shoppers
Because the demand on the customer side for quality service is growing, the retail industry is beginning to work on making the experience in the store as good as possible. Forbes cited Apple as a reference for quality. When someone walks into an Apple store, he or she can find a number of professionally dressed, clean-looking people who will guide someone down through the store and explain various aspects of the product.

In order to ensure the quality on something like this, a company needs to do a lot of training. It also needs to have a way of getting feedback from people about the abilities of its staff to meet demands at various times of day. In fact, the greater the transparency in this area, the better. The best comparison might be to a data capture system in a warehouse. A shop owner needs to know what his staff is doing, how long it takes for the staff to do something and at what times the staff is most busy. This needs to be done in such a way that the workers aren't precisely aware of when the data is being collected, so that each customer could in fact be the mystery shopper who will be giving a thorough and impartial inspection.

Mystery shoppers are the answer
To create the best in-store experience, shop owners can rely on mystery shoppers to give them the data they need to figure out areas of strength and weakness, and then harness this information to promote quality service in the store.

For example, if a mystery shopper reports long wait times in the afternoon, it would be a good idea to put more staff on call. If a different person reports that wait times are longer on a certain day, then it may be time to investigate whether everyone is pulling their weight. Because mystery shoppers are very detail orientated, retailers will receive the names of everyone who served the guests in the store, so that they know exactly how long it takes for one person to do his or her job versus another person.

This level of detail isn't something that a shop owner can get from a website like Yelp, which often provides indistinct complaints that have already been posted publicly. Many people post on Yelp with only their worst experiences, so the good and mediocre shopping trips are left unrecorded.

Mystery shoppers, unlike Yelp reviewers, have no biases and aren't spending their own money, so they are not invested in the outcome of a shopping trip. They answer only to the person who hired them, and so they will tell that person everything that happened. The information will be as specific as the exact time it took in the store before someone approached and offered service, along with the exact dialog given by a clerk when describing a product.

For details, balanced reporting and information that gets found out before it goes into a public space like Yelp, mystery shoppers are the answer.