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Avoiding mystery shopper bias

A mystery shopping company does not pay its employees to review the food they eat when checking out a restaurant. The company would rather know how long it took the meal to arrive at the table or what the noise level inside the place was than if the chicken soup was tasty.

It is easy to have an opinion about a business, especially at a location such as a restaurant, where personal preference has such a major impact on your perception of the establishment. But in secret shopping, it is vital to eliminate all bias and focus strictly on the facts. That will allow you to give the best, well-rounded evaluation of the business in the end.

Remember the details

The key to staying impartial is knowing exactly what you are looking for as a secret shopper. At a clothing store, for example. you will not be distracted by the sale on shirts in your size if you walk through the door with the mindset of only focusing on the employees. While you don't want to write down notes - that could give away your identity as a mystery shopper - clearly remembering the information can help you keep track of your thoughts in a well-organized manner.

In a recent article, Marty Nemko of Psychology Today suggests creating a mental checklist.

"We all should use checklists more," Nemko writes. "That's true even if you're one of the many people who think checklists are too rigid, too confining. You won't feel confined. Knowing you'll remember everything will free-up the brain space to use your creativity ... safely."

The ability to remember the details of a visit will help push away the bias that may creep in when looking at a business. Going down the list until you have all the information you need will allow you to maintain that focus and give a clear representation of what this shopping location has to offer.

Trust the process 

Another way to avoid giving preferential or biased reviews to a company when mystery shopping is to be consistent. Asking detailed questions to store owners and employees, while looking for specific trends in how the business is run, will benefit the secret shopper.

This will also give you the opportunity to compare similar companies in the same fields; For example if you have to be a mystery shopper at multiple clothing stores, you can see how they stack up to one another in terms of selection, price and customer service without you personally picking a favorite.

It can be a conflict of interest to review a store you regularly shop at; or to the opposite end of the spectrum, one you have previously had a bad experience at. Come in with a fresh slate, knowing what you need to look for and who you need to talk to. Give the business the best a chance to prove itself so that you can write the best mystery shopping report possible.

And leave the chicken soup evaluations to food critics.