TDmonthly Magazine!
October 2012 | Vol. XI - No. 10


Retailers: Get Holiday-Ready with Mystery Shoppers

11 Benefits of Mystery Shops

Have you heard of the runaway success of the burger franchise Five Guys?

What's one of the big reasons Five Guys is wildly successful?

They send mystery shoppers out twice a week to all locations. The brothers who run the operation also constantly visit their restaurants.

Five Guys knows you need to inspect what you expect.

Maintaining high standards each and every day ensures that the right employees do the right things.

Training new retail employees to 100% and then making them work for managers who don't run the shifts up to high standards spins your company's wheels and lowers the brand perception in customers' eyes.

That means it destroys profits. There's only one way to avoid that: an ongoing mystery shopper program.

The number one thing business owners tell me is, "I just need more customers."

I tell them: Wrong. You need customers who will return. You can't convince your whole neighborhood to try you, then deliver lousy results and expect just getting "more bodies in the door" will work to increase profits.

You can burn through a neighborhood with bad word-of-mouth and, without mystery shoppers, never know it.

The Five Guys franchise, with over 1000 locations, sees the value in nearly 50,000 shops in a what's stopping you? Oh right, the money.

You might not blink at spending $500 per month in advertising, only to balk at spending a fraction of that on measuring customers' experience in your store.

That's just plain dumb. Your profit comes from the people who want to return, not the discount promotions you run to entice new shoppers.

And please, get the idea that mystery shops are a way to spy on employees for compliance out of your head. That's what they'll think if you don't present it correctly.

If you want to fire someone, you don't need a mystery shop to prove it.

Here's the thing: if you aren't servicing your customers the way they believe you should be, you open the door to competitors, eager to take your business.

It's not what your regulars tell you; it's what the new customers tell you that matters most.

Unfortunately, one mystery shop every six months is so random that it reveals little. Why? Because a mystery shop is just a moment in time. You aren't that good if you get 100% and you aren't that bad if you get a 50%. However, over time patterns emerge that make managing your customer experience much clearer.

11 Benefits of Mystery Shops:
  • Monitored and measured service performance
  • Improves customer retention
  • Makes employees aware of what is important in serving customers
  • Monitors facility conditions
  • Ensures product/service delivery quality.
  • Supports promotional programs
  • Allows for competitive analysis between locations
  • Identifies training needs and sales opportunities
  • Ensures positive customer relationships on the front line.
  • Enforces employee integrity and knowledge.
  • Supports hustle by employees to meet customers needs
But not all mystery-shopping companies are the same. Far from it!

One client of mine told me how he found the shoppers he hired had never even BEEN to his store. (You can check and make sure your mystery shoppers are members of the industry association to assure they are reputable).

Another client said she'd tried mystery shoppers but it "didn't work." When I looked at her survey it came screaming off the page why it wasn't successful, because every question was subjective. "Did you feel valued as a guest?" "Did they attempt to meet your needs?" "Did you feel welcomed?"

Shoot me.

What would feedback have looked like to the employee who got a low score on her shop? "Gee Sally, the customer didn't feel valued as a guest. Try harder."

Reminds me of the old days in chorus when the conductor yelled at us to "sing in tune."

If Sally or the choristers knew how to do that, they would have done it.

Questions on a mystery shop need to be black and white. The employee either did or didn't say, "Good morning, good afternoon or good evening." They either described a product to the customer using its features and benefits, or didn't.

In addition, you need the questions to build a narrative so compelling you can actually see the transaction taking place in your store.

The final three questions I always ask at the end are the most important. One of mine is, "Would you be willing to drive past a competitor to return to this location based on the service you received today?"

I work with clients to get their mystery shopper surveys just right and actionable. One client with 14 locations is now tops in her franchise; another's average check continues to rise. Is it a mystery? Nope…a mystery shop.

Yes, you can try to save money by putting those surveys on your receipts and training your cashiers to "circle the web address and tell them what the prize is," but that's not a true judge of the experience. Those who had a rotten experience will be looking for some compensation and many will quickly check off whatever radio buttons they need to qualify their entry for the prize.

Oh, and one more thing...

When you use a mystery shopping company, don't just print the results out and stick them on the employee bulletin board. Good or bad, employee performance should be analyzed and discussed with a supervisor in private. Then, they should go over the results in private with the employees who were working during the mystery shop.

Only then, after those who were most responsible for the score have been counseled, should you share the results, ideally in a store meeting. Delete the names, dates and times so they aren't guessing who was responsible, or you'll defeat the learning experience for the team.

To succeed in a lurching economy, as competitors cry the blues and leave your market, you need to consistently provide clear expectations to your staff and demand high standards from well-trained employees.

Cutting another shift or saving ten cents on freight is like a poor marksman looking at the edge of the target.

The real money is on the bull's eye - selling to the customer.

What say you?

Bob PhibbsWriter's Bio: Bob Phibbs is the Retail Doctor®, a best-selling author and speaker who has helped thousands of independent businesses compete. His new book, The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business has received praise from both Inc. magazine and USA Today and can be found at your local bookstore or ordered at He and his work have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Entrepreneur magazine. Questions? Contact Bob at This article was reprinted with permission of the author, Bob Phibbs, aka The Retail Doctor®. Read more articles by this author


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