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Mystery Shopping in Market Research

Mystery Shopping in Market Research

Customer preferences have certainly evolved over the last decade. From technological advancements to economic shifts, many factors influence what customers want from brands today.

Although brands can use multiple research methods to understand their market, customers, and competition, traditional market research methods may not always capture the complex details of customer experiences. 

This is where mystery shopping comes in as an invaluable tool. By acting as real customers, mystery shoppers provide reliable, timely, and actionable feedback on different touchpoints throughout the customer journey. 

But what type of data do these undercover shoppers collect? And how can this information lead to strategic decisions and business growth? 

In this blog, we'll take a deep dive into mystery shopping as a research tool and explore its potential for leveraging business intelligence.


Mystery Shopping as a Research Methodology

Mystery Shopping is a powerful research methodology that offers a unique lens into consumer interactions. It helps brands collect insights into operations and customer experiences in a way that other research methodologies may overlook.

  • Primary Data Collection

One key advantage of mystery shopping is its ability to gather primary data straight from the source: the customers themselves. By engaging shoppers in real interactions, brands gain firsthand insights into the nuances of customers' experiences at multiple locations. 

According to a study by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), 78% of businesses utilize mystery shopping to gather direct feedback from customers, highlighting its effectiveness as a primary data collection method. 

  • Unbiased Feedback For Unique Insights

From the moment they step through the door to their interactions with staff, mystery shoppers evaluate every detail, free from external influences.

This unique perspective enables brands to gain genuine feedback, allowing them to make informed decisions about serving their customers better. 

  • Qualitative and Quantitative Feedback

From measuring customer wait times to evaluating staff friendliness, mystery shopping provides quantitative and qualitative data on customers’ interactions. 

Research indicates integrating qualitative and quantitative data leads to more comprehensive business insights. With that in mind, brands can:

  1. Gain a holistic understanding of their performance across crucial touchpoints impacting customer experiences
  2. Make strategic decisions that resonate with their target audience across multiple locations.

Qualitative Data in Mystery Shopping

Quantitative data from mystery shopping provides an objective understanding of the customer experience and operational performance and is typically what people think of when considering mystery shopping. These data points are often utilized to monitor performance, identify trends, and measure adherence to specific standards or benchmarks.

With access to objective data, decision-makers can delve deeper and pinpoint areas in the operations that are hindering customer experience and satisfaction.

For instance, if product quality has been consistently evaluated as ‘low,’ what are the key reasons behind it? Is a supply chain issue affecting product quality, or is a lack of employee handling training impacting the quality of the product delivered?

10 Examples of Quantitative Data in Mystery Shopping

  1. Service Speed: Measures the time for an order to be taken, processed, and delivered, as well as any time spent waiting in line. For fast-paced industries like quick-serve restaurants, Service Speed can make all the difference in keeping customers happy and coming back for more. (Pro tip: Learn more about crucial Restaurant KPIs here).
  2. Order Accuracy: This involves checking whether the order, including the items, special requests, quantities, and specifications, is correct.
  3. Frequency of Certain Behaviors Observed: Quantifies the frequency of specific behaviors observed, such as greeting customers upon entry or making upselling attempts.
  4. Average Time to Resolve a Complaint: Measure the average time staff takes to resolve customer complaints or issues. This will help brands identify opportunities to improve the customer support process, leading to higher customer satisfaction.
  5. Adherence to Company Policies: Tracks whether employees adhere to company standards, such as wearing name tags or following specific procedures.
  6. Upselling Attempts: Records instances of upselling attempts by staff during the interaction.
  7. Average Cleanliness Rating: Rates the cleanliness and tidiness of the store. It also takes into account whether the store is free of clutter or not.
  8. Satisfaction Score: Assigns a quantitative score representing the overall satisfaction with the experience.
  9. Average Time to Get Staff Help: Measures the average time taken for customers to receive assistance from staff. 
  10. Store Safety: Evaluates whether the protocols implemented by brands to ensure the well-being and security of customers, employees, and assets are in place. This includes wet floor signs and safety barriers around potentially hazardous areas, for example.

Methods for Collecting Quantitative Data with Mystery Shopping

These are the most effective methods for brands to design their questionnaires when collecting quantitative data with mystery shopping:

  1. Questionnaires and Checklists: Shoppers use structured questionnaires and checklists to evaluate various aspects of the customer experience objectively.
  2. Rating Scales: Shoppers utilize rating scales to evaluate different criteria.
  3. Timed Observations: Shoppers time specific activities or interactions to measure service speed and efficiency.
  4. Closed-ended questions: These are the ones where brands give specific options, like 'yes' or 'no' questions. They are great for getting quantitative feedback since they keep the results within the parameters evaluated by the brand.

Qualitative Data in Mystery Shopping

Qualitative data in mystery shopping offers subjective insights that provide a more detailed understanding of customer experiences. 

Unlike quantitative data, which is based on numbers and metrics, qualitative data provides a context-rich evaluation that sheds light on the details of the customer experience. 

This type of data is very useful for brands, as it allows them to identify the value that customers place on specific interactions and touchpoints. Additionally, it can be used to improve employee training and anticipate trends in customer behavior, giving companies a real competitive edge.

10 Examples of Qualitative Data in Mystery Shopping

  1. Friendliness: Rates the quality of staff interactions and employee demeanor during the experience. This can include how friendly and welcoming the staff was, their level of professionalism, and their ability to answer any questions the shoppers may have had. 
  2. Cleanliness and Organization: Assess how neat, tidy, and well-maintained things are in the shop. This includes keeping the store clean and making sure everything is well-organized and easy to find.
  3. Feedback on Ambiance: Provides feedback on the atmosphere and ambiance of the location, including factors such as lighting, music, and overall vibe.
  4. Comments on Overall Customer Experience: Provide opinions on the customer's overall experience, including satisfaction levels and any positive or negative aspects.
  5. Insights into Interaction with Employees: Shoppers detail their interactions with staff, including any memorable encounters, issues, or wow moments.
  6. Observations of Wait Times and Service Speed: It aims to identify potential reasons for longer wait times and slower service, such as technical problems with systems that may have affected the service during a visit. 
  7. Product Presentation: Evaluates the presentation of products, including product display and merchandising.
  8. Feedback on Promotional Materials: Reviews promotional materials such as advertisements, flyers, and signage, assessing their clarity, effectiveness, and relevance.
  9. Impressions of Store Layout and Signage: Analyze the store's layout, ease of navigation, and the visibility of signage and displays. 
  10. Effectiveness of Communication Channels: Shoppers assess communication channels such as websites, apps, social media, and customer support channels, evaluating their usability, responsiveness, and helpfulness.

Curious about how Mystery Shopping can help brands collect quantitative and qualitative data across different industries? Click here to learn more.

Methods for Collecting Qualitative Data with Mystery Shopping

Here are the most popular methods that brands can use to effectively design their questionnaires when collecting qualitative data with mystery shopping:

  1. Direct Observation: Mystery shoppers directly observe and note their experiences during their visit to the establishment, typically referred to as shopper comments.
  2. Open-Ended Questions: Shoppers are provided with open-ended questions to encourage detailed feedback and insights.
  3. Audio or Video Recordings: Sometimes, mystery shoppers may record audio or video of their interactions and experiences for more accurate evaluation. Brands can use those recordings to identify gaps in employee training and assess franchisee performance.

The Importance of Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Data in Mystery Shopping

Quantitative metrics provide valuable data points, but they may not offer the context that qualitative observations can provide. When businesses combine both types of data, they can gain a more comprehensive understanding of their operations and the impact on customer experiences.

Qualitative data provides deeper insights into the root causes of operational inefficiencies, enabling brands to get a full picture of what is happening on a day-to-day basis in the field. 

Let’s consider the restaurant industry as an example. Our 2023 Drive-Thru Study highlighted the impact of food temperature on food quality. According to it, ‘Food Quality’ was 35% higher when the food was received hot. 

Based on shoppers’ comments, decision- makers can dig deeper into considerations like: 

  • Was there any issue during food storage or preparation?
  • Is the equipment responsible for maintaining the temperature working properly?
  • Is there a temperature monitoring system in place?
  • Is this a consequence of staff prioritizing speed over service during peak hours? If so, should we allocate more resources at some locations?
  • Is staff training addressing the importance of maintaining proper food temperatures and how to do so effectively?

Blending qualitative insights and quantitative data in mystery shopping enables businesses to gain a comprehensive understanding of operational efficiency and its impact on customer experiences and business growth. 

By leveraging both types of data, brands can embark on a journey of continuous improvement, brand consistency, operational efficiency, and exceptional customer experience.

Need help gathering valuable insights about your customers' experiences across multiple locations? Let's chat!

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