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What is MYSTERY SHOPPING? What does MYSTERY SHOPPING mean? MYSTERY SHOPPING meaning – MYSTERY SHOPPING definition – MYSTERY SHOPPING explanation.
Mystery shopping (related terms: mystery consumer, secret shopper) is a tool used externally by market research companies, watchdog organizations, or internally by companies themselves to measure the quality of service, or compliance with regulation, or to gather specific information about products and services. The mystery consumer’s specific identity and purpose are generally not known by the establishment being evaluated. Mystery shoppers perform specific tasks such as purchasing a product, asking questions, registering complaints or behaving in a certain way, and then provide detailed reports or feedback about their experiences. Mystery shopping was standard practice by the early 1940s as a way to measure employee integrity.
Tools used for mystery shopping assessments range from simple questionnaires to complete audio and video recordings. Mystery shopping can be used in any industry, with the most common venues being retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, restaurants, fast food chains, banks, gas stations, car dealerships, apartments, health clubs, and health care facilities. Since 2010, mystery shopping has become abundant in the medical tourism industry, with healthcare providers and medical facilities using the tool to assess and improve the customer service experience. In the UK, mystery shopping is increasingly used to provide feedback on customer services provided by local authorities and other non-profit organizations such as housing associations and churches.
The mystery shopping industry had an estimated value of nearly $600 million in the United States in 2004, according to a 2005 report commissioned by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). Companies that participated in the report experienced an average growth of 11.1 percent from 2003 to 2004, compared to average growth of 12.2 percent. The report estimates more than 8.1 million mystery shops were conducted in 2004. The report represents the first industry association attempt to quantify the size of the mystery shopping industry.
The Independent Mystery Shoppers’ Coalition reports there are 1.5 million mystery shoppers in the United States alone. Similar surveys are available for European regions where mystery shopping is becoming more embedded into company procedures. As a measure of its importance, customer/patient satisfaction is being incorporated more frequently into executive pay. A study by a U.S. firm found more than 55% of hospital chief executive officers surveyed in 2005 had “some compensation at risk,” based on patient satisfaction, up from only 8% to 20% a dozen years ago.” In the United Kingdom, a Mystery Shoppers Practitioners’ Group has been established under the auspices of the Market Research Society. A 2011 survey by the American Express company found a clear correlation between a company’s attention to customer service and customers’ willingness to pay more for good service. CBC Television’s news magazine program Marketplace ran a segment on this topic during a January 2001 episode. Mystery shopping organizations advise that their research should only be used for employee incentive programs and that punishment or firing is an inappropriate use of mystery-shopper data.
However, stories of employees being fired as a direct result of negative mystery shopper feedback are not uncommon. The Trade Organization for Mystery Shopping Providers, MSPA has defined a Code of Professional Standards and Ethics Agreement for Mystery Shopping Providers and for Mystery Shoppers. Other organizations that have defined standards for Mystery Shopping are ESOMAR, MRS, and MRA. The most widely used set of professional guidelines and ethics standards for the Market Research industry is ISO.