The secret service

Aug 18 2013, 01:10 IST
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SummaryBusinesses are making use of ‘mystery shopping’ to stay ahead of competition

Picture this. You’re at a store in a big shopping mall that is bustling with activity on a busy weekend. You’re done with your shopping and are trying to locate the cash counter. There are no signages to indicate that and no salespeople in view to help you. You are left with no option but to traverse the whole store again in search of that elusive counter.

Scene two. You’re in a queue at the cash counter of a retail store and the people ahead of you choose to pay by card. Fifteen minutes pass by but you still haven’t moved an inch because there is only one card-swipe machine at the counter and the signal is gone. You end up waiting another 15 minutes.

And if you thought this kind of treatment is only meted out to plebeians like us, think again. Earlier this month, American actor, producer and talk show host Oprah Winfrey had to endure the apathy of a salesperson at a posh Swiss boutique when she asked to see a $38,000 handbag. The shop assistant refused to show it to her saying it was “too expensive”.

These are just a few examples—others involve poorly trained staff, inadequate logistics, bad planning, etc.—of a shopping experience gone awry or worse still, forgotten. Sure, there are complaint/suggestion boxes and feedback forms available at all major stores these days, but how seriously they are taken is anybody’s guess.

Enter ‘mystery shopping’

In simple terms, mystery shopping is a service offered by audit firms to help retailers evaluate their business practices. These audit firms, on behalf of the client companies, hire shoppers and conduct mystery audits. The idea is to send people who match the target clientele of businesses to pose as customers and experience the shopping environment. These customers then share their feedback with audit firms, which, in turn, share the observations with the clients to help them create a better shopping experience. And for the shoppers, it’s a win-win situation. They get paid while they shop.

“Mystery shopping is a method to quickly yet efficiently evaluate one’s business practices, deliverables and employees from the perspective of a non-biased consumer,” says Pankaj Guglani, CEO and founder of Red Quanta, an audit firm. “Mystery shoppers are people who are shopping as well as evaluating on behalf of the client, and whose identities and the date and time of visit are not known by the client; and hence,

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