What does mystery shopping mean

The unsolved secrets of mystery shopping

How can the test buyer remain anonymous?

As soon as it becomes known in the company that a test purchase project is being carried out, employees usually go on the "stalk" for test customers. They try to expose potential test customers. That's only natural.

For the institute carrying out the test and the mystery shoppers deployed, the challenge remains to carry out the test so well that the tester is not "discovered". This challenge makes it clear why test purchase projects are among the most complex projects in market and social research. Above all, this has to do with recruiting the right test buyers.

How do you recruit the right test buyers?

Of course there are also mystery projects where test buyers just go into the kiosk and buy a pack of cigarettes and record this. It is relatively easy to find test buyers for this.

But normally the requirements for the recruitment of test buyers are much higher: Test buyers have to correspond to the target group of the service to be tested. This means that if you want to test the building finance advice of a savings bank, you cannot use 21-year-old students or 75-year-old senior citizens. Every customer advisor will notice this immediately.

On the other hand, a test buyer must have the acting means and intelligence to pretend to be someone he is not actually: a potential buyer.

The more demanding the test to be carried out is, the more test buyers must be rewarded accordingly. In addition to the test purchases themselves, briefing and de-briefing of the test buyers must also be taken into account. That costs money and leads to the next unsolved question:

How can you make money with mystery shopping?

The market for test purchases is competitive. MSPA, the world's largest association of companies offering trial purchases, has approximately 450 member companies. In the provider directory of marktforschung.de there are 46 institutes from Germany alone that operate mystery shopping. All of these companies can be assumed to adhere to guidelines and quality standards.

In addition, there are also numerous companies that also carry out mystery shopping projects, but would neither describe themselves as market researchers nor are members of the MSPA. Such companies do not have to adhere to the quality standards and guidelines defined by the association. That leads to unequal competition.

Competition stimulates business, but is bad for the profit margin. The complexity of the mystery projects, combined with the difficulty of recruiting the right test buyers in a highly competitive market - which is not booming due to the digital transformation - does not make life as a test buying institute easy.

How reliable are the results?

What is difficult is that, compared to other market research studies, the sample size for mystery projects is usually comparatively small. This has to do with two things: On the one hand, the case price is quite high. On the other hand, usually only a few test purchases are made per team / consultant, as no turnover can be generated during this time.

The small samples are methodologically justifiable as they are a very concrete observation of a business transaction or service. Doubling the number of cases would probably not lead to a fundamentally different result either. On the other hand, the accuracy of the measurement decreases with small numbers of cases.

In addition, the results of test purchase projects are usually viewed particularly critically by clients and managers in the company. In some companies, portions of executive variable compensation depend on the results of service tests.

It also remains open which employee achieved which result in the test. This is what the anonymization requirement of market researchers dictates. The test results are transmitted in such a way that the determinability of the tested employees is effectively excluded. This difference, too, sometimes means that market research institutes draw the short straw in tenders against providers from outside the industry.

Conclusion: mystery shopping projects are a challenge

In summary, it can be said that many mystery shopping projects are a challenge for the industry. Even if the projects mostly belong to the higher-revenue projects due to the high field costs, a lot has to fit together so that the institute gets its money's worth. How it works and what needs to be taken into account is in the foreground of our new dossier on the subject of "Mystery Shopping".

Have fun solving the secrets!

The articles on the topic of mystery shopping will be published successively over the next week. Look forward to interesting content from IWD market research, MSM Group, Krämer Marktforschung, SKOPOS NEXT, research tools, Ipsos and the German Customer Institute (DKI).