Mystery shopping turns out to be an effective tool for measuring sales performance, and customer satisfaction.

Retailers need to mull and adopt diverse strategies to survive the game. Driven by competition, retailers have realized that satisfying their customers is the key to win the business. They also need to keep abreast of the market conditions, and the strategies of their competitors. Apart from evaluating their competitors, significant self appraisal is also necessary. Mystery shopping is an efficient tool for evaluating the product quality, performance level, knowledge, attitude, and behavior of the sales staff.

Generally mystery shoppers are used for evaluating customer service efficiency. They visit the retail store and behave like any other normal customer, while they keep an eye on the happenings at the store. They take note of the maintenance, display, performance of the key frontline personnel, product knowledge and behavior of the staff, and the quality of their customer service. They observe how the sales staffs greet the customer, and how they interact with them. They are the remote eyes, and ears of the retailer. Sometimes, mystery shoppers are also used for observing the stores of the competitors.

Once the mystery shopper completes his assignment, he fills in a detailed questionnaire about the store, and submits it to the store owner. This data is used by the retailer to enhance his business such as; improving the store appearance, customer service, staff training, deciding on employee rewards and motivation. In stores abroad, retailers leave a message at the checkout stating that if the customer would call certain toll free numbers and answer a few simple questions about his or her shopping experience, they would be remunerated in cash or kind. Benefits may include a discount during their next purchase at the store. They can be known as amateur mystery shoppers. Through this method, the retailer gets to have feedback from diverse customers, and as this is attached with a benefit during the customer's next visit, it would also encourage multiple visits of the customer.

Parameters for evaluation:

Generally, the following parameters are applied for evaluation by mystery shoppers:

  *   Customer care and service

  *  Compliance standards relating to the business

  *  Product quality

  *  Product display

  *  Visibility of the merchandise

  *  Product knowledge of the sales staff

  *  Appearance and behavior of the sales staff

  *  Store appearance, and neatness

Mystery shopping for Indian luxury segment:

Indians have developed a strong affinity towards luxury apparels. Selling to this customer base requires appropriate distribution platform, and right introduction to the right target audience. The opaque nature of luxury merchandise makes its brand penetration a complex process. Mystery shopping is a good tool in understanding the customer base. Mr. Neelesh Hundekari, Principal and Head - Luxury and Lifestyle Practice, AT Kearney India feels though mystery shopping is needed for mass markets, and luxury apparel segment, the parameters may slightly differ. "The important element for Luxury Retail is that the sales associate has to appear as an equal to the buyer who is spending money probably more than the monthly salary of the sales associate. There needs to be a fine balance between being confident and being arrogant or may be nagging. The behavior of the sales associate is not a tangible element that you can measure or expect from them ".

Mr. Abhay Gupta, Executive Director, Blues Clothing Company states, "The first to top the list is that, one should be aware of the standards of Luxury. Today it's very difficult to find a good store manager who can understand how important it is to maintain the essence of an International Luxury brand in India. This all leads to a conclusion that current manpower does not have a luxurious outlook towards retailing ".

Trends in Mystery Shopping:

Current trends indicate that mystery shopping will continue to grow, as the benefits acquired are manifold. For instance; the mystery shoppers sent for evaluating a company's regulatory compliance can expose issues prevalent in the store operations or employee behavior. Moreover, customers accessing services through the internet will also fuel the growth of this process.

Mr. Abhay Gupta positively asserts that there would be a 15% CAGR growth in this segment by the end of 2012. He states, "First and foremost requirement will be of back end personnel. Since luxury malls/ destinations are very limited in India right now, the requirement of front end staff will not increase as much as the back-end staff. Unless, the big roar coming in after FDI opening up in Mono Brand format, may trigger some real estate developers to plan luxury malls like Emporio or UB City ".

Notwithstanding the positive facts, mystery shopping suffers from a few setbacks as well. Though there are no inherent faults in the methodology, there are no specific standards for selecting the mystery shoppers, or training them. The job is highly labor intensive requiring much logistical acumen. Data collected may vary; there may be little or no correlation between the mystery shopper's report, and the customer satisfaction ratings. This puts the reliability of the collected data under question.

Mystery shopping emphasizes the business requirement to pay close attention to the quality of their products and service. It measures the extent up to which a business can deliver its brand promise. It helps to identify, and correct deficiencies, and develop a better business environment.