How meaningful is Mystery Shopping?

Dr Gerald Blessing publishes study results in the Journal of Retailing

By Katrin Reil

Undercover test customers, so called “mystery shoppers“, are deployed by numerous companies and public organisations to measure service quality. Dr Gerald Blessing, who researches at ESB Business School in the area of digitisation and management, together with his co-author Professor Dr Martin Natter from the University of Zurich, has conducted a broad-based study in which they examine the meaningfulness of mystery-shopping. The results of the study have now been published in the prestigious Journal of Retailing.    

”Do mystery shoppers really predict customer satisfaction and sales performance? “  Blessing and his co-author asked themselves. The results of mystery-shopping studies are used in many industries as the basis for major management decisions, including retailing requiring substantial customer service, to which the study relates.

To this end, it is implicitly assumed that mystery shopping allows the most important aspects of the service and sales behaviour of shop assistants to be captured and that the assessments of mystery shoppers are closely linked to customer satisfaction and sales success. In actual fact, however, this link has hardly ever been investigated.

In their study Blessing and Natter address this research gap and, using extensive data from three service companies, consider the question of how the opinions of mystery shoppers are linked to the opinions of real customers and the sales performance.

The result: Mystery shops are not good substitutes for “real” customers. The quality opinions given by mystery shoppers and real customers about sales assistants only exhibit small similarities. There is also no significant link between the mystery shoppers‘ opinions with respect to the sales assistants and customer satisfaction with the sales assistants. The relationship between the mystery shoppers’ opinions and the objective sales performance is likewise not significant – contrary to the opinions of real customers, which have been proven statistically to correlate with the sales success.

Dr Gerald Blessing sums up: “The results of our research shed a critical light on the meaningfulness and practical applicability of mystery-shopping investigations in the way they are commonly conducted today. What we urgently need are more reliable, more meaningful measurement methods.“

The article in the ”Journal of Retailing“ is available online at: Do Mystery Shoppers Really Predict Customer Satisfaction and Sales Performance?