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Best Alternatives to Mystery Shopping

4 reasons mystery shopping is dead and best alternatives to mystery shopping

In today’s blog post I’ll discuss why I believe that mystery shopping is becoming increasingly irrelevant in today’s retail world. I’ll also touch upon what the best alternatives to mystery shopping are.

 

What is mystery shopping?

I used to work for a company that was in the business of mystery shopping. For those of you who don’t know want mystery shopping is let me explain.  It’s a way to investigate if a physical store is living up to certain KPIs or standards. The KPIs could be service levels, store interior or if certain procedures were followed. Questions like “How well did the sales representative ask open-ended questions” or “How did the sales representative present alternatives for the customer that fit customer needs” would be quite typical questions.

Often well-renowned companies would pay mystery shoppers to appear unannounced (it’s a mystery shopper, remember?) to make a purchase or at least pretend they would.mystery shopping KPIs

After the visit, the shopper would write down his or her report based on the predefined KPIs and questions. Once these were noted down on paper outside the store, she would find a computer and enter the data in a web form. The end result would be a report to be presented to service executives and store managers.

I remember the hassle of working with the network of shoppers. Sometimes I would have to ask distant family members for favors, because a shopper had made a last minute cancellation. Sometimes I would even have to make the long drive to a location myself just to make the fake purchase. However, the service was quite popular for retail companies in particular.

 

Mystery Shopping as a performance tool

Many companies would use the reports to set up balanced score card reports. These would in turn be used for employee incentive programs and bonus payments.mystery shopping report Quite unfair, in some instances, as the store personnel often knew what the mystery shopper looked like, because it often would be the same shoppers for specific retail chains, or because the shopper always appeared at the exact same period of the month, or in the same vehicle and presented themselves in non-credible way.

An example could be a mystery shopper paying a BMW dealership a surprise visit on a bike. He would even into the store with his bicycle helmet still on! Of course he could have just won the lottery, and then decided to upgrade his means of transportation, but then again those odds are pretty slim at best. Sometimes the store would complain internally, arguing (rightfully) that the customer wasn’t credible enough.

 

Selling mystery shopping back in the day

However, there was no alternative back then, so the mystery shopping reports sold quite well. They could also be used as a door opener for new business. The telephone conversation would go something like this: “Good morning, sir/madam. I’m calling from xx. I wanted to let you know that we recently visited three of your stores in X area. Our mystery shoppers discovered some interesting patterns in the service experience in these stores, which we would like to share with you in a meeting. For free – no strings attached”.

If the potential client accepted (and they often did), then we would need to go and make those mystery visits happen (because obviously we didn’t make that investment, before it was necessary), and prepare a report. And quite often we would land the client for more mystery shopping business or, even better, some consulting work.

 

The future for mystery shopping

So what does the future look like for mystery shopping? Well, here at tabsurvey we believe its part of a dying breed for four reasons:

1. Fake customers

Firstly, there’s the issue of asking real vs. fake customers. Most retailers would surely like the opinion of real customers rather than that of a fake customer. Bearing in mind that there are questions you couldn’t possibly ask a real customer – like:

  • “Were all lights in the store lit?”alternative to mystery shopping
  • “Did the sales person wear a visible nametag?” or
  • “Did the sales person try to up-sell?”

– all questions that, although relevant for an audit, most real world customers either would not want to or would not feel comfortable answering. So I guess if the questions that a company wants to have answered are mostly concerned with store audit or internal standards and procedures (that no real customers care about), then they should definitely continue using mystery shopping.

2. High cost

Secondly, there’s the cost involved. In a mystery shopping context, there’s human effort and billable hours involved. Ten years ago in Denmark, an average, fairly uncomplicated mystery shopping visit would cost anything between €100-€150 per visit (roughly $120-$175), which, compared to the investment for an iPad Survey Kiosk App system, would pay a software license for 8 months (assuming €19 per month). Then you also need some hardware, but still it, by far, outweighs the cost of mystery shopping.

3. Low feedback volume

Thirdly, there’s the sheer volume of responses. Based on our data, it’s reasonable to assume a hit rate of between 1-3 percent in high volume traffic retail outlets. Assuming traffic in a store is 1,000 visits per month, wouldn’t you rather be getting between 10 and 30 responses than just a single?

4. Feedback lag

Finally, there’s the timing issue. Having worked with establishing sound feedback cultures in organizations in my prior work life, I know that getting feedback on your behavior, that stretches more than a few weeks back, simply doesn’t have any impact in terms of changing behavior. So what’s the point if, as an employee, you’re receiving feedback on your ability to ask relevant open-ended questions, if that experience lies back one month. It doesn’t make much sense.

For all these reasons it’s therefore important to identify the best alternatives to mystery shopping. We’ll address that briefly below.

 

Best Alternatives to Mystery Shopping

So it’s good news that since the 90s and 00s, great alternatives have become available. Today, one of the best alternatives to mystery shopping for retail is in-store surveys. They have become quite popular, as they offer real customer feedback in real-time, and in a much more cost-effective way. best alternative to mystery shopping

Systems that engage with the customer via their phone, or through tablet-based or kiosk-based platforms are also becoming increasingly popular. Proprietary systems with mechanicals buttons are also getting market share, offering a more simple (and less demanding) input from respondents, but simultaneously also giving less degrees of freedom in the type of survey your want to give your customers. Finally, there’s the transactional or post-purchase-surveys that are effective, but only focus solely on the purchaser and not the non-purchasers.

 

 

 

We hope you found this month’s post interesting. Please post a comment below if you have something on your mind.

 

Best tips for using a survey app

Today, there are many choices if you want to run surveys. You can perform surveys on your website, send people emails and text messages, or use dedicated devices and apps. Depending on where and who you want to ask your questions, the best solution for you depends on many factors. In this post we’ll give you the best tips for engaging with your responders through a survey app.

Why use a survey app in the first place?

Well, a native app holds some advantages over a basic online survey. First and foremost, it’s not dependent on having stabile network connection. Should the connection fail, then the survey answers will be stored offline in the app until the connection is re-established. Apart from giving the surveyor more data security, this also adds to the positive experience of the survey responder.

 

What’s important when using a survey app?

There are several things you need to consider. The below points largely deal with the practical aspects of the setting up a solution, and what to be aware of, if you want a hassle-free implementation.

 

Location, location, location…

One of the most important factors is the location of your survey. If you are placing a high-end product like an iPad somewhere in a physical environment, location is an important factor. This is because it very much affects the security measures you need to consider for the solution.

survey app for iPadWhere you want to place your survey station depends on what you want to examine and what experience or emotion you want to capture. If you are considering surveying a retail store, you should read this blog on survey placement, which explains in depth how to get good results.

But for now, let’s assume that you want to survey the customer experience near the exit of a shopping mall. From a survey perspective, the first thing you need to consider is if the survey station is secure. The less secure the location, the more you should be attentive to the security aspects of your installation.

 

Protecting your survey station

If you’re not planning to use facilitating personnel when you conduct your surveys, then security becomes even more important. The security aspects of placing an iPad in a semi-public location pose two security concerns. Namely how to secure your hardware and how to secure your software. We’ll address them both below.

 

Securing your survey app

Firstly, you need to make sure that responders or outsiders are unable to exit the survey app. We have seen examples (obviously not with our app!) where outsiders have been successful in exiting a survey app, and playing disturbing videos to the outrage of casual by passers. This reflects poorly on the company who is conducting the surveys and the consequences could be severe.

However, there are solutions available. One option is to use Apple’s volume purchasing program (VPP) and distribute the survey app through Mobile Device Management (MDM) software. The MDM software can ensure restricted access to the iPad and disable certain hardware buttons, and thus facilitate the deployment and administration of a survey app. Leading vendors within this space include Miradore, AirWatch and Xenmobile by Citrix.

If you are only conducting surveys in few locations and don’t have access to MDM software, another option is use Apple’s own guided access to restrict access. Although, guided access basically provides the same core functionality for free and works just fine, we only recommend using this approach if you have five locations or less, as it involves the administration of Apple ids and lacks a centralized deployment process and overall monitoring.

 

Securing your survey hardware

Even though you have made sure that no one can start other apps on the device, you also need to consider how to secure the iPad and the iPad stand that you are using. When you are considering iPad stands, there are several options out there. Here, at tabsurvey we have had the opportunity to work with several products. Two stand out.

smiley survey on iPad

 

If your need is an elegant solution, that should endure an highly dynamic environment, and where there’s a risk of theft or vandalism, then our recommendation is the lockable iPad case or stand from BOX IT Design. With thousands of installations worldwide, BOX IT Design’s products have by far proved themselves to be durable and well-designed high-end options.

 

 

 

survey app for iPad

However, should your needs for an iPad stand be different, because your survey is internal or placed in a supervised area, then a great alternative are the stands from Armour Dog. Armour Dog delivers a cost-effective alternative, which is mainly available as table stands.

 

With both products you can mount the stands onto a surface like a floor, a wall or a table. You can also acquire a steel wire with a padlock, if you want to secure the stand further.

 

Utilities and infrastructure

Once you have made the appropriate decisions regarding security, there are still a few other things to pay attention to. One is something as basic as ensuring that you place the iPad and stand near a power outlet. It may seem trivial, but if your device runs out of power, then it won’t be collecting answers for you!

Another issue is the Internet connection. Even though the app can run without an Internet connection, it will not transfer data to your online reports unless there’s a live connection. A time-limited guest wi-fi with login enabled via browser won’t do the trick, as they it will kick off it’s users after 24 or 48 hours. If you must use Wi-Fi, make sure that it’s a reliable internal (preferable hidden) network, or a cellular-based Internet connection. In either case it’s important that the connection is stable and strong.

If you have considered all of the above points, and made the appropriate choices then you are definitely on track to a successful survey implementation.

 

Conclusion

This blog post primarily dealt with the practical issues, which you will face as a project manager, store manager or implementation partner when using a survey app to run surveys. The things to consider include:

  1. Finding the right location for your survey station
  2. Taking the appropriate measures for securing your hardware and software; and lastly
  3. Ensuring that the necessary infrastructure requirements are present

Be sure to read our next blog, which will give pointers to a successful implementation of a customer experience management project from an organisational involvement point of view. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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