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What do Secret Shopper Companies do?

By Darlene Goodman
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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Secret shopper companies, also known as mystery shopper companies, usually evaluate the level of customer service provided by a variety of businesses. They offer market research information to these businesses to help them improve their service. This information is often gathered by secret shoppers who patronize a store — either in person, over the phone, or online — and report their experiences to the company.

Typically, a secret shopper company’s clients are private businesses such as retail stores, movie theaters, or restaurants. These companies typically wish to increase profits by improving their customer service. In the United Kingdom, the government also contracts with secret shopper companies to evaluate how local authorities and non-profit organizations treat their patrons.

The types of data gathered by a secret shopper company vary depending on the client’s needs. These companies typically work with their clients to customize survey questions, shopping scenarios, and follow-up training sessions. Clients may require only basic information on their own, or their competitor’s, customer service, or they may target a specific issue.

The most common form of research done by secret shopper companies is the on-site mystery shopping session. This evaluation typically involves a secret shopper visiting a store, acting as a normal customer, and filing a report on the experience. This report generally includes basic information such as the date and time of the visit, the names of any employees who helped the secret shopper, and a rating of the atmosphere of the store.

Beyond this basic information, many secret shopper companies instruct mystery shoppers to create a scenario that will test how the employees respond to a unique event. For example, a secret shopper who is testing a restaurant may be instructed to tell the wait staff that he or she has a food allergy. The shopper will usually record the employee’s responses to such an arranged scenario.

There are other types of mystery sessions that secret shopper companies use to gather market research data. Mystery shoppers may evaluate a company over the telephone or the Internet. These remote mystery shopping sessions often test both the timeliness and quality of a business' telephone or Internet customer service.

Some secret shopper companies send their employees out with cameras or microphones to record the shopping experience. This type of surveillance may be illegal in some areas. Depending on the jurisdiction where the shopper works, some mystery shoppers may be required to be registered as private investigators to do such work.

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