You've likely seen advertisements or documentaries highlighting the business of "mystery shopping." You may have even tried a shop or two in hopes of making a little extra cash. Where many people aren't too enlightened is in how exactly mystery shopping keeps costs in check for the average consumer.
Have you ever gone into a hotel that didn't quite seem like it represented the brand printed on the outdoor sign? One of the more common tasks of the mystery shopper is to check for brand integration - especially in establishments that have recently experienced a change in ownership. The hope is that feedback from the shopper can give chain owners a sense of how their brand identity is translating at the customer level. This saves you money by making sure you get exactly what you pay for. For instance, you shouldn't have to pay four-star hotel prices on a room that displays the branding of a three-star chain.
Companies are starting to pay attention to how they treat their customers; according to a recent study by American Express "seven in ten Americans (70%) are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service." How does this directly save you money? Companies that use mystery shoppers to audit customer care are more likely to use that information to tweak their processes to be more customer-friendly – they want a piece of that 13% of additional spending. This, in turn, can save you time and money by making sure you receive proper service the first time you enter a store or restaurant. There is monetary value in not having to return an item, leave a store mid-transaction or suffer through a disappointing experience.
Filling the Gaps of Officials
We like to think that health inspectors and government regulators will save us from the perils of outdated food products or shoddy handling practices. The reality, however, is that most establishments only get visited a few times every 12 months. Iowa restaurants and grocery stores, for example, only get audited twice a year – provided there is no obvious reason to visit more frequently. Mystery shoppers, on the other hand, can audit stores many times a year – even several times a month – and their findings go directly to the store officials in charge of implementing health and safety processes. This is important to the consumer who can't afford to get sick in the months between inspections; responsible stores will make changes to issues that could affect customer safety right away and not wait for the government to catch their errors.
The Bottom Line
There's much more to the practice of mystery shopping than getting free food and fabulous shopping experiences for pay. Shoppers work hard to catch every detail of their secret visit, providing pages upon pages of documentation for store owners to use for process improvements. As long as there is a choice in places to shop, you are ultimately in a position to use your money how you see fit. Mystery shoppers help you stretch that dollar by limiting the risk that a bad experience will happen in the first place.