Mystery shopping has been around in India for almost a decade now. For the uninitiated, it is a method of market research used by corporates or smaller businesses as a metric for the quality of their products and services, usually within the retail sector. Mystery shopping is also used for gathering information about the popularity and feedback of a certain product or service. Companies hire individual freelancers directly or through mystery shopping agencies.
These mystery shoppers scoop out information from retail outlets by posing as normal customers. They test the outlet on the basis of a checklist given to them. This checklist includes a range of questions – from the cleanliness of the shop, a sales person’s knowledge about the product / service that they are selling, the overall shopping experience, smoothness and swiftness in the billing procedure, behavior of the sales personnel to the process of registering complaints and so on. The reports generated out of these experiences are then sent back to the company.
TOI reported that many brands such as Kimaya Fashions, Samsung, Shoppers Stop, Nirula’s and Axis Bank amongst a growing list of other Indian brands are hiring mystery shopping services as a feedback and strategy formation device.
Key area of concern: Product knowledge and store display
TOI reported the mystery shopping experience of Dilip Kapur, the President of Hidesign that he made himself at a newly opened Hidesign store which he wanted to test. There were a few notes he made regarding the changes he wanted to implement after the mystery shopping. He deliberately threw questions at the sales personnel, asking them to suggest a specific kind of bag, which they were unable to. He affirmed that mystery shopping gave him insights to tweak the ambience of the store, by adding more comfy coffee couches and atmosphere soothing elements such as sculptures to sell the ambience before the product. He also found out that his sales staff needed to be more intuitive, being able to gauge the customer from his/her ‘look’. He narrated a mystery shopping advice that was interesting.
“At times, the staff would say that a product was in buffalo leather instead of cowhide to avoid hurting religious sentiments.” Dilip Kapur, President, Hidesign
Key area of concern: Sales personnel weren’t going the extra mile for customers
The famous garment chain Kimaya Fashions has been using monthly mystery shopping and audits in each of its stores. Chairman Pradeep Hirani narrated an interesting incident to TOI about how they found a behavioral problem in one of their sales personnel though this process. A mystery shopper they hired deliberately posed as a sticky customer wanting to add sleeves on a chicken-kaari outfit. The sales person simply ended the conversation by saying that it couldn’t be done without offering any explanation to the customer. Hirani said that the sales person could have explained that tampering with an outfit with chicken-kaari work renders it useless and hence, isn’t recommended or possible. After this incident, Kimaya commenced a policy of giving performance related incentives to employees who offered good salesmanship. A critical element for such fashion houses is that even if the customer doesn’t make a purchase on their first visit to the store, the salesmanship should ensure that they come back again or help in making a referral sale.
Key area of concern: Lack of intuitiveness and genuine product knowledge
Bare International, the mystery shopping agency that offered Shoppers Stop their services throughout many stores through 10,000 mystery shoppers as of 2011, found out through their audits that Shoppers Stop was losing out on opportunities to make add-on sales. This was because their sales staff was simply not taught this. For instance, if a lady is shopping for her child’s raincoat, she should be shown way to the accessories section, where they may be selling water proof school bags and fancy umbrellas. Head of Operations Best Practices at Shoppers Stop Aniyan Nair, built upon this insight and Shoppers Stop eventually implemented specific training for their sales staff though which they could make recommendations to customers.
“Sales staff mostly only see and hear what is being asked. They don’t try and gauge what the consumer may actually need.” Sonul Verdia, GM & MD, India, Bare International
There’s no doubt as to why companies are using mystery shopping. At a fixed cost, mystery shopping helps a company to penetrate into the bottom most but extremely critical layer of its hierarchy – the shop front which faces the customer.
Mystery shopping reaches those loopholes and pockets of the system which an average HR or marketing personnel within an organization cannot. The following issues emerge out of mystery shopping procedures that help companies to garner varied insights regarding sales teams.
- Are they really making efforts to engage with customers or do they simply want to close a sale?
- Do they really know their products or services inside out?
- If they don’t know the answer to something, do they attempt to update themselves with genuine information and get back to the customer or simply manipulate information to find their way out?
- Do they entertain customers well even if they know that they are not going to make a purchase and are there only to window shop?
- Do they fabricate reviews of products or services?
- Do they lack basic etiquette in treating and welcoming customers?
- Do they give tailored and customized answers to customer queries or simply offer generic solutions were taught during sales training?
- Does their appearance match the brand image? Is the sales staff of a luxury fashion brand like Mango or Charles & Keith shabby looking?
- Are the shelves of the stores well stocked?
- Is the store being kept clean and inviting?
- Do they hound customers as soon as they enter the store simply to make sale and reach their targets?
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