A Mystery Shopper Program Can Point Out Blind Spots

inventoryHow do you REALLY stack up?
Recently a client with three stores asked for help to create a strategy for the next 5 -7 years. They routinely talked to their customers and employees; there was even a customer survey two years ago. They concluded:

1) They were the best among their competitors. As evidence, a local business group had selected them to lead a conference round table on leading retail practices.
2) The two main obstacles to improving store traffic were poor locations that were selected over 25 years ago and lack of convenient parking.
3) Their customers were high-end shoppers who did not mind paying more for the high degree of customer service they prided themselves on.

Nevertheless, they felt pinched by new competitors opening nearby and lower profit margins as more sales skewed to discounted goods on promotion in their product of the month program. After listening to management’s point of view, I set up a mystery shopper program to see what customers actually experienced in their stores.


The findings uncovered that the stores were beaten in critical areas:

1. Customers were commonly ignored for up to 15 minutes upon entering the store.
2. Inquiries about products were met with direction to the product location but any additional conversation quickly revealed a lack of product experience or knowledge.
3. Store associates were more surly and unkempt than management observed.
4. Prices were competitive but not enticing, locations were convenient and product selection was appealing – but high-end customers were happy to drive further to have cheerful, knowledgeable staff help them make their purchases.

Think you can’t be fooled? Think again. The management team was on site six days a week. Their interaction with store associates had become so close that they no longer saw the lapses in service. Management rewarded task completion like putting away deliveries, making bank drops and completing the work schedule more than helping customers. At least, store associates believed there was more retribution for not completing tasks than for not assisting shoppers. And customers could grasp that in a single store visit.

Up next: how to create a simple Mystery Shopper Program any manager can administer.

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