October 14, 2019 Last updated October 10th, 2019 773 Reads share

Why Would A Business Need A Mystery Shopping Program?

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Mystery shopping? That’s the thing that shops do when they want to see if their staff are doing what they’ve been told, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. Mystery shopping programs have been used globally to improve what a business can offer its clients. A quality mystery shopping program measures specifics, allowing leaders to pinpoint areas of concern and deliver action plans that transform their operation.

As well as increasing sales, mystery shopping can help with other facets of a business. Let’s take a look at some examples of mystery shopping programs that have been successful for businesses in the recent past.

Nurofen And Pharmacists

Take Nurofen for example. They were concerned that pharmacists and healthcare assistants were not recommending their products often enough. The company felt they were missing out. They had spent good money in the past educating pharmacists about Nurofen. But the education was broad. It was delivered through the post. And it was generic.

Enter mystery shopping. They conducted a massive exercise whereby they asked mystery shoppers to enter a pharmacy with one of a range of pain scenarios. They were as follows –

  • Headache
  • Toothache
  • Back pain
  • Period pains
  • The common cold

With each of these, the mystery shopper was to talk about their pain in a general way and see what the pharmacist or healthcare assistant recommended. If that recommendation wasn’t Nurofen then there was one more question to be asked –

I’ve seen advertising for Nurofen. Why didn’t you recommend that?

Of course, the answer to that final question was the one the company was interested in. They were looking to see why pharmacists were not recommending their products. They thought that the lack of support from the pharmacies was the reason behind their sales being lower in the UK than other similar markets. The results shone light on the issue they were facing.

a mystery shopping programme needn't be a headache

The Reasons Nurofen Wasn’t Recommended

There were a variety of reasons given to mystery shoppers by pharmacists why they didn’t feel Nurofen was the solution. Among them were –

  • This does the same thing but is cheaper
  • Nurofen doesn’t do what you need
  • It hasn’t been proven to be more effective than a cheaper brand
  • Nurofen is only bought because they pay for advertising

There are a few threads here, but the main one is the fact that the brand is more expensive. So, the marketing team at Nurofen went to work. The mystery shopping program allowed them to understand the thought process behind pharmacists. This then allowed them to act.

Putting together an effective mystery shopping program to understand beliefs is effective. One of the reasons it trumps a simple survey is you get real-life experience. It is a ‘boots on the ground’ answer to the question. People might say one thing in a survey but not back that up with action. With a mystery shopping program, we know the truth as it is based on empirical evidence.

Measuring Financial Services Compliance

Many banking organizations in the United Kingdom use mystery shopping programs to ensure their advisers are following regulation. The fines associated with mis-selling can be huge. As part of their due diligence, they employ mystery shopping companies to check their teams. See it as a kind of double-check, a safety net if you will.

Banks look for mystery shoppers for all manner of assignments. They cover all areas of advice –

  • Opening bank accounts
  • Arranging a mortgage
  • Advising on savings and investments
  • Finding the right insurance cover


They have processes laid out to ensure they give the right advice and Treat Customers Fairly. Staying within the regulations means relying on their team of advisers. Each much follow the processes mapped out. This gives customers peace of mind too.

The mystery shopping program used by the major banks puts people like you and me in a position where they apply for one of the products listed above. They then follow the process, either making notes after the appointment or recording it with a device. This then gives the bank an overview of what is happening, plus a training tool for advisers.

banks and mystery shopping

The Results Of The Mystery Shopping Program

The main result of this work was that the banks could see at a glance who was following procedures. The ones that were not immediately produced a compliance risk. And compliance is a big word in financial services. Getting it wrong has generated millions of pounds in fines.

The program enabled the supervision team to spend time retraining those that fell short of the mark. It allowed focused training instead of blanket training that would only mean something to a few. Using resources effectively like this saves costs and drives efficiency.

And finally, the program kept advisers on their toes. Knowing that any customer could be the mystery shopper meant that advice standards needed to be high at all times. Feeling tired? Keep up the good work. Unwell? You’re well enough to be at work so perform.

A Mystery Shopping Program And You

Old school mystery shopping meant checking if the employee was wearing a name badge. It meant seeing if the floor had been swept and mopped. It also meant counting the number of people on the shop floor. These were all functions of the store manager. They didn’t need a second pair of eyes to confirm this.

People out there want to shop. They want a great experience. So you’d better make it with your company.

But mystery shopping is about far more than making sales. There are so many other measures that can be used for. Effective mystery shopping programs change the way we do business. It allowed Nurofen to build a marketing campaign that addressed concerns they were not even aware of. It allows banks to target their training.

Each of these means that the business saved money. Instead of carrying on doing the same things, they worked smarter. And we could all do with some of that! The next time you look to spend a big chunk of money on something, ensure you have the right data at your fingertips. And consider the impact that mystery shopping could have on what you do.

Steven Thompson

Steven Thompson

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