Over the previous few decades, mystery shopping has become a reliable strategy used by companies looking to gain insights into how customers truly interact with their products and stores. Mystery shoppers can assess whether services truly match customer expectations and offer an objective way to evaluate how employees respond to real-life stressful situations, such as customer complaints or returns, even when they are not being supervised by a manager.
Of course, when we think about mystery shopping, we tend to think of restaurants, beauty parlours, medical facilities, or bricks-and-mortar shops; places where the quality of the customer experience determines whether a customer will return or choose a competitor. However, today, mystery shopping tactics can also be used to help online businesses improve their customer experience and customer retention. And right now, customer retention is more important than ever in the digital world.
As the online market expands at an accelerated pace, it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out from the competition and attract new customers. Customer acquisition cost is on the rise and companies are striving to make sure their current customer base is satisfied with the current online shopping experience. They know all too well that modern consumers won’t hesitate to choose a competing service that’s just one click away.
One might even argue that online businesses need mystery shopping even more than bricks-and-mortar stores. After all, in real life, a consumer might still choose a shop that is closer to his home despite its poor services, but, in the digital world, if a consumer is dissatisfied with his purchasing experience, he will just click away in a couple of seconds.
But how can mystery shopping actually help ecommerce websites improve their customer retention? In this article, we are going to highlight three major benefits of implementing a mystery shopping strategy for an online store.
1. Optimize your website’s UX/UI experience
Honest feedback is more difficult to come by in the digital world if you are interested in improving the purchasing process itself. Consumers are more likely to express their frustration when they have a negative experience post-purchase, for instance, if they do not receive the expected confirmation email, if they are unable to track their order, or if they experience problems during the delivery phase. However, if your website is lagging on their device of choice or there are simply too many products to choose from, they will opt out of the entire purchase and simply browse the competition. And if they do not invest time and energy in the experience then they won’t feel the need to scold the company for having a cumbersome checkout process. Of course, website analytics can offer valuable insight about user behaviours, by showing where consumers are more likely to opt-out of the process, but marketing managers and business owners can only assume why this happens.
Online mystery shoppers can help companies see past these assumptions and get precious unbiased feedback about the purchasing experience their website provides. To make sure feedback is relevant, mystery shoppers are required to fit a specific consumer profile and are trained to recognize when a user experience fails to meet industry standards. Furthermore, after they complete the purchase, they are also required to reply to a series of predefined questions that are likely to help UI/UX teams turn feedback into actionable insights. Afterwards, it’s up to the company to decide what changes can be implemented.
2. Improve customer support services
Quality customer support can truly help brands stand out and build a loyal following. However, it can often be difficult to anticipate problems customers might encounter and offer adequate training to those employees responsible for providing solutions. That’s why mystery shoppers can be asked to test the online shopping experience from landing-page to final checkout, paying attention to any problems encountered along the way. They can evaluate everything from minute details such as call-to-action placement, to more complex processes like sign-up or sign-in. Mystery shoppers are trained to assess if a checkout process is too complex or if customers are provided with sufficient information in order to understand the different delivery options, discounts, taxes, and fees included in their final pricing. For instance, if an ecommerce site is offering a special discount for students and teachers, mystery shoppers can identify and document potential errors in the application process. Using this insight, the company can then include additional support options such as a FAQ section or it can make sure customer support employees are well-equipped to answer questions about these issues.
By implementing a mystery shopping strategy on a regular basis, companies can learn when customer service employees might need more assistance and training or when an important website function needs to be improved. Many of the potential issues identified by mystery shoppers can be prevented by implementing simple solutions such as bots or Q&A sections. Today, offering great customer support does not have to mean hiring an entire customer service department, but it does mean providing all the information and tools a user might need in order to make a purchase.
3. Communicate brand values effectively
Brand values and brand identity should be communicated through each interaction. However, evaluating whether a website effectively communicates the company’s core values beyond the ubiquitous about us page is quite challenging. Surveying customers about their experience is a good practice as long as it’s short and sweet, but an evaluation focused on brand values would require customers to respond to detailed questions that they might not even know the answers to. Mystery shoppers are experienced shoppers who pay attention to all details, so they are better equipped to determine whether a website’s images, copy, design, and usability patterns accurately reflect subtle brand values such as openness, trust, or commitment to environmental sustainability. Using their valuable feedback, companies might choose to slightly alter the design scheme of the website, provide more compelling headlines and descriptions, or simplify processes in order to show they value their customer’s time.
Mystery shopping is by no means a universal band-aid one can apply on a failing ecommerce business, but it is an effective tool for those willing to improve customer experience. Mystery shoppers are trained to analyse the shopping experience and identify any pain points that could be deterring customers from making the final conversion or from coming back to the website. Without the honest feedback of an experienced mystery shopper, minor nuisances can be overlooked for years and negatively impact conversions and retention rates. Sometimes, a less than perfect brand experience might not even impact sales, but it does hinder the brand’s long-term development. It’s a missed opportunity to connect with customers. And, both online and offline, missed opportunities tend to come back and haunt those who ignored them.