Mystery Shopping is a popular exercise in the world of market research, often used by retail and tech companies to get a qualitative measure of their customer experience. The 'Competitive' variant also helps companies evaluate their own customer experience against that of their competitors. While there's an elaborate and continuing argument on the ethics of it all, the method is seen as an effective way for companies to analyse and enhance their customer experience, and gain competitive edge in the market.
Mystery Shopping in the B2B world
Despite its popularity in the B2C world, Mystery Shopping has historically had few takers in the B2B world, and for various reasons - CX seldom tops the list of priorities, companies invariably have more than one decision makers perusing the product, etc. This gets exponentially difficult when companies include security or risk-mitigation measures while on-boarding clients - a typical example for this would be KYC in India. The 'shopper' in question now has to comply with all regulatory and security measures in order to even begin the research activity.
Example - E-commerce Marketplace
Let's assume company A wants to research how they're faring against companies B & C in the competitive area of reseller experience. As is common practice, B & C potentially have several mandatory security measures like KYC, online presence or prior selling history, as part of their on-boarding process. So, how does A go about researching this?
Note - 'A' cannot pose to be a reseller and go through the entire exercise themselves. In addition to the threat of bias, this exercise can also be illegal, depending on the T&C.
So A ends up finding a reseller who can do it on their behalf and hires them. Of course, the reseller must meet a host of conditions before being signed on as the mystery shopper, some of which would be -
- Meet all on-boarding criteria for all platforms being considered
- Cannot be an existing top/key reseller on any platform as experience will vary significantly
- Be a legitimate business who can evaluate the experience from a reseller's perspective, sans bias
- Brainstorm with the research team at A to identify and agree upon an evaluation criteria, method and metrics
- Have the requisite operational wherewithal and be willing to conduct legal transactions as the registered business
- Be willing to invest time and effort to document all observations and recommendations, albeit at a cost
- Record observations in an articulate and consumable manner
- Be flexible enough with changes in scope during the activity, should it be necessary
Finding a reseller that meets all the aforementioned criteria is not easy!
But if and when it does happen, the research team at A and the reseller have to identify and agree upon the various things to be evaluated and the metrics accordingly. For example, A might ask the reseller to measure and compare the ease of product listing, quality of documentation, integrations with third-party software, TAT (turn-around-time) for support ticket resolution, payment settlement experience, and more. Subject to the findings, A can identify areas of improvement and build a better experience for their resellers.
The output is usually an elaborate report with comparative notes, notable mentions, and recommendations for various teams to consume. Unlike traditional paid market research, where 'A' might quote marketing-friendly metrics out of the report, mystery shopping insights are for internal consumption.
Value of Mystery Shopping to B2B Companies
Mystery Shopping isn't a quantitive exercise and can never really replace surveys and analytics or scores like NPS and CSAT as a definitive guide for companies. However, there's also a significant amount of information that isn't captured and it often happens to be qualitative, opinion and bias driven, comparing distinct solutions, and so on. For banks looking to compare and improve their corporate banking experience to SaaS companies building their product feature roadmap, this traditional exercise still presents insights of significant value.
With a surge in platform (or gig) focused startups and B2B commerce startups, there is bound to be greater interest in building a competitive edge around partner/vendor experience. To aid this, qualitative exercises like mystery shopper, focus group discussions, etc are increasingly valuable practice for product, design, CX and revenue teams.
Having been involved in a few of these exercises, I believe they've helped my team better empathise with merchants, understand the competitive landscape in greater detail, and build a strong edge with a healthy mix of incremental and radical innovation.