Demystifying Mystery Shopping: Is it Legitimate?

Introduction, Mystery Shopping vs. Secret Shopping

In the realm of customer experience evaluation, terms like mystery shopping and secret shopping are often used interchangeably. However, there are subtle differences between these two concepts. In this article, we will explore the distinction between mystery shopping and secret shopping, shedding light on their definitions, methodologies, and applications. By understanding these differences, businesses can choose the most suitable approach to gain valuable insights into their customer experiences.

Defining Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopping is a research technique used by companies to assess and evaluate various aspects of their operations from a customer’s perspective. It involves hiring individuals, known as mystery shoppers, to anonymously visit establishments, interact with employees, make purchases, and provide detailed feedback on their experiences. The primary objective of mystery shopping is to gain insights into the overall customer journey and identify areas for improvement.

Understanding Secret Shopping

Secret shopping, on the other hand, refers to a broader concept that encompasses various research methods aimed at evaluating customer experiences. Secret shopping includes not only in-person visits but also other forms of evaluations such as telephone calls, online interactions, and email inquiries. While mystery shopping focuses primarily on in-person visits, secret shopping expands the scope to include other customer touchpoints and channels.

Methodology and Focus

Mystery shopping typically involves a mystery shopper visiting a physical store or establishment to assess customer service, product quality, store ambiance, and compliance with company standards. The mystery shopper interacts with employees, makes observations, and documents their experiences based on predetermined evaluation criteria. The focus is on assessing the customer experience within the physical store environment.

Secret shopping, on the other hand, extends beyond physical visits and includes evaluations through other communication channels. This can include assessing the quality of customer service through phone calls, live chat interactions, email exchanges, or social media inquiries. The goal is to evaluate the overall customer experience across various touchpoints and identify any gaps or areas for improvement.

Applications and Benefits

Mystery shopping and secret shopping serve similar purposes in terms of evaluating customer experiences. Both methodologies provide valuable insights that businesses can leverage to enhance their operations. Here are the key applications and benefits of each approach:

Mystery Shopping:

  1. In-depth Assessment: Mystery shopping provides a detailed assessment of the customer experience within a physical store environment. It enables businesses to evaluate factors such as store layout, employee behavior, product knowledge, and overall service quality.
  2. Identifying In-store Challenges: By focusing on in-person visits, mystery shopping helps businesses identify specific challenges related to customer interactions, store ambiance, and adherence to company standards. This allows for targeted improvements and employee training programs.

Secret Shopping:

  1. Multichannel Evaluation: Secret shopping expands the evaluation scope beyond physical visits. It allows businesses to assess customer experiences across various communication channels, including phone calls, online interactions, and email inquiries. This provides a comprehensive view of the customer journey.
  2. Seamless Customer Experience: Secret shopping helps businesses ensure consistency and quality across different touchpoints. It enables them to identify areas where the customer experience may falter and implement strategies to deliver a seamless and positive experience across all channels.

Choosing the Right Approach

Selecting the most appropriate approach—mystery shopping or secret shopping—depends on the specific goals and requirements of each business. Consider the following factors when deciding which method to employ:

  1. Evaluation Scope: Determine whether a comprehensive evaluation across multiple channels is necessary or if a focused assessment within physical stores will suffice.
  2. Industry and Customer Touchpoints: Assess the nature of your business and the channels through which customers interact with your brand. Consider whether in-person visits or evaluations through other communication channels are more relevant to your industry.
  3. Objectives and Budget: Define your research objectives and allocate resources accordingly. Consider the costs associated with each approach, including the recruitment and training of mystery shoppers or secret shoppers.


While mystery shopping and secret shopping are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences between the two methodologies. Mystery shopping focuses primarily on in-person visits to assess customer experiences within physical stores. Secret shopping, on the other hand, encompasses evaluations across various channels, including phone calls, online interactions, and email inquiries. Both approaches provide valuable insights that can help businesses improve their customer experiences. By understanding the nuances between mystery shopping and secret shopping, companies can choose the most appropriate method to gain actionable insights and elevate their customer satisfaction.

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