General Mystery Shopping

Crowdsourcing versus Mystery Shopping – Sometimes the quick answer suffices

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Whether you’re a retailer trying to push through a new service initiative or a manufacturer launching a new product, all your hard work and investment can quickly unravel if your in-store activation misses the mark.

Gleaning fast early-launch feedback of what is happening at the point of sale is critical, so that key elements can be tweaked, re-communicated or corrected to ensure a successful launch.

With this ever-present challenge, it’s no surprise that most major brands employ some form of in-store mystery shopping activity, to gain that quantitative and qualitative read of performance.

Although mystery shopping may go in and out of fashion, it is still arguably the single best methodology for understanding exactly what is happening on the shop floor and identifying problems.

However, there is also increasing demand for fast turnaround data on retail performance – and this has triggered increasing use of ‘crowdsourced audits’ alongside traditional mystery shopping against a smaller number of metrics and across less defined samples.

When to use crowdsourced audits and when to use mystery shopping

On-trade product launches are typically prime candidates for the use of quick-fire checks (crowdsourced audits), rather than statistically representative studies (mystery shopping).

A product manager who wants to understand how one bar chain is promoting and serving his new product versus another bar chain requires the statistical certainty of a mystery shopping program. But, in early stage launches, sometimes the overriding need can be as simple as quickly assessing whether your product is actually present.

In our mystery shopping programs, we regularly uncover distribution issues, or stock still sitting in backrooms and out of date POS/promotions bearing no link whatsoever to a scheduled launch. In this instance, a fast random coverage of the market is what is needed, rather than an all-singing, all-dancing robust sample exercise.

This is where crowdsourced audits come into their own as a measurement methodology.  In essence, these are a variant of mystery shopping, based on wide-coverage, untrained panels of everyday consumers who can ‘pick up’ assignments based on their proximity to locations and conduct quick turnaround simple ‘checks’.

For example, checking specific promotions and activations, product availability, pricing or a simple recommendation across a non-fixed sample of stores is ideal territory for crowdsourced audits. They are essentially fast turnaround checks without the robustness of a representative sample.

The ability to feedback quickly with both objective responses and photos means client teams can get that all-important early read and work out if there are any launch issues to be addressed.

Conclusion

The critical factor is that the agency you choose must have the experience to know when the ‘crowdsourced audit’ route is appropriate, and when a more comprehensive mystery shop approach is needed. The tipping point can be quite small, but will have big implications on the resultant data and level of insight.

We employ both methodologies and increasingly are providing clients with a blended approach in order to best deliver the whole story in the most cost effective way.

Both techniques can be fast turnarounds and both can provide photo capture with GPS stamping but, in its simplest terms, the differentiation revolves around the complexity of the task and the type of sample needing to be covered.

As such it’s no great surprise that mystery shopping is the primary solution in sectors such as Banking and Automotive, where we measure high involvement and detailed purchases, but when it comes to high street retail and simple product recommendation checks, the blended solution becomes very relevant.

Whether it’s a quick answer or more comprehensive measure, marketers and product managers have a far greater range of solutions to call upon and it’s the job of the agencies to properly assess the need and find the best fit.

Oli Bailey is the Development Director of Mystery Shopping at GfK. To share your thoughts, please email oli.bailey@gfk.com or leave a comment below.

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