How retailers can analyse its customer’s shopping trends

Retailers will be clamouring to entice shoppers to their stores this Black Friday with a frenzy of hot bargains and cut-price deals.

With the serious amount of footfall they can expect, not just on Black Friday but during the entire run-up to Christmas, it is an ideal opportunity for retailers to examine their most precious commodity of all – their customers. For years, retailers have relied on mystery shopping to gauge their customers’ experience.

But times have changed, and mystery shopping is no longer the powerful tool it once was. It doesn’t allow retailers to actually understand their customers in ways we can now. Advances in technology have enabled us to develop better, more accurate, ways of measuring customer feedback.

By using real-time, continual in-store surveys, retailers can now quickly capture customers’ feelings and feedback at the point of experience and, crucially, report trends. Assessing trends is something mystery shopping simply cannot do and, as we approach Black Friday, there is no better time for retailers to consider switching their mystery shopping for point of experience surveys. After all, why not reap the benefits all year around rather than just Black Friday?

Mystery shopping does have its benefits, of course, but in comparison to real-time surveys, they are old-fashioned and give retailers only a mere glimpse into what a customer is thinking which, in reality, is not as effective or beneficial to businesses as it could be. Some of the issues include:

It’s just one moment in time

A mystery shopper’s experience in a store is focused only on that one visit, which they report back on as if it was typical of the experience. It might have been a really busy day; a member of staff might be having a bad day; or conversely the staff might have been having a great day and were polite and friendly and helpful; or the store might have been short on staff. It’s not an accurate account of the overall experience.

It’s not real life

No matter how hard they try to have a natural experience, a mystery shopper is led and influenced by what’s important to the retailer, not the customer. A customer might be asked to verify that they were served in less than four minutes but, in reality, the customer cares more about the friendly service they received. As a retailer for 15 years, I cannot express enough the frustration of receiving great feedback from a mystery shop but a poor score because, on the day, the retailer was a little slower than the prescribed time

The impact on staff

How will staff feel if they believe they are dealing with a mystery shopper? It could make them anxious or behave differently with customers, which will not be a true reflection of how they usually deal with customers. Or the impact felt of receiving an imperfect score when the description paints a totally different picture.

It can’t analyse trends and data

No trends are being reported because a mystery shopper is just one person making one visit. The data volume will be low because, after all, one shopper can only gather so much information.

It’s not regular enough

A mystery shopper will tell you how one type of customer shops – because it’s mainly one person’s view – but not how all types of customers will shop. There is a distinct lack of comparison.

All these issues are eradicated with real-time, in-store surveys, so retailers should ask themselves: What if every customer was a mystery shopper? What if every visitor was presented with the opportunity to say, right there and then at the point of experience, what they liked and disliked about their visit, the products and the services?

Not only would it give retailers valuable information that allows them to take action and improve their organisation, but it would actively demonstrate that they care about their customers and their opinions.

A business’s most powerful tool is their customers. Customers know what they like, what they dislike, they can tell you everything you need to know about their experience. So why not ask them? They are your most valuable asset and, if they are happy with you, they will tell their friends, their family, their colleagues. They become your brand promoters.

With a point of experience survey in place in your store, retailers will get feedback as it happens and see first-hand the benefits of real-time trends being reported. Some of the major advantages of in-store surveys include:

A more representative idea of what customers are thinking

Relying on a mystery shopper’s subjective feedback will not match the opinions of all customers. Your real, every-day customers will give a more representative picture of service.


A mystery shopper might spot an incident, but they might also miss a trend. Real-time reporting will tell you what’s happening right there and then, enabling you to act on that information straight away.


A mystery shopper is acting out a role as a customer, and they will have certain targets they are aiming for. But the real customer will rate their whole experience from their point of view, giving a more accurate point of view.

It’s better value

Compared to mystery shoppers, in-store surveys are much better value on balance. They require less manpower, everything is done in an instant electronically, and the retailer is getting a continuous feed, not just a one-off snapshot.

The customers

If they know they can easily and quickly give their opinion, they are more likely to do so. They value the opportunity to voice their opinions. Customer surveys are becoming more and more popular, and a more effective accurate way of gauging what customers are thinking right at the point of experience.

The mystery shopper is lagging behind, playing catch-up. There is no better time for retailers to think about how they can tap into customers’ thoughts, because it will make them better informed about their customers and help them make better decisions based on their experiences, for the benefit of their business.

Point of experience feedback tools these days can be cool, quick and funky, with instant reporting capabilities. They will give retailers snippets of data every day, are simple and transparent, and in high footfall areas like retail, are proving invaluable.

Helen Dargie has more than 18 years’ experience in the retail and customer service industry. As the owner of We Love Surveys, Helen is responsible for the day-to-day running of the company, developing their strategy and identifying business opportunities. She can be contacted direct at or on 07584 343526.

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