A mystery shopper is someone who is hired to make a purchase in a store or restaurant or with another service provider and to accurately describe his findings.
In the Netherlands and Belgium this type of research is being used on an ever increasing scale; in other countries, such as the United States, this is a more common research method.
To get the most realistic experience possible, the staff is not informed of the mystery shopper beforehand, or not specifically. The mystery shopper then presents himself as a normal customer and, in the entire process, he looks at pre-established criteria. Examples of aspects that can be taken into consideration are the politeness of the staff, the cleanliness of the store, waiting times, helpfulness and expertise of the operating staff.
The findings are processed and ultimately serve to improve the service level and quality monitoring. An additional goal is to demonstrate a link between customer satisfaction and turnover / profit for a company or branch.
A critical note is sometimes placed on the ethics of mystery shopping. Personnel are observed without knowing it and often have no possibilities to defend themselves against any unwelcome outcomes. It can also be seen by some employees as a vote of no confidence in (central) management.
A young mystery shopper is also sometimes used to check compliance with age limits, for example when selling alcohol, tobacco, movies and games (and with shopper in the broader sense of customer: the rental of films and games, and access to movies in the cinema). In the second instance, mystery shopping is also used as a research method to gauge discriminatory behavior in the rental market.
Here, brokers are approached by mystery shoppers asking whether they are willing to rent out their home. In addition, the mystery shopper asks the broker, for example, not to accept persons with an immigrant background as landlord.