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Weighing the Pros and Cons of Mystery Shopping During the Holiday Season

By Ron Welty, Founder & Chief Client Officer

Between the droves of shoppers and the thrill of the hunt for the best deals, any notion of customer experience can sometimes take a back seat for retailers during the busy holiday season.

Because Black Friday and the days leading up to the holidays typically aren’t designed for shoppers to leisurely stroll the aisles, some might say that the customer experience isn’t as easy to prioritize during this time of year. Even if it was, would customers notice the small things store associates do to provide an exceptional experience? 

Blake Morgan, an author and Forbes senior contributor suggests it may be more important than ever, stating, “The customer experience of shoppers on Black Friday is even more important than other days because you are competing with so many other stores, online and offline.”

A question many of our clients ask is, “Should I use mystery shopping services during the holiday season?” Below, we weigh the pros and cons to help you determine if you should “blackout” dates during this busy time of year.

Why Brands May Not Pursue Mystery Shopping During the Holidays

Having been in the business of customer experience for nearly 20 years, we’ve observed that some of our clients will choose not to conduct mystery shops during the holiday season. Here are a couple of reasons why some retailers choose not to pursue mystery shopping for the holidays.

To Focus on Real Customers Over Secret Shoppers

Especially for luxury brands, customer experience is top-of-mind for retailers during the holiday season. Between the influx of new customers who may not be familiar with your products or store layout and longer-than-normal checkout lines, many retail brands opt to “blackout” a period or set days during the season. This ensures that their associates can focus solely on assisting their customers without any evaluators interfering.

Stores Are Too Busy to be Appropriately Evaluated

Retailers understand that the holidays are the busiest time of year. The rush of holiday shoppers can wear down associates as they seek to ensure product displays are kept organized, be available to answer questions, and efficiently move customers through checkout lines. Because it can be challenging to deliver exceptional experiences during the holidays, some retailers choose not to measure their customer experience with secret shoppers, as they’re too busy to be appropriately evaluated.

Why It May Be Valuable to Measure Customer Experience During the Holidays

By opting not to collect customer experience data during the holiday season, you may miss out on key business opportunities to increase sales and retain customers. 

In a press release, Rod Sides, Deloitte’s retail and distribution leader, said, "We've seen retailers continue to improve customer experience, invest in the fundamentals, and leverage relationships with innovative startups to boost engagement and efficiency. Convenience is the new retail currency; retailers who offer seamless experiences, have products available, and can deliver items more quickly than ever are most likely to win this holiday season."

When serving more customers than usual, retailers want to be able to measure their stores’ capacity to provide exceptional experiences. According to Deloitte, holiday sales are expected to exceed $1.1 trillion between November and January in 2019, representing about 20 percent of annual sales. Failure to deliver an exceptional customer experience this year—and improve for next year—could weaken profits in the long term.

Due to the impressive deals, holidays tend to bring in a surge of new customers, alongside their current customer base. According to Bain and Company, most retailers acquire 26 percent more new customers during the holidays when compared to non-holiday months. This presents a huge opportunity to retain customers after the holidays are over.

“Nine out of 10 people who received ‘excellent’ service during Black Friday shopped with that retailer again, 37 percent more than those who received ‘okay’ service,” Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service told Tech Radar.

Brands who want to be successful in the long term and convert holiday shoppers into loyal, returning customers need to do more than offer doorbuster deals. To do so, mystery shopping offers the most objective way to evaluate and improve your customer experience during these crucial times.

Prepare for the Holiday Season

The holiday season can be an exciting time for retail businesses. To ensure your brand is prepared, you’ll need to find a partner that can ensure your brand continues to deliver exceptional experiences. 

IntelliShop’s mystery shopping services can evaluate your customer experience to improve customer satisfaction and operational strategies. Our programs can be designed to evaluate your everyday customer experience or can be tailored to suit the experience of a day like Black Friday. These results can then be compared to your ongoing mystery shopping program and/or analyzed separately to create an actionable strategy for improvement for the next holiday season. 

Contact IntelliShop today to request a consultation.