MYSTERY SHOPPING: REVEALING SERVICE QUALITY STANDARDS IN MODERN RETAILING
Mystery shopping or mystery audit is basically a tool to measure the quality of service delivered by an organization and also to measure the degree of conformance by an organization to the standards set by the industry. It is an extremely interesting and critical tool to enhance customer experiences in the modern marketing scenario and also to pursue customer satisfaction in an objective manner. The present study is a mystery audit that was conducted considering three different retail brands at various locations in the city of Kolkata
Over the years, mystery shopping also called mystery audit has been used as a tool by external market research companies or even internally by companies themselves to measure service quality and compliance with various standards set by the organization as far as day to day operations are concerned. The most common industry where mystery shopping technique is applied is the retailing industry and the mystery shoppers over here are found to perform certain specific tasks purchasing products, asking questions and seeking an overall experience of a store and then they go on to register their findings in a structured format.
Mystery shopping as a tool has been found to cover performance management and it is also considered as a tool for maintaining the broader health of an organization under study (Jones, 2011). Mystery shopping has been found to yield specific answers which help brands to go indepth into various issues concerning the business which is not possible in case of emotion−based customer survey done at retail outlets. The basic answer that is checked by mystery shopping is whether the service received by a customer is good enough. It is not however an effective technique to measure various other aspects of brand development like quality, trust or emotional engagement with customers. It offers feedback in real time which needs to have a buy−in from those who have the power to act on the results.
The moment of truth that is basically a term to denote the interaction between the buyer and the seller in the service industry is extremely important and mystery shopping is a tool to measure the quality of such moments of truths. Monitoring the behavior and performance of
sales and service people in service organizations is crucial and hence the monitoring in terms of their product knowledge, sales approach, convincing capabilities and their ability to work under stress is important (Ramesh, 2010). Mystery shopping creates an in−depth insight in perceptions of potential customers and adds greater value to customer satisfaction survey data. It is best used to assess the objective characteristics of outlet operations like the store environment.
Having service excellence in services, processes and relationships is not enough now a days for service providers. Rather they need to create excellence in customer experiences for seeking competitive advantage in the market (Wiele et al, 2005). Mystery shopping has been recognized as an effective tool for measuring quality of service delivery along with setting suitable benchmarks in the industry. It also measures effectiveness of training programs and tests if all customers of a particular company are treated equally or not. The first step in designing mystery shopping is to define goals followed by data gathering and then it is about reporting the results.
Customer satisfaction is the prime concern in the service industry and this concern has prompted many service entities to opt for mystery shopping as a technique to reveal whether their customers are really satisfied or not (Finn & Kayande, 1999). Mystery shopping as a technique has been found to monitor an outlet´s performance over a period of time along with identifying the improvement areas for an outlet.
The present study has been conducted in the Kolkata market for three retail entities viz. AirTel Relationship Center, Bose and Wills Lifestyle Store.
To measure the visual merchandise index of the retail brands under study To measure the conformance index of the retail brands under study To measure the people index of the retail brands under study To measure the store index of the retail brands under study
The researchers for the study conducted mystery shopping at various retail stores in Kolkata. The retail brands that were considered for the purpose of study were Wills Lifestyle Store, AirTel Relationship Centers and Bose (a store retailing high end music systems). The first retail brand is related to garment retailing, the second is into retailing telecom services and the third is an exclusive retail store of Bose Electronics. The researchers for the study who posed as shoppers during the mystery shopping exercise at various retail stores needed to be alert and a good observer and have an eye for details. They needed to be good actors so that the employees at the stores were unable to identify the true motive of the mystery shopper.
For the AirTel Relationship Center, mystery audit was conducted at the following locations in Kolkata ˘ Sarat Bose Road, Park Street, Lords Crossing and Sector 1 at Salt Lake City. In case of Bose, the audit was done at one store at South City Mall while the stores on the two days was pre decided. The different elements that were identified and measured during the course of the study were visual merchandise index, conformance index, people index and store index. The store index was basically a composite score using a certain
formula based on the calculated visual merchandise index, conformance index and people index. The index score have been mentioned in percentages.
A structured questionnaire having questions based on People, Process and Presentation parameters of the retailers under study were utilized for the purpose of mystery audit. All the questions had two options as far as response to the questions were concerned viz. `Yes´ and `No´. For every `Yes ´, a score of 100 was assigned while for every `No´, a score of 0 was assigned by the researchers.
Before mentioning the findings at the individual outlets of various retail brands considered for the purpose of survey, a brief about the three indexes being measured for the outlets has been mentioned:
CONFORMANCE INDEX: Conformance index is that index which measures that how much a particular outlet/store conforms to the prescribed/recommended standards. The index is expressed as a percentage. It includes such aspects of the store that are to be maintained by a store on a daily basis as far as processes are concerned. The presence of a security guard at the store, designated area for keeping the belongings of customers, waiting area for customers are some of the aspects to be mentioned.
PEOPLE INDEX: People index is that index which deals with the people factor/internal customers of any store. The grooming of sales personnel and their overall attitude and behavior with customers at the store are some of the major aspects of people index and it is expressed as a percentage.
VISUAL MERCHANDISE INDEX: Visual merchandise index is that index which deals with the overall presentation of a store and the merchandise at the store. All such elements that make shopping and the store attractive and makes customers spend greater time at the store are the aspects covered by visual merchandise index.
STORE INDEX: Store index is the summation of the conformance index, merchandise index and people index and is expressed as a percentage.
The purpose of the study was not just to find the indexes for each retail brand but also to find if there was any difference between the measures of the indexes as far as individual outlets for each retail brand was concerned.
AIRTEL RELATIONSHIP CENTER
In the context of AirTel Relationship Center, it was found that there was no difference between outlets as far as visual merchandise index was concerned. All the outlets considered for the study faired similarly in terms of overall presentation of the store. As far as aspects related to conformance were concerned, again there was no difference between the outlets in terms of presence of security personnel, waiting area for customers, billing mechanisms etc. In the context of people index, it was observed that while service personnel at Park Street, Lords Crossing and Sector 1 were attentive to customer requirements and greeted the customer before the interaction and had good product knowledge, the one at Sarat Bose Road did not have such personnel. Moreover, sales personnel at Park Street and Sector 1 tried to upsell to the customers but such was not the case at other outlets. A summary of the findings at AirTel Relationship Centers has been presented earlier in table form:
One exclusive outlet of Bose, a company retailing high−end music and sound systems was considered for the survey. In terms of visual merchandise index, the store at South City Mall scored 100%. The store scored a perfect 100 for all the other indexes as well and thus the overall store index was found to be 100%. A summary of the findings has been presented above.
WILLS LIFESTYLE STORE
In the context of visual merchandise index, it was observed that except for the Camac Street store, where the mannequins were not neatly arranged, the stores scored a 100 in terms of arrangement of apparels, hanging displays, overall look and feel of the store and essenza di wills, a impulse buying zone at Wills Lifestyle. In the context of people index, the appearance
of the staff at the Sector 1 store was not convincing and neither they were found to take opportunities to up sell or cross sell to customers. They also did not exhibit the ability to handle unavailability scenario at the store. The later two were also found at the Camac Street store. The store at the South City Mall was found to score a perfect 100 in people index. In terms of conformance, all the stores scored a perfect 100. A summary of the findings has been presented below.
Throughout the research, 25% weightage was given to the factors concerning visual merchandising and conformance while 50% weightage was given to the factors concerning people. The store index for the respective retail brands were arrived at by multiplying the visual merchandise and conformance scores by 0.25 and multiplying the people index scores by 0.5 and then summing them up.
The present study thus highlights the importance and contribution of various indexes related to various facets of retailing that contribute to the making of the overall store environment. The store index is basically a summation of the feelings generated within an individual customer based on the visual merchandising at the store, the employees at the store and the degree to which a store conforms to the standards set by the industry. The present mystery shopping audit presents an objective view of the various outlets under study and reflects certain differences that exist between outlets of a particular retail brand.