It may be a concept alien for some, but mystery shopping is fast turning out to be a beneficial option for a range of businesses interested in gauging their market presence and perception.

The idea behind mystery shopping is what the name suggests - sending real people matching the target profile of brands (in terms of income, age and lifestyle preferences) to pose as under-cover customers and experience the shopping process.

"These customers are briefed on observing certain parameters while shopping. Post this; they share their observations, which are used by companies to improve their operations," Pankaj Guglani, founder and CEO, Red Quanta, a leading mystery shopping firm, said.

Constant feedback, as everyone knows it, is key to businesses for their brands, their services and the perception.

Explaining how businesses benefit out of mystery shopping, Guglani said, "It helps them monitor the operations in multiple stores across geographies in parallel, without the need to be physically present in those places.

"It also helps the companies ensure quality delivery of both the brand's promise and the standardization of operations across all locations - be it their own stores or franchisees. Businesses also use these inputs to identify areas of improvement and train their staff to enhance service levels."

Any customer-centric businesses like salons, spas, multiplexes, hotels and financial institutions, often avail this system of audit.

With the help of a shopper-database, Red Quanta signs up with a brand who wishes to analyze various aspects of their business. Shoppers are informed of the assignment and those who pass the profiling criteria are selected to perform the audit.

What's more?

The audit is actually a shopper's delight.

"For shoppers, mystery shopping is a fun activity... It also gives them an insight into customer service standards and also what improvements are needed in service levels of businesses. Moreover, they get paid for the time and effort they spend," said Guglani.

Essentially, an audit shopper visits a store or experiences a service like a normal customer, and makes observations on key parameters. Post this, they fill up an online questionnaire and submit it to Red Quanta. In return, they get a pre-decided incentive.

The mystery shopper base covers people across a vast age group - right from 18 to over 60, with intent to pick those with an eye for detail, basic computer operating knowledge and Internet access.

Red Quanta was formed in 2009, and the going is getting better with years.

"In the initial phase, getting clients to buy-in to a new concept like mystery shopping was a challenge. However, with increase in competition and more options becoming available to the Indian consumer, companies have started taking mystery audits seriously," said Guglani, whose company currently has over 150 clients.

The operations have pan-India presence - all metros, tier I, tier II as well as most tier III cities and towns.


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