The History of Mystery Shopping

the history of mystery shopping

Mystery shopping today is a known method of collecting data – but as it turns out, it hasn’t always been the way we know it. Today, our mission is to walk through the decades of mystery shopping evolving, pointing out the turning points that brought us to the industry’s state today.  

The beginning: 1940s

Mystery shopping has its roots back in the 1940s, and it looked nothing like today. So widely used nowadays, this market research tool started as an undercover operation to stop theft in the workplace. A research company called WilMark started hiring private investigators that went undercover as employees in businesses like banks and retail. 

As the practice gained more popularity, it also evolved to collect other data types, such as safety and customer service.

The idle time: 1950-1960s

While kicking out strong, the mystery shopping process wasn’t as popular in the following two decades as one might think. The general situation in the world called for years of recovery from World War II. Moreover, people were torn between capitalism and the remainings of communism, having difficulties adapting to this new type of society.

The bloom: 1970s

The 1970s can be considered golden years for the mystery shopping research method – this is exactly when it caught on. If to check the statistics, in the 70s, 25-35% of banks already were engaged in some mystery shopping. The actual profitableness of their activities can be questioned, though: banks at the time were conducting the mystery shopping campaigns as a benchmark once in 2 years while also never doing anything to encourage active changes of issues that were found.

However, the 1970s can also be linked to the rapid growth of the marketing industry and its importance to business evolution. In that exact decade, marketers realized the necessity of a sales culture and observed sales performance. So, consequently, mystery shopping campaigns started to include monitoring sales behaviors and skills.

The further evolution: 1980s

The decade to follow only further proved the effectiveness of mystery shopping. As the quality of service was becoming the main focus, Mystery shopping and customer satisfaction surveys secured their place as the standard for evaluating performance.

Businesses wanted to know specific things, instead of a rather vague ‘was the service pleasant’ that was asked before. Questions like ‘Were you offered a business card’ or ‘Did the waiter know the menu well’ brought a fundamental change and allowed for the growth of specialized mystery shopping companies.

On the other hand, there were still many inconveniences slowing down the mass adoption of the mystery shopping research. There was no mystery shopping software as we have today – shopper reports and payment checks were sent around via USPS, and it took some time to find the addressee. Moreover, the jobs and their details were given through the phone, meaning there were many instances of miscommunication and unreliable data. This, and the newness of the industry overall, discouraged many businesses from engaging in this practice.

the history of mystery shopping timeline

The revolution: 1990s

Finally, the industry that was digital by nature since the beginning found the means to exist comfortably. The 1990s brought the birth and rapid growth of the Internet: new technology was taking over every industry, and mystery shopping was no exception. New technology for shoppers appeared, allowing them to submit reports online and be paid electronically. This innovation decreased the turnaround time drastically, allowing companies to act on the found data much quicker.

The 1990s – Today.

These days, mystery shopping software like Checker makes the mystery shopping process easy and efficient. Every step is done online, including instant communication with schedulers and editors within the app to consult and make edits to the shopper’s strategy. 

Such programs now allow shoppers to easily create reports by adding pictures, video, and audio notes: now, the collected data quality is higher than ever. As for the business owners, within Checker, they can create projects, assign jobs to the shoppers that are already registered – or import their own databases – train and certify certain employees, and even act on the collected data. Today, mystery shopping software is an all-in-one solution to gather, store, and analyze the information you collect – no issue is ever lost.

Want to see how it works?

The technology never stays put – it’s evolving as you’re reading this article. Who knows what the future holds for the mystery shopping industry and what changes we have yet to witness. However, one thing is clear: mystery shopping has already taken roots in customer satisfaction evaluation. As a result, it will remain one of the most common ways to initiate business growth and offer more value to the brand clients.