Mystery Shopping For Online Retailers – A New Way to See Your Business Through Your Customers’ Eyes

If you’re an online retailer, there is some good news in the holiday forecast – reports show that online shopping will increase this year due to many factors in the current economic situation, with a 10% increase in online buyers as compared to 2007. However, consumers are also going to be more selective as far as where they shop. Bargains and discounts will be the main focus, but usability and information provided by online retailers will also play a big part in a consumer’s decision to purchase. Is your site ready for the holiday season?

Online customer service is just as important, if not more so, than customer service provided in brick and mortar businesses. If a consumer is dissatisfied with a website, it is easier to close out of the site and go somewhere else than leaving if they are already in a store. This is the time that online retailers need to focus on customer service.

Online customer service varies from traditional brick and mortar customer service in a few ways. First, it is not only focused on employee interactions, professionalism, and knowledge. Online consumers want to shop at sites that are easy to navigate and offer the ability to quickly find items of interest. Furthermore, they want a simple, effective purchase process and options on methods of purchasing, whether it be completing an online transaction or placing an order via telephone. Finally, if they have questions, they want an easy way to contact the company with a quick response.

It can be difficult to continually monitor your online store to make sure the site is functional, not experiencing downtime, and everything is working properly. This is a challenge that can cost retailers revenue and consumer traffic, especially during the holiday season when consumers are rushed and feeling the pressure of holiday buying. Many online retailers are turning to mystery shopping programs as a method to monitor and evaluate their online customer service.

Mystery shopping programs can offer insight into all aspects of your online store. These shoppers are specifically trained on your website, and are often instructed to make a purchase in order to gauge the entire customer experience for retailers. This often includes, but is not limited to, the following key issues:

1. Evaluating the accessibility of your website and the ease of finding selected items

2. Evaluating the methods of contacting the company, whether it be via email, live chat, or telephone, which includes the speed of response, wait times, and knowledge/helpfulness of staff

3. The ease of making a purchase on the website – are any areas not working properly, is there a part of the purchase process that is hanging up, confusing, or otherwise hindering sales?

4. Monitoring the delivery process – are items delivered as expected and on time? If there is a delay in delivery, was this communicated with the customer?

5. Evaluating problem resolution – mystery shoppers can complete the experience by contacting the company, either via email or telephone, with a problem or concern to evaluate how issues are resolved.

Using a mystery shopping program to evaluate the above will give you a unique, objective perspective and allow you to pinpoint areas that need improvement to increase sales and customer traffic. The cost for online programs is generally lower than traditional, onsite mystery shopping, and the benefits are just as great. Programs are customized to evaluate any aspects of the online shopping experience and can range from a full evaluation that includes a purchase, return, and problem resolution to more simplified programs, whether the focus center around making a purchase or contacting a customer service representative by email or telephone. Coupling the mystery shopping reports with analytical reports will give you the extra edge in maintaining strong revenue and staying ahead of the competition this holiday season.