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What do they look for and how do they grade it?
The cardinal rule is that appearance counts for a lot. I have performed mystery-shopping assignments in at least six different industries and for multiple different mystery-shopping companies, and every single assignment instructs the mystery shopper to look around and assess the cleanliness and appearance of the business. This does not only apply to retail but to absolutely everything, inside and outside the store. If you think that the parking lot that your employer’s landlord supposedly cleans does not impact your mystery-shopping scores, think again!
The lesson that I take from this, as a baristo, is that the view from the other side of the serving counter is really important. Whenever I am working at my baristo job, I try to get out from behind the counter frequently, many times per shift, no matter what my nominal task is to scan for debris, pick up customers’ messes, and straighten up the retail displays.
Why do they care about neatness? I don’t know, exactly; but folks in retail (not my employer) have told me that they will do anything to encourage customers to stay in the store longer. They know that the likelihood of sale, and the average sale size, increases with the length of customer visit. This is one reason, I suppose, why the Barnes & NobleTM and BordersTM bookstores of the world all seem to have given up bookshelf space for espresso bars. If a customer finishes Chapter 1 over a latte, more likely they will buy it and take it home than if they only read the first paragraph standing in the aisle.
An important aspect of store appearance is worker appearance. Maybe your employer’s dress code seems like a pain, and maybe even your local store management gives the workers a break about it. That does not mean that national headquarters will give you a break! When they work with the independent contracting firms that hire the actual shoppers, headquarters is likely to require visual checks according to headquarters’ view of the dress code. The headquarters view may well be stricter than your manager’s.
As an example, I have done repeated mystery-shopping jobs for one retail chain which insists not only that the employee wear approved clothing but that the shirt must be tucked in. I don’t remember now how many otherwise neat-looking workers I had to mark down as not meeting code because they had not tucked in their shirts, but that was part of the standard, so those workers got dinged.
Timeliness is also extremely important. Even before I got my stopwatch, I noted many mystery assignments which required either a stopwatch, watch with a second hand, etc. to be used when timing service times right down to the second. Some assignments track only the wait-in-line time (i.e. in a store, time to get to the register). Others track the post-register wait-for-service time. Others track both. There are variations. I wish I were at liberty to tell you the details since they would be illuminating, but I will have to generalize: one mystery assignment required me to time how long an industry standard dispensing machine took to deliver a set amount of product, and the mystery-shop company actually called me to double check that I really meant it when I reported that the machine was one second outside of its acceptable specification range.