How A Leading Retailer Uses Mystery Shopping To Deliver An Exceptional Customer Experience


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The Walking Company, a footwear retailer with 215+ locations nationally and brands such as ABEO, Dansko, Ecco and Ugg, is “The World’s Largest Specialty Retailer of Comfort Footwear”.

It’s a product pitch with undeniable appeal. But according to Barry Weinstein, the company’s VP of Training, The Walking Company retail stores celebrate people, first and foremost.

This is why, in Barry’s view, managing the customer experience is such an important (and rewarding) investment. Not only is mystery shopping critical to measuring, studying, and improving the customer experience, but the program is “in direct line with” the company’s “core values.”

So how does The Walking Company use mystery shopping data? And what does the brand get out of it?

The short answers: 1) a bit unconventionally; and 2) significant ROI.

Mystery Shopping Data: A Gold Mine of Insights

The Walking Company’s mystery shopping program is designed to ensure proper execution of the company’s internal core behaviors and enhance its uniquely personal service model—in effect, to “change customers’ lives” in the course of outstanding interactions.

Pursuing this mission often involves testing new initiatives, scrapping what’s less effective, and doubling down on what works. The constant flow of data from the company’s mystery shopping programs gives Barry the insights he needs to make directional changes on a dime (and get a far greater return).

Focus #1: Guest-to-Associate Ratio vs. Performance

The Walking Company’s unique service model is time intensive—so much so that associates are trained to help multiple customers at the same time. But what happens in the event of different employee-to-customer ratios (1:1, 2:1, 3:2, 10:2, etc.)?

We encouraged Barry to compare his mystery shopping scores for each of these ratios, and to look at sales trends to know when to expect spikes in foot traffic.

Why Is This Important?

Barry has been able to identify the point at which in-store teams are too overwhelmed to deliver and to determine how many more associates are needed at different times of day to fulfill the brand promise.

Focus #2: Associate Tenure vs. Performance

The Walking Company gets more out of its mystery shopping reports by putting them in context. Barry notes the tenure and position of the employee who’s shopped. Was it a part-time associate who started three months ago, or a seasoned employee with four years’ experience?

You might expect these two employees to deliver very different experiences. But more experience doesn’t necessarily translate to higher satisfaction and sales. The newer associate might be fresh off the latest round of training, while the more experienced associate was last trained years ago and is stale or no longer engaged. Regularly updating employee training, and identifying who needs it most, is key to achieving the desired result on a consistent basis.

Why Is This Important?

With our program data in hand, Barry can pinpoint leadership and training opportunities. He has introduced greater flexibility on the sales floor to better serve customers. And he has focused on coaching for success, and rewarding it, in the course of measuring the customer experience.

As a result, The Walking Company has seen significant increases in productivity, customer loyalty, and employee retention.

“With the ever-changing retail climate and downturn in mall traffic, mystery shopping has allowed us to make directional changes that bring flexibility to our customer experience in keeping with our mission. Today, flexibility is a key ingredient to success. Expectations are rapidly changing, and you have to be able to address them.” — Barry Weinstein, VP of Training, The Walking Company

For Every Brand, the Program Should Fit the Promise

Every retailer has a different brand promise and different strategies for delivering on it. Therefore, every retailer uses mystery shopping data in its own unique way.

The Walking Company’s distinct service model, together with Barry’s training background, helps determine the focus of the company’s mystery shopping program—i.e., how surveys are designed, how Barry reads the data, and how he makes use of them. Other retailers might use mystery shopping for an entirely different purpose, looking closely at a specific aspect of engagement (such as suggestive selling) or shopping stores before and after new customer experience initiatives take effect.

How do you use mystery shopping to fulfill your brand promise? What other customer experience management programs do you rely on, and how do they intersect?

We’d love to hear about your past experiences or future plans. And we’d be happy to field your questions! Let’s start a conversation below.

Mystery shopping (done right) can take your retail business to a whole new level. To learn more, download our free eGuide, “How to Run a Successful Mystery Shopping Program.” In it, you’ll learn why your current mystery shopping program might be failing you—and how to execute a program that gets real results.

Kevin Leifer
Kevin and his team at StellaService help their clients build solutions that optimize front-line team performance and improve customer experiences across contact centers and stores.


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