“Mystery shopper” iPhone app can’t replace real thing: Expert

A new iPhone app that enables shoppers to act as in-store “spies” is being hailed as a valuable tool for retailers, but an industry expert says the app cannot replace the value of real-life mystery shoppers.


The app – which launched in Australia last month – was created by Field Agent, a joint venture between Mill Creek Software and NorthStar Partnering Group in the United States.


The app begins with a client creating a job, requesting specific information. It then reviews and broadcasts a request to “Agents”, which are iPhone users who have installed the app.


Agents use their iPhones to collect and return information, and get paid for the service.


“Now more than ever, companies are looking for ways to efficiently gain field intelligence on products and services,” Field Agent co-founder Kelly Miller says.


The app is being held up as the latest must-have tool for retailers, who can crowdsource in-store spies to give them a competitive advantage.


Companies list a job they need done, whether it be taking a photo of a counter display or checking the price of a certain product.


Shoppers then select a job in their area and complete it, a process that usually takes between five and 15 minutes. They are then paid anywhere between $4 and $20.


Field Agent spokesperson Kate Gorman says companies use the app for a variety of purposes, including checking whether certain products are on display or whether particular items have been discounted in accordance with a promotion.


Brian Walker, managing director of The Retail Doctor Group, says while the app speeds up the reporting process, it cannot replace the role of the mystery shopper.


“It looks good but it could never replace trained, highly-skilled mystery shoppers. Quite often, the quality of the experience is what the mystery shopper is trained on,” Walker say.


“Where the app is good is in the processing of information, and the more transactional and mechanical applications such as, is the product out of stock?”


“In that sense, we applaud the application and we’re looking to use that sort of application in our systems.”


Walker says the app will prove more beneficial for straightforward purchases such as groceries, which are fully reliant on product delivery and purely transactional.


“It will be less applicable in the more experience-type retail environments. We would always use highly skilled people [rather than an app],” he says.


Walker believes the retail industry will continue to witness app developments and adaptations, but predicts the “wheel will come full circle”.


“All of these process enhancers add great value but, now more than ever, consumers are looking for experiences that are human experiences,” he says.


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