Student mystery shoppers should keep retailers on their toes

Friday, 27 February 2015
With a number of fashion high street retailers struggling to manage the ever-shifting retail landscape, as labels such as Bank, USC, Mexx, Country Casuals and Austin Reed entered into administrator or shuttered stores over the past two months, what is the best way for a retailer to keep its head  above water? By investing in the sales force of the future: students taking fashion courses. The National Union of Students (NUS) actively looks to recruit students across the UK to act as Mystery shoppers across the UK and across the channel in the Netherlands,Inretail, the trade association for entrepreneurs, launched a new project with several schools and businesses to promote the benefits of student mystery shoppers.​ ​

The project was first launched last October, in Zoetermeer and since then has been rolled out to 9 other participating schools across the country. Policy advisor for Education at Inretail​,​ Dorien Krassenberg commented: "The retail market is a sector where revenues are in the decline. Look at the problems happening at V&D or Mexx. Especially during such a changing point in retail landscape, where consumers purchase a lot through online channels, will craftsmanship and personal contact from the sales assistance need to make the difference, now more than ever." The key to success, according to Inretail, lies in shaping the sales force of the future. "By working closer together we aim to make our courses more attractive and ensure they align well with the fashion industry," added Krassenberg.​

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​'Students are the new consumers'

​ Students who make it into the project are sent as a mystery shopper to participating stores to help them rise the bar. They assess stores based on appearance and presentation, and sometimes will be asked to test the store's staff by purchasing or enquiring about a specific product or service. Lecturer for Commercial Management at the ROC in Nijmegen previously told the Gelderlander: "Students are able to gain valuable insight into what entrepreneurship means in practice. It also put students directly in touch with the stores." The students were able to select themselves which stores they wanted to visit as Mystery Shoppers, and all with one exception, were willing to participate, he added. "I many received positive reactions from the retailer." ​

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​ One local retailer, Shoeby Fashion, was visited by a student mystery shopper twice, during which the student assessed the store's presentation, the sales staff behaviour and service. Franciska van de Wal, owner of Shoeby Fashion, has been working in the industry for over thirty years and been visited by mystery shoppers in the past. The mystery student shopper's visits resulted in one good review, but one less positive review as well. "Of course, the last review was a bit discouraging naturally," commented Van de Wal. The student's report showed that she had to wait a while before being served.​

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​ "But if you remain sharp as a team, overall it really motivates you all to come together and to do your best next time. It would stupid, as a business, especially with the increasing competition, to do nothing with the improvement feedback." Van de Wal takes the student's commentary very seriously, noting that she too spotted the missing stool and second mirror in one of the fitting rooms. Although she adds that the feedback could be a little more critical, "so we can use it to the best of our advantage," she adds.​