Real Talk

Once Upon A Shop: Mystery Shopping Back in the Day

We’ve all heard the stories about how things were back in the day. Before cell phones, computers, even remote controlled TVs. For some, it might feel like just yesterday but there certainly were some stark differences compared to today. If you’re new to mystery shopping, you might not have heard what our back in the day looked like.

The term “mystery shopping” was coined in the 1940s. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that mystery shopping really began to take root. New technology and an increased focus on the customer experience didn’t just change consumerism, it changed mystery shopping right along with it.

So let’s take a trip down memory lane and jump right into what mystery shopping used to look like…

Target Shops
Restaurants, bars and movie theaters were the most commonly shopped. Often, these services were the most dependent on customer satisfaction and the value of mystery shopping became quickly apparent. Today, though, consumer industries far and wide see the value in mystery shopping. From pet care to valet parking, the horizons of mystery shopping haven’t just broadened, they’re limitless.

Shop Assignments

Prior to the Internet and personal computers, assignments were made via telephone. And without answering or fax machines, schedulers worked days and evenings in order to call shoppers for availability and verbally give addresses and details. The reports were then mailed to shoppers for completion and mailed back to the company, a process that typically took about a week to complete.

Reporting Procedures

Reports were often up to 10 pages long and had to be handwritten because their format usually couldn’t be completed on a standard typewriter. Shoppers typically spent an hour or two completing a report. Account managers would then take over, often deciphering the more creative penmanships to prepare reports for clients. And remember – no internet, no personal computers. Any shopper questions about reports had to be answered by phone, day or evening.

Proof of Visits

When shoppers mailed back reports, proof of visits had to be included since taking pictures wasn’t possible. For instance, if you mystery shopped a movie theater, along with your receipts, you usually had to submit an empty popcorn bag along with the bottom of the medium size paper cup from your soft drink to verify your concession purchase. The messiness of those submissions along with handwritten reports surely tested the resolve of those early report editors and processors.

Payment Processing

Shoppers were all paid by checks sent through regular mail. There was no direct deposit, companies like PayPal, or electronic fund transfer options. Waiting as patiently as possible was the name of the game, that and frequently checking the mailbox.

Mystery shopping has evolved greatly over the years, much of this evolution due to changing technology. Of course, even if we experienced the mystery shopping of yesteryear firsthand, it’s still amazing to see just how much things have changed. More unbelievable yet, with the rate of new technology you might be doing your own walk down mystery shopping’s memory lane in just a few years time. We can’t wait to see what’s next.