Shopping PR: Who Pays $1.1 Million for Mystery Shopper Reviews?

Consumer PR shopping

Public Relations in shopping focuses on the customer, and “Mystery Shopper” provides one of the most effective ways to do this. Mystery shopping refers to a process used to review grocery and other stores providing anonymous feedback about companies.

One startup capitalizing on mystery shoppers is Mobee. This Boston-based company got $1.1 million in seed funding from LaunchCapital, TiE Angels Boston, Hub Angels, and others, according to TechCrunch. Part of the success of Mobee comes from the business environment of trending apps making it susceptible to the problems that come with trending apps. For instance, it has little in the way of accountability, reliability, and regulations.


Mobee functions on a reward system. The app rewards users for reviewing businesses, and uses a concept of “live missions.” Live missions designate places where users can rate different things they experience such as wait times, cleanliness (or lack of it), the helpfulness and friendliness of the staff. Once they submit their reviews the shopper receives gift cards and other prizes as payment for their participation.

The rewards include things like free Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, $5 at Starbucks, $10 on iTunes, $25 on Amazon, $50 at Sephora, as well as, chances to win bigger prizes through a lottery-like system. Founded by Prahar Shah and Thibault Le Conte, the company seeks to distance itself from other similar apps and websites like Yelp:

“We see ourselves as above Yelp, as there’s a little bit more effort in the questions you answer through your mobile device,” says Shah, as he explains how Mobee differs from its competitors. “[The questions] are more structured and more specific for businesses – the kind of data that businesses don’t get through Yelp,” he adds. He also explains that businesses want this data because it helps them standardize operations and monitor their stores in real-time.

The Reaction

Mobee also caught the attention of detractors. One thing pointed out in this article is the app’s  limitations, because it only works in the greater Boston vicinity. Additionally, the reliability of the reviews from “mystery shoppers” has been questioned.

Mobee goal is to convert smartphone users into mystery shoppers visiting retailers and restaurants incognito and providing feedback to receive rewards’ – to quote The Boston Globe. “How reliable are anonymous and “mystery” reviews anyway?”

Mystery Shopping can affect a company’s brand, and has highlighted scandals in the retail industry. But, making any average shopper a mystery shopper creates problems from a PR standpoint. Public Relations relies on accountability, reliability, and communication to successfully brand products, and companies; as well as, to relate to customers.

Shopping PR

Turning customers into anonymous mystery shoppers reduces the accountability and reliability of campaigns branding products and appealing to customers. The idea behind mystery shopping should be seen as providing stores with ways they can improve customer service, but all involved on the receiving end should be fully aware that the more you request and require from shoppers when it comes to detail, opinions, and the like, becomes less reliable as you require more time from the shopper in putting in the details. If they can go an easier, less information provided-route and still get their rewards, it won’t take long before that’s the results that will be received.

A customer giving you a good review and willing to give their name means the company can use that endorsement on their website, flyers, etc. But mystery shoppers are more likely to be looking for chinks in the armor – always good to know, and that’s valuable information to start fixing problems. But a company probably won’t be using their comments as glowing reviews.

It is always advisable to keep your PR plan in place while working to overcome situations receiving complaints. Find a way to highlight the improvement efforts of the company. If a company finds a particular employee is receiving a lot of negative reviews, it may be time to switch his job responsibilities. If you take that route a few times, then it has the potential of becoming a great PR story, just like Disney has long been known to dismiss employees only as the most extreme measure – instead, they work employees into different jobs to find the best fit.

Who is Shopping Who?

Rodney Mason, GVP of Blackhawk Marketing stated in a recent press release, “Gone are the days of retailers only worrying about keeping up with their competitors—today, the key to winning at retail is keeping up with your customers. By charting where shoppers are landing as they explore new shopping territories, retail marketers can position their businesses in front of the competition and closer to targeted and underserved customers.”

Shopping Public Relations is based on reliability, accountability, and communication to successfully brand products and companies. They also rely on these to relate to the consumers who are their customers. Without such standards, much can go awry and much harm can be done. Thought should be given to assigning ordinary consumers with the task of being Mystery PR Shoppers. Accountability and reliability relating to brand products and customers can be compromised. A strong, reputable Public Relations firm can bring accountability and integrity to the same process.

At the end of the day, while apps can be useful, the focus always has and should remain on personalizing the client experience. As Bulldog Reporter pointed out, “52% of people said that shopping is too impersonal these days, and they are concerned about the reliance on algorithms to dictate their purchases. In fact, 57% worry that they’ll discover fewer new things if companies always show them exactly what they’re looking for.” which by the numbers means sellers have enormous opportunities available to them because “66% of shoppers are looking to be inspired while they are shopping. They want the very human and personal touch amidst a wave of algorithm-based personalization” – a goal Mobee misses with its focus on incentivization over personalization.

In the end, mystery shopping is another tool available to clients, but must be handled with precision to get the ultimate use. Mystery shoppers need training on what to look for, what is important, and know what could make the experience better so suggestions can be made and changes implemented. Like most forward steps, planning makes all the difference.

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