Flipkart and Amazon Try Out Online Mystery Shoppers

Radha S, a 40 year executive in Bangalore has just placed an order on Snapdeal for a high-end phone, at a great deal. 3 days later her ordered is delivered, and as an excited Radha opens the package, the biggest shock awaits. Instead of the shiny new Samsung phone she had hoped to be carrying in her hands, it turns out to be a brick! What has happened? Has Snapdeal cheated her? Livid, shocked and disappointed, she begins making a round of angry calls to customer support, demanding a refund.

(Screengrab of the customer complaint on Facebook)

It’s not just the customer, but the ecommerce portal that’s been had. The brick was delivered by a fraudulent vendor that registered on the ecommerce platform posing as an electronics retailer, complete with fake pictures and product descriptions, and upon receiving the price for the phone, delivers a fake order, only to disappear the next day. The company – Snapdeal – in this case, bears the brunt of the cost, while the customer is left with a sour taste in her mouth.

With several online customers facing such bad experiences in terms of pricing discrepancies, non-availability of desired products, or even receiving sub-standard or fake products, online marketers are now pulling up their socks to ensure customer satisfaction on one hand, and prevent fraud on the other. And one of the approaches taken by many ecommerce platforms, including biggies Flipkart and Amazon is the introduction of the Mystery Shopper. In a brick and mortal scenario, the Mystery Shoppers are hired to carry out the process of a purchase from a store, recording their entire experience and reporting back to the company.

In the online realm, the approach is very similar, except the mystery shoppers are usually employees of the company, regularly assigned to double up as mystery shoppers, creating fake orders and testing the experience. 

Flipkart have recently hired 60 employees who act as mystery shoppers for the portal. These mystery shoppers or ‘secret agents’ will have to send in photos of the packaging, labels and products that are delivered to them, which will be processed by the trust and security team. When they spot or detect such devious ploys, the same is reported to the company, who first warn the seller, and after warning, if the deterrent vendor does not fall in line, he/she is banned from the system. The employee of course is rewarded, with incentives.

In the case of Amazon India, random sampling by mystery shoppers keeps a check on quality of items shipped by sellers who directly pack and ship items. Where sellers use the company’s packing and shipping service, mandatory checks at the fulfilment centres are carried out to prevent shipping of counterfeits and damaged products. “We scrub our platform periodically to test random sample products and take action,” said an Amazon India spokesperson.

With the increasingly vast ecommerce ecosystem in India, these steps by the market leaders should not only help deal with errant and fraudulent behaviour plaguing the industry, but also help mitigate the many trust and quality issues the consumer may still harbour, preventing a conversion on the online platform.