Mystery Shopping of Alcoholic Beverages


Mystery shopping – also known as secret shopping, a method that involves using trained and instructed test customers posing as regular customers in order to evaluate the goods and services that a business provides.

Type of retail trade – based on the 2011 retail market studies by TNS Emor, the shops / places of sale are divided into large, average and small places of sale, according to for how many people this chain of shops is the place for purchase in a given region. Single shops (not belonging to a chain) are all categorized as small shops.


The purpose of the survey of mystery shopping of alcoholic beverages was to determine how often alcohol is sold to 18–19-year-old youngsters without asking for age-confirming document and in which type of points of sale (incl. small, large and average retail shops, gas stations and catering establishments) and in which regions of Estonia it is more common.

Without asking for document it is not possible to ascertain whether a youngster is of age or not. Thus the percentage of asking for document reflects how often document is asked from 16- and 17-year-olds when they buy alcoholic beverages.

Chapter 3, § 46 and § 47 of the Alcohol Act provide that Minors are prohibited from consuming alcoholic beverages and that it is prohibited to offer, transfer or hand over alcoholic beverages to minors.

The data in the tables is weighted, including the main results. Data for 2012 is not comparable one-to-one with other years. The ratio between bought strong and light alcohol was 20/80 in 2012, but in next years it was 40/60.

Types of institution involved by year of test purchase: 2012 - retail trade and catering establishment; 2014 - retail trade; 2016 - retail trade; 2017 - catering establishment; 2019 - retail trade and catering establishment

Mystery shopping of alcoholic beverages survey in 2012

The survey on mystery shopping of alcoholic beverages was conducted and shopping was carried out between 27.–30.06 and 06.–07.07.2012. The mystery shopping was carried out all over Estonia, altogether in 250 establishments. The mystery shoppers were six young people aged 18–19, the choice of whom was based on international methodology that is most often used when rating people’s age – the evaluator is shown a picture of a person and they must guess how old is that person. The youngsters, who were rated as the youngest, were chosen as mystery shoppers.

The studies were financed from the means European Union Social Fund’s programme „Developing the Long-term Planning System of the Government“ of the operational programme of development of human resource priority measure „Increasing the administrative capacity.“

The survey was conducted by TNS Emor and National Institute for Health Development.

The basis of mystery shoppers is an international methodology that is most often used in evaluating age – when seeing the picture of the person under evaluation, the evaluator has to rate how old this person is (Burt, Perrett 1995; George, Hole 2000; Sörqvist, Eriksson 2007). In the current study the committee of evaluators consisted of twenty persons aged 21–64 who at the moment of evaluation were retail salesmen and bar/café servicepersons with a valid job contract. The evaluated potential mystery shoppers group consisted of 32 young people aged 17–29, including 16 boys and 16 girls. From this group 6 youngsters (3 girls and 3 boys) were selected, whom the committee of evaluators considered the youngest.

The sample of mystery shopping retail establishments was compiled based on the register of alcohol sales permits. Extract from the register was taken on 19.01.2012 and included 5718 sales permits. The sales permits are issued for each single sales establishment (sales point) and thus it is the best possible information source about official sales points of alcohol and their locations. According to the address of the place of business, category of sales point and the owner of activity licence the sales register entities were sampled as following:

  1. Regions, based on counties: Tallinn, Northern Estonia (Harju county, Järva county, Rapla county), Western Estonia (Hiiu county, Lääne county, Pärnu county, Saare county), Southern Estonia (Põlva county, Valga county, Viljandi county, Võru county), Tartu area (Jõgeva county, Tartu county) and Viru area (Ida-Viru county, Lääne-Viru county)
  2. Types of settlements, based on addresses: Tallinn, other city and rural settlement
  3. Type of sales point, based on the description of point of sale and the classification of place of business: shop/place of sale, gas station or gas station shop, catering establishment or café/bar and sales point unsuitable for the survey.

Based on the 2011 retail market studies by TNS Emor, the shops / places of sale are divided into large, average and small places of sale, according to for how many people this chain of shops is the place for purchase in a given region. Single shops (not belonging to a chain) are all categorized as small shops.

The total sample of the survey that consisted of 250 test purchases was composed of 50 purchases of five layers. Within the layers the interviews were distributed proportionally to the real distribution of regions and types of settlements within the layer. The details of the planned and actual sample are presented in the following table.

In case the actual number differed from the planned*, the actual number is marked in bold in the table in brackets.

Table 1. Sample of the survey*
Sales permits Small Average Large Gas station Catering
Un­suitable Total
Region Tallinn 11 20 7 8 20 0 66
Northern Estonia 9 6 6 10 5 0 36
Western Estonia 8 7 (8) 7 (6) 8 9 0 39
Tartu area 6 6 8 7 5 0 32
Southern Estonia 7 6 10 10 5 0 38
Viru area 9 5 12 7 6 0 39
Type of
Tallinn 11 20 7 8 20 0 66
Other city 17 16 (17) 36 (35) 18 (19) 19 0 106 (107)
Rural settlement 22 14 7 24 (23) 11 0 78 (77)
Total 50 50 (51) 50 (49) 50 50 0 250
* The actual number differed from the planned if the sales point chosen to the sample was temporarily or permanently closed and as a replacement a sales point of another type or located elswhere was chosen for visit.

The mystery shoppers acted on the principle that each boy buys either beer/vodka and juice, and each girl cider/vodka and juice. Proportionally the purchases of light alcoholic drinks (beer and cider) formed 80% of all purchases. The strength of alcoholic drinks was not limited by any criteria.

For each test purchase the mystery shoppers filled in an observation diary that included the following information: the description of the alcohol bought (type, brand and amount), the sex of mystery shopper and their shopper code, the features of the shop according to the sample (county, type), the code of the shop from the sample base, the date and time of purchase, and if the purchase was carried out, the number of the receipt, existence of queue (one person or more), whether the ID or their age was asked, whether eye contact was established between the salesclerk and the shopper, the sex and estimated age of the salesclerk and the discussion between the salesclerk and shopper (free commentary).


The publication about Mystery Shopping of Alcoholic Beverages is available in Estonian on web page of National Institute for Health Development


Triin Vilms

Centre for Health and Welfare Promotion

National Institute for Health Development

E-mail: Triin.Vilms[at]