The concept of the ghost shopper

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Brief summary

  • Ghost shoppers choose and buy products and services with no (or very little) direct interaction with the seller.
  • Many prospects who search for retirement communities—a rapidly increasing number—ghost-shop. They research, evaluate, and choose communities without, for instance, speaking with your staff or visiting your facilities.
  • Since prospects are doing so much retirement community research in this way, your marketing strategy should help them with this.
  • This means giving them the information they crave and spreading an effective brand story across a wide range of media outside your own website, including authoritative, third-party platforms.

Ghost shoppers

A ghost shopper chooses and buys a product or service with no (or very little) direct interaction with the seller. They do the research on their own.

This is common for many low-value retail items, which often don’t require research. For instance, most shoppers don’t need to speak with a clothing store employee before buying a pair of socks.

With consumers spending more time online, ghost shopping is also becoming more common with higher-value purchases. When the benefit of a product or service is complex, customers often seek out answers from multiple sources on their own to develop a more complete and objective grasp of the situation.

When, say, buying a computer, many knowledgeable and savvy shoppers do all (or almost all) their research on their own, often online. The same goes for smartphones, tablets, and even cars.

Ghost shopping for retirement communities

This trend also applies to retirement communities.

Increasing numbers of prospects are ghost shopping for their retirement communities (this trend is evidenced by the significant uptick in’s traffic). They’re researching, evaluating, and choosing communities without interacting with you directly: e.g., without speaking with you or visiting your facilities.

In their decision process, families will visit your website, read retirement community reviews, and check out third-party platforms. But they won’t reach out to you!


Here are a few key reasons:

  1. Prospects want to feel the decisions they make are their own.

  2. It can be challenging for retirement communities to convey certain information objectively, such as their market perception, senior living experience, and how they compare with their competitors.

  3. Since prospects compare multiple options, they prefer to get third-party insights, outside of what retirement communities say on their websites or social media.

Ghost shopping and retirement community marketing

What does this mean for you and how should it inform your marketing strategy?

Since prospects spend so much of their time ghost researching you, you’ll want to guide and influence their research process.

How can you do this?

First, it’s vital you provide the information prospects are looking for. You’ll need to answer their pressing questions about your retirement community.

Suppose your community is highly-regarded as providing optimal senior care. However, if your fees are on the higher end, you may need to address this with prospects.

Second, you’ll want to distribute your information widely and on the right platforms. Sometimes the medium is the message. It’s not nearly enough to just post it on your retirement community website or even on social media platforms. It will carry far more weight on external media where prospects research communities, such as online community forums, news outlets (editorial, not ads), and third-party platforms where prospects search for answers about retirement communities.

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