Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Secret Shopping at the Ornament Cart

Mystery shopping is a tool used by market research companies to measure quality of retail service or gather specific information about products and services. Shoppers pose as normal customers performing specific tasks (such as purchasing a product, asking questions, registering complaints or behaving in a certain way.) They provide detailed reports or feedback about their experiences (thanks to Wikipedia's official definition).

With that being said, I am officially hooked. My brother and I grew up with Momma taking us often to Shoney's and Captain D's when she did mystery shopping, and I still remember it to this day. Now, my sister in law and I do it, and we even got Mom completing some, too! It is so exciting, and there is definitely a story to tell regarding each experience. That is actually the reason why I started this blog because Gabe said my stories were too funny not to share. The jobs I have completed vary from visiting banks and getting information on new accounts, shopping Natural Markets, visiting apartment complexes, engagement ring shopping at high end jewelry stores, dinner visits (like The Cheesecake Factory and the RAM), Moneytree ATM transactions (wow are those an experience), Music stores, Brooks Brothers outlet, Coach, etc.

This last weekend I shopped a Personalized by Santa cart that is located at the local mall. My scenario was to purchase an ornament and share my experience.

As I walked up to the cart, I heard the associate tell the other customers that if they paid with cash she could cut them a deal. (Let me remind you we are not in Mexico and bartering should not take place!) So, I continued to shop for the right ornament and once I found two ideal ornaments, I walked over to the associate with them in my hand. I asked how much they were since they weren't tagged, and she immediately asked how I was paying. That was an unusual question as a response to mine, but it confirmed what she said to the other customers. She then told me the same thing she told the others. I said I did not think I had enough cash, and she even pointed to an ATM approximately eight stores down encouraging me to obtain cash and receive a better deal. The associate reinforced that it would be $10 flat if I paid cash and $14.99 plus tax if I paid with a credit card.

So, I immediately got the idea that she was possibly pocketing this money instead of ringing them up in the computer, and I was right. She rang up the two customers who purchased three ornaments each, paid cash, and neither of whom received a receipt. The money was placed in the register, but no transaction was completed.

After I chose an ornament, I walked up to the register and wanted to personalize it and pay. While she was gathering a piece of paper for me to write down the names to be added, her phone rang loudly and she proceeded to answer it instead of helping me. She got upset and started yelling in the phone that she would call a cab then to get her son from school --- Who sends a cab for their son to be picked up from school!! Anyway, she told me to write what I wanted while she was dialing the cab company. I asked how long it would take to be completed, and I ventured back to the cart fifteen minutes later.

I noticed there was another male employee working the cart and walked up to him to see if it was ready. He grabbed it from the cart, handed it to me without a bag or anything, and I immediately said this is not the way I ordered it. The employee had written the names on the very bottom of the ornament and it was very tacky looking. I told the male associate that the lady who was working earlier was on the phone while I gave my order, so maybe there was a misunderstanding. Long story short, she was shopping and came back to the booth after he called her to deny that she messed up. He then said, "You were on the phone when she gave you her order," and she, flat out, lied and said, "No I wasn't." I politely corrected her with the truth, and she told him to re-do it because she had to catch her cab! It was definitely uncomfortable and someone needs to teach her that the customer is always right :)

So, he re-did it and it looked very nice, and then I had to reveal at the end that I was a secret shopper. It is very rare to reveal this since 99.9% of the time it is against company policy to share with anyone that you are a secret shopper. So, I pulled out the letter that informed the cart attendant of the situation which also allowed me to take pictures of the cart. The associate was so shocked, caught off guard, and then still did not grasp why I was there after I explained that I was contracted to shop their cart. Would you ever believe me if I told you that the female associate was the MANAGER!!

It definitely was a benefit for this company to hire a mystery shopper because I am sure they learned a lot from my honest evaluation!

Here is the final product ....


Knoxville Dad said...

I love this story.

I'm thinking I should start a "secret church visitor" company. Maybe dress up like a homeless guy and start popping into churches...

To really sell it I may have to start drinking "special" egg nog...

thekrecks said...

Its even funnier the second time around!! I love it. So hillarious. You are the perfect person to do this job! Can't wait to hear another shenanigan! Love you

Hannah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hannah said...

The final product is adorable, though! I could totally see something like this happening to me. In fact... How do you go about being a secret shopper? My sister and I have always been interested.

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