Don’t be sold on secret shoppers

Marketplace Staff Sep 14, 2007
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Don’t be sold on secret shoppers

Marketplace Staff Sep 14, 2007
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

KAI RYSSDAL: As thate retail sales report I mentioned shows, competition is fierce out there for the consumer dollar. Especially when consumer spending slows. So retailers have a big incentive to make sure their sales people have just the right touch. Some of them use what are called secret shoppers — clandestine employees or contractors, sometimes, posing as real customers. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association says it’s an $800 million industry. Commentator Moira Manion works in retail sales. She says she’s not sure all that money is well spent.


Moira Manion: I passed my first “secret shop” with a score of 98 percent. This made my employer happy and praiseful.

The score of my next secret shop was lower, 85 percent. Why? I had neglected to mention additional items for the secret shopper to buy in the airport jewelry store where I work. And points were taken because I hadn’t known off the top of my head where in the airport a person could take her dog to poo. I did direct the secret shopper to a nearby information desk.

I was “counseled” by my manager and district manager. My performance was lacking, they said. I was “written up” and given a warning that I had better improve.

This struck me as strange. In only two months of employment there, selling high-end jewelry, which was something I’d never done before, I had become a top seller, often the top seller. I was always on time and never called in sick. I was reliable and responsible in a company with a high turnover. One would think that this would be proof of my value as a salesperson. But the opinion of one person, a secret shopper, had cast all the rest into doubt.

Recently, I had another secret shop. My score was 100 percent. Managers from other stores in the company congratulated me. As a reward, I was given a $100 Visa gift card, a “Recognition of Service” certificate, and a free lunch at TGI Fridays. Suddenly, I’m a valuable salesperson again.

The thing is, my sales style has remained consistent. I know what works for me, and I’ve stuck to it. Yet I’ve received three different scores from fake customers.

So what should I think? If companies insist on recording momentary impressions, they’d be wise to evaluate the skills of secret shoppers much more carefully before using them. If companies don’t, they’ll risk driving away good salespeople. I’m 100 person sure of that.

Ryssdal: Moira Manion works at the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport.

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