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Monday, December 19, 2011

Secret Shoppers

At one point in my life, I considered becoming a Secret Shopper. I had a trial run at the job and was later approached for a permanent post; this gig required that I visit branches of banks to grade the offices on physical appearance and the attitude, knowledge, and service orientation of the staff. I did a number of branches, but honestly felt like a turncoat. There would be offices that were dilapidated and unattractive housing top-notch service people. Just as there would be manicured and groomed facilities that were run by people who should not have been in a service industry. I had a two-page form on which to color in circles on a series of questions. I reported on my observations on a form clamped to a clipboard. The reports I handed in were covered in footnotes and addenda. On every question, I wanted my comments to be as thorough and precise as possible. The feedback I received was that my comments were insightful and helpful, but somewhat difficult to translate into a form appropriate for data analysis. Had I considered doing this kind of work in the field of hospitality? They thought I was a natural. Apparently, I had the critical skill set needed to assess a situation, compare it to a standard to assess where, and if, they differed. To me, it was as simple as using a checklist to guide me in my evaluation. I can discriminate between good and great. I can discern the difference between poor and unacceptable. It is not rocket science, after all.

Last week, I had occasion to wish I had my clipboard again. I was on Newbury Street in Boston. In particular, I stopped in at 353 Newbury Street at 11:30 am on December 8th. I was hoping to meet up with some friends who were shopping nearby. I popped into this particular store because my daughters generally love the fashion-mindedness of this particular clothing line. The company motto is
“Be Unique, Be Yourself.”
And that they were.

When I had taken no more than five steps into the store, I came to an abrupt halt. I felt my eyes widen trying to fully take in what I saw. It was like a bomb had gone off. The merchandise throughout the entire store had been rifled through and dropped willy-nilly on the ground, on tables and shoved onto shelves. The floor was littered, simply LITTERED with clothing and shoes and boots. I saw two women talking together toward the back of the store. One called out a welcoming greeting (she would have gotten a check in the Excellent column if I were completing a Shopping Evaluation). I continued to scan the utter chaos of the store, slack-mouthed and speechless. Finally, I asked, “What happened here?”

I thought she might say they had an 80% discount last night and they were still trying to put things to right or that they had been burglarized. Instead, the store employee laughed and said, “Crazy isn’t it? Corporate has a lot of merchandise they want out on the floor. We do our best to keep up...” Her voice trailed off as we looked around.
“Do you mind if I take a couple of pictures? My daughter works in retail and I would love to show her your store.” “Oh sure, go right ahead.”
Three shots and I was out of there like a flash. There was no way l could bring myself to wade through the displays to find appropriate sizes or styles. As I was about to leave the store, I turned to look back one more time. The sales girl called out, “Thanks for coming in. Come again soon!” If I had my clipboard in hand once again, I would give her a gold star for her friendliness.

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