June  2002

The Secret Shopper

Making the Grade
Looking to Different Criteria for Future Secret-Shopping Adventures
by samantha Carpenter

On my recent business trip to Wisconsin, I decided that my trip would not be complete if I didn’t go into one of the big-box stores based in Wisconsin. 

Luckily, my aunt and uncle live in Wausau, Wis., and when I asked my uncle if he would go with me to the home-improvement store, he gladly agreed. My aunt even said that I had made his week by asking him.

Now my uncle and I went into the store at 6:30 p.m. I told my uncle that I was mainly interested in looking at the doors and windows. So that’s exactly what we did. We went over to the windows section first. I noticed that the main two brands this home-improvement store carried were Crestline Windows and Wenco Windows.

As we walked over to the door and showroom section of the store, we passed by the customer-service desk where three employees were working. We did receive a friendly hello, but we were not offered any help. 

The appearance of the door and showroom section was top-notch. The store had all its doors and windows displayed in a neat manner, plus it had a lot of product brochures to go along with the displays. The main door brands I saw were Pella, A.J. Manufacturing Inc., Larson Manufacturing Co. and Chamber Door. I even saw a brochure for a Marley Mouldings garage door system.

After looking around the store, my uncle and I left. Not once during the 30 minutes we were there did anyone offer to help. But this got me thinking. Maybe I’m going about this secret shopping all wrong. Perhaps I need a more proactive but objective approach.

Because the SHELTER staff wants to be as objective as possible when secret-shopping many of your companies, we are going to change our criteria. We are going to use some of the same questions that Cathy Stucker recommends in her book, The Mystery Shopper’s Manual. Here are some of the issues we will be addressing in future articles:

    1. Could you easily find a parking space?

    2. Was the parking lot clear and litter-free?

    3. Were the windows clean?

    4. Were you greeted as you entered the store?

    5. Were aisles clear? Floors clean and free of debris?

    6. On a scale of one to five, five being excellent and one unacceptable, rate the neatness and
         orderliness of the merchandising displays.

    7. Was background music too loud or disturbing?

    8. On a scale of one to five, five being excellent and one unacceptable, rate the cleanliness of the

    9. Could you find the item you were shopping for?

    10. Was merchandise priced clearly?

    11. With how many employees did you make eye contact with?

    12. How many of these employees greeted you?

    13. How long did it take before someone greeted you?

    14. How many employees offered assistance?

    15. If you asked an employee for directions to an item:

            • Did he direct you to the item or offer to take you to it?

            • Was the employee polite?

            • Was the employee neat and well-groomed?

    16. If you asked an employee a product-knowledge question, did the employee:

            • Greet you?;

            • Answer your question satisfactorily, or get an answer for you?; or

            • Ask if you needed any other assistance?

    17. On a scale of one to five, five being excellent and one unacceptable, how satisfied were you
         with the service you received from store employees?

    18. On a scale of one to five, five being excellent and one unacceptable, rate your overall
           satisfaction with this experience.

    19. Based on this experience, would you return to this store?

    20. Compare this experience with recent experiences at similar types of businesses—better, about the same, not as good.

While the above criteria will help the SHELTER staff objectively rate your businesses in the future, you can expect explanations to go along with these questions where appropriate, especially if something stands out—good or bad.

So it might not hurt for you to start thinking about this. If someone were to secret-shop your company using this criteria, how would you and your employees measure up? We are coming your way. 

Samantha Carpenter is the editor of SHELTER magazine.


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