Popcorn Spy

By Bailey Vogt and Melissa Mancio
January 21, 2014

A popular option for companies to observe their employees in the work place is mystery shopping. It offers employers a chance to gauge employee practices when they think no one is watching.

Mystery shopping is a well established practice in the service sector. The industry reigns from retailers to restaurants, making its way into many business models.

Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) states on their website, “Mystery shopping gives business owners, operators and executives insight into the extent to which a company is delivering on its brand promises at the point of interaction with the customer.”

The business concept of mystery shopping allows employers to evaluate employees’ basic training in customer service to advanced practices as up-selling products or suggesting new products. Mystery shoppers come to a targeted location unannounced — even to managers at that location — blending in with the other customers in the store.

These mystery shoppers are common to Jacqueline Ellis, a 16-year-old team member at Harkins Theatres in Chandler, Ariz.

“There’s really nothing that tells me they’re a secret shopper,” Ellis said. “They do a good job of making sure they remain anonymous.”

One secret shopper came up to Ellis as she was working concessions.

“To this day I still don’t know who the mystery shopper was,” she said.

Ellis scored received high marks from her secret shopper. The theater attendant scored 20 out of 21 points possible.

“I lost a point for not suggestive selling another item. Other than that, I got a perfect score,” Ellis said.

After a sale, the mystery shopper will score the facility, taking any out of the ordinary experiences into consideration. The theater will be given a final score based on the locations performance. Many companies have joined Harkins Theaters example of give out rewards based on secret shopper “checker reports.”

“At Harkins, if you are highlighted on a checker report, you are given stars in our reward program,” Ellis said. “If the theatre gets five 100 percent checker reports in a row, the employees will get a private movie screening.”

However, checker reports can be a double-edged sword.

Companies like the MSPA have stated that their services should be used only for incentive programs and not punishment, such as a guide to retrain employees and not to suspension or fire the worker.

Faced with this, Ellis said that she has come up with a system in which she won’t appear negative on any checker report.

“I just treat every customer as if they were a secret shopper,” Ellis said. “Even if they are not a secret shopper, they will leave with nothing but good things to say about me.”

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