Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I was a secret shopper - Part One

There, I said it. And now I can add it was the weirdest, most stressful, completely annoying and by far the most interesting job I ever hated had. It ended. Let me write that again. IT ENDED!! I didn't quit and I didn't get fired. The whole program ended. Hundreds of secret shoppers like myself got a letter, a phone call and computer alert that said your miserable, low paying job has ended because the program was discontinued. I couldn't believe it, not because I was disappointed, I was actually overjoyed. What I couldn't believe is that it ended before I had the chance to quit in an incredibly well-written letter that made jaws drop and coffee mugs spill - a letter that threatened to tell-all on my blog. Oh well, for what it's worth, here is the tell-all.

Three years ago I lost my job - one I loved, that paid well, had a fabulous boss, was flexible and interesting. The economy was rough, especially in the construction trades, so I knew finding another job would be tough. Collecting unemployment for the first time in my life was pretty great, but I would rather work. So I polished up my resume, the same one that got me the world's perfect job, and started a Craigslist job search that went on for months. One day Ernst, the guy who finds me all my jobs, read in The Sacramento Bee that a major grocery store was looking for secret shoppers. (I think I signed a form that forbids me from divulging secrets, so all I'll say is it wasn't Raley's or Save Mart. Let's just call it WaySafe, shall we?)

It sounded sort of easy, and by then I was a bit desperate. I sent in the mini-application and was invited to a day of training at a local hotel. That is when I saw this position wasn't about shopping secretly. It was a job that combines safety inspector, actress, census taker, health checker, record keeper and all over big fat faker spy all into one underpaid position with no benefits. But seeing that the alternative was waving a sign outside a sub sandwich place for minimum wage, I signed up and became a full-fledged WaySafe employee.

I know secret shoppers have a horrible reputation for getting WaySafe employees in trouble, because a dear friend of ours who is now retired experienced this first-hand. But at the time of my hire, I didn't know anyone who worked there and I was determined to be completely fair and follow the guidelines. Although our trainer basically told us to lie during the shops, suggesting all kinds of scenarios of why we were so interested in a certain product, I never so much as fudged the truth. That was quite an accomplishment, especially in the meat and seafood departments! Not only does the smell of raw meat make me gag, can you imagine my fear of getting caught talking t-bone with the butcher? Vegans don't normally stand around asking about the marbling on a rib-eye steak, especially when they don't want to even touch the packaging or breathe its air. Somehow I managed to fool them, but I never lied. I just talked hypothetically about eating meat.

I survived the secret shopper program for a very long two and half years. I did about two shops a week, sometimes less, sometimes more. I never loved it, sometimes liked it, mostly hated it, and now it's over! I can go back to shopping as me, not looking at lane counts and floor tidiness and bathroom supplies and greets and smiles and unattended pallets. I don't have to count the "baskcarts" in the parking lot or see if the produce is fresh and appealing or if the bakery is neat and clean. I can shop like I like to shop — at Trader Joes!

Coming Soon, Part Two!