The ads for secret shoppers typically say that if you love to shop, secret shopping is for you. Maybe that was the problem. While grocery shopping is cart loads more enjoyable for me than any other kind, I'm a get-in and get-out kind of consumer. I'm not there to browse, compare, meander, lollygag or fritter away one more second than is required. Head down, list in hand or memory, death grip on shopping basket - let's get this done. I don't like ads or flyers or buy one get one free (BOGO), buy 15 get seven half off, it's this price today, but next week it goes up, until it goes back down. I can't stand the visual clutter of a regular grocery store caused by all the prices going up and down weekly. I love Trader Joe's transparency - this is how much we charge for this product and you can buy it if you think that is fair. It will be the same price for a long time until it goes up. I also like Raley's produce and the nice open feeling to the aisles. Things are where they ought to be in Raley's and I can get in and get out with my produce and the items I can't get at TJs. Costco fills in the blanks and short trips into other stores keeps us in rice and beans.
The fact that only about 5 other humans knew I was a secret shopper for "WaySafe" meant I had to keep the complaining to a minimum. More accurately, I had to keep my complaining funneled to a minimum of people. Those poor souls. I complained a lot. Why is secret shopping so hard? It's just shopping, right? Let me walk you through just a portion of a secret shop:
Arrive at the store during the time assigned. Check parking lot for cleanliness and loose carts. If there are more than ten loose carts, heads won't roll, but it must be reported. Grab a cart, noting the cleanliness of the entrance area. Approach first department, let's say the deli. Note the following:
Is the department clean and neat?
Are the products fresh and appealing?
Time it took to get noticed?
Name of employee? Read this discreetly while the employee is wiggling and turning every wrong way so you can't read it without looking like a stalker. (I came to really love the name Bob.)
Did Bob smile?
Did Bob greet?
(Now's the time to prompt for a sample. Not ask, prompt. Is this potato salad salty? Are these baked beans really sweet? Is the ______ crunchy? Mushy? Crispy? At this point Bob is supposed to offer a sample.)
Is Bob knowledgeable about the product?
(Now request some kind of special preparation, like packaging up in smaller quantities, putting spices on meat, halving the cabbage, slicing the bread, etc.)
(Now prompt for an escort. Where are the toothpicks? Bob can't just say they are on aisle 3, he has to offer to take the customer to the location right in front of the toothpicks and point them out. Poor Bob.)
Was there a "connection" with Bob?
Did he make a personal parting comment (such as I hope those beans don't give you gas, Ma'am!)?
Then go do all that again in Bakery, Produce, Floral, Coffee, Pharmacy, Meat and Seafood and Customer Service. Check the bathrooms for cleanliness, check each line to see how many shoppers are in each (not to exceed 4), try to get another employee to ask if you need help and escort you to a product, find a problem (such as an expired product), look to see if any carts or pallets are blocking products, check the floor for cleanliness and then proceed to check out. Get the checker's name, banter about some in-store promotion, get the bagger's name, see if your receipt is correct and if everything is bagged correctly and that they used your name and asked if you wanted help out and didn't just say good-bye but that they said something personal like I hope that cream works out for your problem, Mrs. S_______. Get out to the car, note the time and write down if the carts got collected while you were shopping. And then drive to the next store...to...do...it...all...again. If there is a third store, do it all again...again. And then get home and see you still forgot to buy toilet paper.
The worst part was the mind numbing monotony of it all. Just about every WaySafe store is a cookie cutter version of the last one. The same ugly fake wood floor in floral and produce, the same tile in the bathrooms. It was a grocery shopping version of Groundhog Day. They are revamping a lot of stores to a newer look, but it will be the same look in all the stores.
The best part was the traveling! I love to drive and I love to drive alone. Just me and NPR. WaySafe had me going all over Northern California. Once I got there, the stores were the same, but the drives were different and I got paid for driving and for mileage. Doing the far away shops is where I made the $$. Lodi, Pollock Pines, El Dorado Hills, Lincoln, Auburn, Chico, Paradise, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Orinda, Walnut Creek, La Fayette, Dixon, Davis, Fairfield, I went all over the place, multiple times. The farthest drive was San Francisco. Ernst went with me on that one. It was a totally jazzy and cool WaySafe near the ballpark. We got stuck in traffic on the way back and made a mint. I loved the far away shops!
The other day some young friends were asking if I had to work this week. I got to spill the beans about being a secret shopper for two and a half years! Although I hated it and I'm glad it's over, there were parts of it that were kind of fun. Did you know, that if prompted, certain WaySafe produce guys will offer you a blind taste test of organic versus conventional bananas? Did you know that the downtown Sacramento WaySafe does karaoke on Friday nights? Did you know that certain WaySafe checkers will tell you more about their love life than you ever wanted to know? Did you know the rudest WaySafe employee ever is also by far the cutest ever? Secret shopping for WaySafe - it's all out of the bag now!