Secrets of a secret shopper

May 1st, 2020 by Ken

For more than 40 years, I had a secret identity.  I was a secret shopper.  I entered businesses – not to buy – – but to spy.

It started very easily.  One day I received a call from Gene Dolan, the executive director of the Lacey Chamber of Commerce.  “I got the perfect job for you Balsley,” he said.  “All you’ve got to do is drink coffee and eat doughnuts.  And, they’ll pay you for it.”  How could I refuse.  It was then I entered the world of secret shoppers.

I made a phone call.  Answered a few questions and got my first assignment.  A local doughnut chain had three stores in Southwest Washington.  Every quarter I was to visit the stores, observe the cleanliness, the courtesy of the clerks and their competence.  I was to buy a cup of coffee and a doughnut.  Eat it on the premises and then buy a dozen doughnuts to go.  When I got home, I filled out a form and mailed it in.  I had two boys living at home and they always loved doughnut days.  With proper documentation I was reimbursed for my expenses and paid for travel.  My salary was $2.50 a visit.

I had that job for years until the chain went out of business.   But I had other jobs as well.  A small local shoe chain used me to investigate its return policy.  I was to buy a pair of boots, wear them out of the store and return them the next day for a refund.  They were checking to see if the store followed its return policy.  When a small restaurant chain opened a store, I was to visit the day after the grand-opening to see if everyone working there were following company policy regrading uniforms and other requirements.

When private post offices became a fixture, I was hired to go into the store, buy some stamps and leave.  The purpose was to determine if the owner tried to up-sell me to buy other items available – even a private mailbox.

Major chains have their own in-house secret shoppers, but small franchises and small firms often contract with businesses which specialize in that service.

It’s been four years since I was last asked to be a secret shopper so I’m assuming that my ID number has been retired.   But, if you see me in your place of business looking suspicious – – don’t worry,  I’m probably just confused.

(All of the business mentioned above are no longer in business in this area.)

Posted in Informational, The Real News


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