Friday, February 24, 2006

Confessions of a Secret Shopper

Someone I, ahem, know (who will remain nameless so she will keep getting assignments) is a Secret Shopper. She goes to stores and restaurants to check out the service and reports back to a couple of different agencies that pay between $10-$25 a pop for a quick, but detailed report on the visit, which usually has pretty specific instructions. It's a fun little gig to make some quick cash and the occasional free meal. (Once, it was up to $80 worth of carry-out from a family-style Italian restaurant. Whoo-hoo! Goodbye, empty freezer! Hello, free dinners for a couple of weeks!)

Often, the assignments are to visit high-end electronics and computer stores. Most of the visits to those shops specifically state that, if the Secret Shopper is female, she must bring a male companion for the visit. I'm still pondering the issues connected to that. Are single women not believable as the purchasers of high-end home theater or computer components? Ponder, ponder, ponder...

Last June, my "friend" did a Secret Shopper visit to a swanky home theater store, with a large, shy arboreal creature in tow. It was fantastic. Not only did the sales associate run through all the big screen TV possibilities for our fearless potential buyers, he offered this awesome private theater experience (for those with a whole wall and $45K to blow on a TV & audio components.) Britney Spears videos have never been so spectacular.


"Toxic" on a huge screen with thumping bass? A thing of wonder. (I think I lose my "cool chick" badge for giving Britney a big thumbs up. What can I do?)

But my fine "friend" recently was asked to revisit this same high-end home theater store. Pas problem! But no male companion was available for the trek this time. No biggie, said the Secret Shopper People. They needed the visit done by the end of the month, so they were willing to take a solo female report.

What a difference a couple of chromosomes makes...

Let's just say, a solo female does not garner the same attention in the big money tech toy stores. It took five minutes for an associate to even deign to talk to her. And then, she was dismissed in less than three minutes, with no attempt to close a sale.

Less than three minutes.

With no other customers in the whole store.

For all they knew this female shopper could have had Big Bucks. But an older man had walked through the front door, and she was discarded for Suburban Daddy War(profiteer)Bucks. Bad move, kiddies.

Here's a handy hint to salesguys:

Do not dismiss your female customers. First, they may be Secret Shoppers, who will be reporting your name to a company that isn't going to edit or sugarcoat her report to your superiors. But, more importantly, women increasingly control a greater portion of our economy, and chicks dig a big TV, too. Don't let your shopper gender bias screw you out of a big deal and leave abandoned or ignored female customers with a bad taste in their mouths and a lousy perception of your company in their heads.

It's just Bad Business.

I cannot help but wonder if my "friend" were younger, skinnier, or just better-looking in general, would she have been treated better by the young male clerk, guy friend in tow or not?

A few days ago, I spent several hours - and several hundred dollars - at the local Midas Mufflers in Bethesda. I chatted with the mechanics & managers, who talked to me in a businesslike, but bland way. I was the only customer planted in their austere waiting room for ages. I read a whole issue of "Field and Stream." My god - did you know that, if you're doing ocean fishing down in the Florida Keys, guys, you need to wear your tighty whities under your baggy shorts or sunscreen the crap out of your "boys", otherwise, you can burn the hell out of your scrotum from sunlight reflected up from the water?!? No? Me, neither! Thank you, Field and Stream!

But I digress...

Somewhere into hour four, an attractive woman came in and three men zoomed to the reception desk, all smiles. "Are you having a good day, guys?" She said, hand on hip. One of them immediately grinned and said, "Well, it's a good day now. Been a crappy day up until now. But all you need is a pretty woman to improve the whole thing! How can we help you?"

Oy. I recognize I'm not exactly any man's beauty dream, but jeez! Didja even remember that I was in the room, guys?!? Nice way to make somebody feel even more like a troll than usual. I paid them so much for my car repairs, they should have thrown in some compliments, a foot massage, dinner and a movie.

At the very least.

Just remember, that troll-woman may be your meal ticket. Beware her mighty power! (And her gift for writing a damn honest review of your customer service.)


Sasquatch said...

The Britney video was pretty good when seen on a $45K home theater system, even though it pains me to say so. (If you're going to lose your cool chick status, I didn't want you going down alone...)

Keith near Denver said...

I get strange treatment when I walk into a fabric store. I don't think they are used to seeing male clientel.

I went there to buy white blackout cloth for my DIY 85" screen for my basement home theater (not 45K) more reasonable than you'd think.
The Subterranean Cinema

Reya Mellicker said...

I love your illustrations for this piece, except for poor old Britney. For some reason I always feel sad when I see pics of her.

Entitlement, privilege ... even all these years after civil rights and the women's movement (I remember calling it Women's Liberation ... heh heh heh) there is still so very far to go. During the days of women's lib it was common to attend entitlement workshops, to learn who tops who in our culture. If you're an adult white man, good looking, under the age of 50, you will always top everyone else. I'm sure this is still true, though maybe, since 60 is the new fifty, you can hang at the top of the pyramid for a few years longer.

nurseatty said...

Very Interesting Oprah show material--like the white/black familes who changed skin color. The woman ignored---I've had similar experiences in Lowes and Home Depot.

Scholiast said...

They obviously didn't know who they were up against...

- My dad used to be a Secret shopper, or taster, as it were, going to different Burger Kings. And while he's a man in his late sixties he enjoys a good burger, and to even get paid for eating them was just the best :)

Shafa said...

I would get mad at you for liking Britney Spears, but seeing as how it was the song "Toxic" you talked about, it's forgivable.

*neglects to mention that a) Toxic is in his iTunes list and b) listening to trashy pop music is his favorite vice*

Shafa said...

Oh yeah, and thanks for the fishing tip.

suze said...

since it was toxic, you are forgiven, as that is one of my favouirte musical guilty pleasures. :)