Hello shoppers...

Lots of reader feedback to share today from last week's Unsecret Shopper posts.

First, a quick invitation.

On Wednesday I’ll be posting The Shopping Hall of Shame II – the second installment of the worst shopping stories as submitted by you, along with those I’ve collected over the years. Many of these stories will be included in an upcoming book, “Customer Dis-service: Tales From The Check-Out Counter,” which will be released before the end of 2010, Lord willing and the literary creek don’t rise…

There’s still time to submit your retail horror story – just email to jonniewright@thebuyosphere.com.

If it’s really offensive, you’ve got a good shot at making it into the final round of The American Idol of reprehensible retail – but I warn you, this H of S II crop is particularly dreadful. Kinda like the real, recent AI contestants. So if your story rises no higher than “I was on hold for a whole 30 seconds!” then maybe post that one on Facebook and let’s wait for something a bit more off-putting – which I’m sure is coming.

Now onto this week’s reader responses – and a quick thank-you.

I received dozens of emails about the story of John Wier and the Walnut Creek YMCA, and I need to thank Danielle Yango in part for that.

Danielle is the Communications Coordinator for International Awareness for AUTISM SPEAKS in New York City and was kind enough to post the story about John on the organization’s Facebook page.

The power of social networking was on full display last week, so thank you again, Danielle - for all the hard work that you, your organization and other autism groups, do throughout the year, to spread the word about the struggles and triumphs of those with autism and asperger’s disorder, and their family members and friends who both struggle and celebrate with them.

And thank you, most of all, to John.

He’s a big celebrity now, so we all expect him to be opening his own YMCA very soon. By the way, if you’d like to call the Walnut Creek Y and wish John a happy upcoming 22nd birthday (this Sunday April 18th) who am I to tell you you shouldn’t? They’re at 515-224-1888.

One last word on the Walnut Creek Y – in the post on John, I joyfully referred to Sue Johnson as the executive director, which was not only surprising to Sue, who is not (she’s the member service coordinator) but also to Britt German, who is. My bad – hey, don’t say I never tried to get you a raise, Sue! 




(On “The Unsecret Shopper Goes Shopping: Hy-Vee”)


“I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about the SE 14th St. HyVee.  I giggled on several occasions, with Chris, wondering what I was doing, in the background.  I'd be curious about the Windsor Heights HyVee.  I think it's pretty decent, and I'm greeted many times during my shopping trip.  However, I can tell you that when we first moved here from Phx., the first time I shopped there, I was almost in tears on my way out.  Either their customer service has improved, or I have gotten used to the lack of it. “



“Just a quick note to let you know I am absolutely loving what you are doing w/ your secret shopping. Great work! Believe it or not, I have thought of doing something similar in the past and you may have finally inspired me enough to put my thoughts into a plan and actually follow-through! lol Thanks for the inspiration.”



“Hi, you should visit the three main stores, Hickman, Army Post and Ankeny. Now that I am no longer there thank goodness.”



“What some of these nice stores need is a visit from Joanna and her very needy son in drag in search of a prom dress, to put their customer service to the test.  It is that time of year.”



“I've become so accustomed to bad service that people who smile and are overly friendly seem creepy to me. I refuse to go to CiCi's for that very reason. "


“Wow, surprised at this one.  I love HyVee for their smiles and helpfulness.  I especially love the fact that if it rings up wrong it is free.  It doesn’t happen much but when it does they hand it to you with a smile.”



"I work at pizza ranch and the thought of a secret shop makes me SOOO nervous I'm always on my toes when I see someone I suspect to be one! AHH!"





(On “More Women Are Buying Online – Does Anybody Know Why?”)


"I always shop online...so much easier!  Don't have to get out of the car, wait in line, and it comes right to your doorstep...perfect!"


"Why in the world would any woman shop at a clothing store? You would not believe how rude the salespeople are in this town."


“I would much rather shop online than in a store.  And I'd rather do email or chat rather than have to call a company.”



"I'm over 50 and used to enjoy shopping for clothes. But it seems like every store in Des Moines insists on hiring size 2 girls and not training them to have any manners when it comest to helping us older gals. Remember honey, someday you'll be 50 and a size 16 , too."



 (reasons women over 50 shop online vs. at brick and mortal stores)

“1) Because we are too darned healthy to qualify for 'Handicap Parking' and we don't appreciate having to park a half mile away from the stores we're interested in at the Mall.

2) Because we can sit in the comfort of our home, wearing sweats, and shop to our hearts content without some sweet young thing in 3 inch heals and tons of makeup look disgustingly at our frumpy shoes.

3) Because catalogs carry more than ONE of each size/color.”




(On “John, The YMCA, Great Customer Service And The Power Of Autism.”)


“Wonderful story! John is my hero! I have a 17 year old son with low-functioning autism who is also non-verbal, but very social. I can’t thank the YMCA enough for all they have done to help my son. He participates in all of the Challenger Sports for kids with special needs and now they have started a Young Adult Group that meets once a month for different activities. They are always striving to go the extra mile with encouragement, acceptance, and caring, loving volunteer “Buddies”. I think John just may have the best job in the world!”



“As the mother of a 17-year-old daughter with Asperger's, I found this story to be informative, accurate and incredibly touching.  Thank you for celebrating the strengths of these individuals.  I know my daughter has many amazing qualities BECAUSE of her Asperger's.  I am incredibly grateful for people who take the time to wonder "Who is that guy/girl?"  Because that guy/girl is someone's son or daughter, and they mean the world to them.”



 I enjoyed reading this, but please stop calling asperger's or the autism spectrum a disease.”



“Wow, just wow.  Thank you for sharing John's story with us. I have a 13 year old child with Asperger's.  He wants to draw video games when he grows up.  He wants to get married and have children and a big green truck.  This story touched me on so many levels and gives me such an incredible sense of HOPE.  Way to Go JOHN!”



“I work at the YMCA and have an autistic nephew, so this story really touches my heart.  Thanks for sharing. :)”
  “Thanks for the post.  It is wonderful to hear about John's success, but even more wonderful to know that there are people like you in our communities who will show interest in and kindness to people who are different.  My 10-yr old son is an "Aspie" also.  John's social behavior is not unfamiliar to me at all. In my experience many people with Asperger's (or other forms of high functioning autism) like to socialize with other people.  It's the execution that is the trouble.  In a formal relationship (like employee to customer) they do their best because there are fewer of those unwritten social rules that tend to trip them up.  In public settings people often comment on how socially engaging and polite our son is.  We refer to it as him "running for office."  Forming deeper friendships, however, is a good deal harder.”



“This is a story that completely describes my 14 year old daughter Shannon --She has autism--but is much like John--Thanks for sharing”

“I love seeing people on the autism spectrum succeed.  My son has Asperger's DISORDER.  He actually pointed this article out to me and started asking if he had a disease.  So, this is a great article, it just needs a few words tweaked.”
“I am a mother of four boys, one of which was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 5...he is, now 15...and one being diagnosed with Asperger’s at 6 and is turning 13 in June. I often worry for my boys as they reach closer into their adult years and to read this wonderfully touching story is quite enlightening. Thank you for sharing your conversation with this amazing man.”



“Hi!  Like your story about John! I have a child with Aspergers - he's 5.  I just wanted to let you know the statistics for being on the autism spectrum (which includes Aspergers) is 1 in 70 boys.  (1 in 110 when you count everyone).  Check out Autism Speaks.org for the latest stats!!  It's pretty shocking. Thank you for your positive story! :)”


“Unfortunately, though, there are far more than only "one or two in 1,000 people" who have autism spectrum disorders (my 8-year old son among them).”


”Thank You so much for sharing this, My 5 year old son has ASD and I know is hope for all of us out there just by reading John story!!!!!”


 “Thank you and loved this article! I can have some hope my special needs son w/ Autism can find his place one day. Your treatment of this situation was right on!”



“Fantastic article, Jonnie! As a teacher of gifted students in the Polk County area, I’m well acquainted with people on the Autism Spectrum. What most people don’t know, or choose not to learn, about this disorder is that so very many of them have incredibly high IQ’s. Thank you for helping to educate the masses. These students have a special place in my heart and I found myself nodding and smiling throughout your journey of understanding of people on the Autism Spectrum.”



 “My grandson is 6 and has Autism and Asperger's. I worry about his future and this story offers so much hope.”



“Thanks for the wonderful article and allowing us all to "meet" John. My son, age 9, has Asperger's and we deal with the challenges of social cues and so forth. He has progressed wonderfully and it is my prayer that he'll flourish as John has. I hope more people will take the time to get to know and learn from someone who is "different" than themselves. We all have gifts and weaknesses and if we all took more time to learn from one another, we'd all be better off.”


 "I enjoyed reading this, but please stop calling asperger’s or the autism spectrum a disease."



“I’m really not one to take the time out to "write letters to the editors" as my life is busy enough with my own autistic son, however I felt the need to strongly commend you on your article.... not only was it written with realistic and refreshing candor, it also placed a light on how to approach autistic/asperger's children. You did your research, dispelled your own myths (I've been there!) and changed your perspective before approaching John.  The reality is we should all do this regardless of a disability or not, to all people.  So thank you, for being human and showing how to be human positively. I have never been one for writing but I have just developed journalistic aspirations and your style certainly inspired me. We need to see more of that in this world.”



“My son has Asperger's - he is in college and doing well.  There is hope!”


“Great story…God bless...my son would love this job...”

“Thank you for promoting me to Executive Director.  I got a chuckle out of this, but the article about John was awesome.”

- Sue Johnson, Walnut Creek YMCA


Odds and Ends...




I’ve heard through the retail grapevine that two more Des Moines businesses are shutting their doors in the next 60 days, and one more is on the brink.

I can tell you that at least one of them has had chronically bad customer service for years, and in fact will be included in Wednesday’s Shopping Hall Of Shame II blog post. I’d like to say it’s never too late to turn a bad customer service template around but I’d be fibbin. What’s not too late is for business owners to take back control of what’s happening at their check-out counter. For some, this can be hard, even painful. Does it really have to be a choice between being a friend to employees or staying in business?

Actually, the best-run companies do both.

Here’s sage advice I once heard from an owner. “Treat your employees like your best customers, and you’ll be in business forever.”

Enough said.



I was secret-shopping a store for this Thursday’s “The Unsecret Shopper Goes Shopping” post and was thrilled to see they had their door propped open. Isn’t it great to smell fresh Spring air inside a store, especially before the summer heat comes and we have to shop inside artificial central air for the next four months? Encourage your local retailer to prop their doors open – shoppers love it, employees love it, their cash register will love it.



Finally, understanding how search engines really work is like trying to understand why "matinee" discounts at Century Theaters at Jordan Creek, end with showings after 2:30. (ma-ti-nee: n. an entertainment, such as a dramatic performance or movie, presented in the daytime, usually in the afternoon.)  

Every day I receive a report of the search engine terms that bring readers to The Unsecret Shopper blog. While most seem to make sense (“The (Un)secret Shopper,” “Secret shopping Wal-Mart,” “200 fun things to do on 'The Rock' in Ankeny," "The secret pics of Tater The Untrainable Employee the Government doesn’t want us to see,” "Why does Jonnie hate Century Theaters?" “The worst blogs on the internet”) some are real head-scratchers.

Scratch for yourself.


lonely women in central iowa

And no, this search engine term did not bring them to the cross-dressing DMV post, smarty-pants.


most untrainable animal

Isn't that for a blog on husbands?


Sewing Shopper

“From Ronko, the people who brought you The Salad Shooter, Pocket Fisherman, Mr. Microphone and The Flowbee, comes…"


picture of salad

Remember the old days when, if we wanted a picture of a salad, we just took it?


cane strokes




?????????????????????????????? (If anyone can translate, you’re hired.)


buying for wedding anniversary at wal-mart

There aren't enough questions marks...why it brought them here AND why they searched it.


accident at quik trip

“A 45 year old man suffered a heart attack after a QT employee did not greet him with a “hello…"


secret shopper furniture

You've read the book, you've seen the movie, you've got the action figures...


can businesses videotape employees

(sniff, sniff) I smell a lawsuit.


overweight hairstyles

I wish I was making this one up. Oh how I wish.




fareway architechture

“The evocative Baroque red lettering and triumphant control exhibited in the yellow badge are sanguine and transcendent – and their meat department, rocks!”


gotta pee

…as do I, which means, time to wish you a wonderful Monday.


Please shop happy this week. And serve happy. And smile like there’s no tomorrow - because someday there won’t be, and you’ll lose the chance to do this...




Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of "The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show," which airs Saturday mornings 8-9am on 1350 KRNT. Email Jonnie at jonniewright@thebuyosphere.com.

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