Hello shoppers…

Happy Monday. Excessive blogger smiles, greetings and salutations - welcome back to our usual beginning-of-the-week meeting place.

First thing’s first – how much stuff did you buy over the weekend, what did you get me and how was the customer service? And what did you get me?

Next, you’ll find a lot of reader response - particularly to the Jordan Creek secret shopper review, in today’s Monday Morning Reaction. Some of this very passionate reader response includes from specific business owners and stores managers.


This is good, very good! said the evil scientist, rubbing his evil hands together. In fact it is for the greater good of us all that we are venting, defending, questioning and talking about something that affects every aspect of our lives and livelihoods – the way we shop and the way we serve those that shop.

Think about how many transactions you will make this week – buying stuff, paying for stuff, being engaged over the phone or in person about stuff, at the checkout counter, bank counter, city government counter, drive-thru window, library – how many opportunities will you have to be engaged by another human being in a retail environment? It would be an extremely informative experiment to keep track of each one throughout your week. Is it 20? 30? More?

I don’t have any – I buy things with my mind. (Just this weird little perk that comes with having a blog)

And now another blogging perk - giving hand-shaking, cheek-kissing, baby-having major league kudos and standing applause for Hy-Vee.



In a Secret Shopper review from a few week's back ("The Unsecret Shopper Goes Shopping: Hy-Vee.") you read about how, when people on government assistance use their food stamp cards (similar to debit/credit cards) the words “FOOD STAMPS” flash up on the big color monitor located at every Hy-Vee checkout counter.

The point was made that one of the reasons the Department of Human Services went to plastic food stamp cards, was so those on government assistance would not have to feel the public stigma and shame of using paper food stamps at the check-out counter.

Been there, done that - yes it’s embarrassing, shameful and entirely necessary if you’re struggling financially and wanna eat.

Hy-Vee read the post with their brains, and reacted with their hearts - see above picture.

It's a photo of the scanner at that same S.E. 14th Hy-Vee, taken Sunday, after a person used their food stamp card. In place of "FOOD STAMPS" you now see EBT, or Electronic Bank Transaction, on the color screen -  just like debit and credit cards. It's also recently been verifiably changed at the Hy-Vee in Windsor Heights, to also read EBT, as well as at Hy-Vee on 35th Street and at E.P True and Grand. Can't speak for the rest, but I'm guessing they have all been EBT'd.

It doesn't take an MIT computer programmer to understand that the smart corporate powers that be at Hy-Vee, including Ryan Roberts, store manager at S.E. 14th, read this blog, got the message and made the changes.

That message also comes from the brave voice of a shopper - who brought this to my attention. It not only takes guts, but caring enough to see things changed for the greater good of us all - for both, this shopper also deserves mega-thanks.

As for Hy-Vee, I don't know how hard or expensive it was to make the changes at their stores - but I know the impact is priceless.

There is no more public shame for people on government assistance, who shop at Hy-Vee. Awesome - just awesome.

Power to the people, baby.


Speaking of powerful people doing powerful work, here is the voice of two of them - John Wier, employee extraordinare at The Walnut Creek Y, and Mike Dick, ditto, at Kum & Go at Guthrie and I-235.

I interviewed both Saturday morning during "The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show" on 1350, KRNT, and both are worthy of our admiration, and thanks - hear for yourself:

[audio /wp-content/uploads/2010/04/john-wier-y-interview.mp3]

(Interview with John Wier)

[audio /wp-content/uploads/2010/04/interview-michael-kum-and-go.mp3]

(Interview with Mike Dick)


Before we get to reader feedback from last week’s posts...

...it’s worth repeating something I’ve been bellerin about for the past 59 of ‘em.

Employees often struggle with letting go of what is personally important to them while at work, in favor of grasping what is important to the shoppers they serve, and companies they work for – that's called empathy – which in turn, ends up serving that employee directly.

I believe you will see this, on display, in many of the responses to last week’s Secret Shopper review of Jordan Creek Mall.

This does not make them bad people. It makes them human people.

But make no mistake, an inability of any employee to put themselves second and their customers first, is also at the core of a larger battle being waged between shoppers, employees and business owners – a battle for how shoppers are served, who will serve them, and whether they should even bother being served, or just go buy stuff online – or buy nothing at all.

When it comes to any employee and how effective they are at serving the public, the key question is, can they live inside the shopper’s world instead of their own? Is their head on a swivel? Are they not just self-aware, but self-less aware? Is it about “me,” or “you?”

These are two voices, battling for control of the real estate inside our heads and hearts – not just in retail but also in everything we do. Who wins that battle, in great measure, dictates not just how happy we will be, but how happy others will be when around us – and thus, how happy we will be - the unbroken circle.

That’s what feeds us, says Jonnie the pseudo-psychologist.

But doesn’t it make sense, that if all we strive to do is serve ourselves, if that’s as high as we ever raise the bar, then we’ll never be anything more than what we achieve by accident? If all we can manage to do is put ourselves first, then ultimately, we are the only person we can see, and we end up being nothing, serving no one – am I (W)right?

Indeed, that’s what robots are being built for.


Hear that? That’s the sound of an old car plant in Tokyo, being retrofitted to mass-produce the most human looking, talking and acting I, Robot machines you’ve ever seen.

Some of these are still in the computer design stage. Some are clay models. Some are having their molds cast, wiring wired and rivets riveted, as my head roars.

As those robots are loaded into the cargo holds of freighters whose courses have been plotted for ports around the U.S., they will eventually arrive, be unloaded, put into boxes and shipped to stores – where you will begin seeing them as “helpers” in retail aisles and at checkout counters.

Mark my words, that day is coming.


Robots do what you tell them to do, every time you tell them to do it. That means they will create an “expression” that somewhat resembles a human smile, “say” a greeting that was pre-recorded in a recording studio, "listen" to what you want, gesture with their software-driven “arm” to direct you towards the product you’re looking for and, better yet, take you there on their hydraulic “legs” and moto-wheeled “feet.” They will scan and ring up your item at the check-out counter, “tell” you your total, take your money, give you change, “smile” and “say” thank you for shopping, and even carry your items to your car for you.

Thankfully, here’s what robots can’t and don't do – not yet, and hopefully, not ever.

They can’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand up with their joy and kindness. They don't make you feel like you just won the Lottery by looking you in the eyes with a twinkle in their own. They can’t shake your hand with the warmth of theirs, and then pat you on the back and thank you for your business. They don't make you feel better about yourself, because of the things you’ve bought and the choices you’ve made. They can't and don't love you, because you're worth loving, and because loving you, makes them feel loved, too.

Unfortunately, neither do a growing number of humans, working in the retail arena.

And for those employees who choose to robotically execute their retail positions with a minimum of their humanity, a business owner’s choice between a) keeping them on and losing money because customers are abandoning them, b) finding someone who will smile, greet, engage and thank, or c) giving up and buying a robot, becomes easier.

Until it’s no choice at all.

Think about that, the next time you hear the pleasant “Please scan items” voice at the self-assisted checkout counter at Wal-Mart.

 (On “The Unsecret Shopper Goes Shopping: Jordan Creek Mall”)


“Thank you for including us in your review of Jordan Creek Mall. Granted, it is difficult to read a review that distills twenty-plus years of business into a few unfortunate seconds of conversation between a Veteran and our employee (also a Veteran). We take time and energy to train each of our staff members. After the training, we have to hope and trust that they will make good decisions and speak consciously to customers while maintaining consideration to bystanders. That said, we take responsibility for the conversation and the subsequent fallout for the article you posted.

We’re paying the price for your review with angry voicemails from the community for being anti-gay and homophobic, which is an even bigger thorn as we are quite proud of our diverse clientele. We will, however, put this unfriendly press to work for us. This embarrassing and humbling moment will be the new jumping off point to improve our customer service and to increase our awareness and sensitivity.”

-Brian & Jen Hanson
Owners, Smart Art
“I am a little angry right now with the blog you wrote about Smart Art, having said that while you listened in on my conversation with the older gentlemen there are some things that need to be said.

He is a veteran of this country as am I. I served in Iraq in 2006 in the Marine Corps. Now what you failed to mention is that the conversation, although it may not be a proper discussion to have in a work place, you took my words and twisted them to make me look like I am anti-gay.

The older gentlemen commented on the policy that our President is trying to change to allow gays to serve in the military and get rid of the 'don't ask don't tell' policy. He then proceeded to tell me that he didn't believe they should be allowed to serve. My response to him was that I disagreed with him, that I believe they should be allowed to serve but the policy should stay the same. The older gentleman then asked me what i meant and this was my response, "If I were still in the military I wouldn't want to shower with someone I knew was gay". I was merely stating that I wouldn't be comfortable with that.

Having said that, and now that people can get the full story, I would not have had that conversation with someone who has not served in the military.

My guess is you have never served so you wouldn't know what that is like. I have managed this store for three years and have never had a complaint until this. I have learned one thing from your visit, I will watch what I say while I am working. The one thing that is funny about this whole thing is that you have the right, that I fought for, to do what you do for a living, and that is expressing your freedom of speech.  Apparently I do not have that right.”



“The way the manager of Smart Art tried to defend himself is offensive, as offensive as what you heard him say. [in the Secret Shopper review] As an employee, a manager no less, in a public setting, his words are not justifiable and you were not “listening in.” You are both standing in the store, for heaven’s sake! I own a business in Des Moines, and if any employee of mine spoke the way he did, he’d be lucky to still have his job. At the very least, I’d have a very long conversation with him about who he works for, and what’s expected of him.”



"Somehow I feel better that it just wasn't me at Jordan Creek.  My favorite experience last weekend was wandering aimlessly through Scheels looking for the bicycles and having the pleasure of overhearing two salespeople complaining to each other about customers they had spent "so much time with" and then they didn't BUY anything.  The nerve of some of us consumers!”



“Yeah I am not going to be nice because you are a bitter moron. I would like too thank you for letting me know who some of your clients are so I know who not to do business with.

What color is the sky in your world? Whatever the color is take your medication so it turns back to blue.

First, you are not a customer or a secret shopper. That would mean you would actually have to buy something. Having an opinion on a mall when you are not buying anything is like haveing an opinion on gays in the military when you have never served your country. If you want to look grab a catalog or go on the internet. I worked retail for several years and my job was to be nice yes but too SELL ITEMS to keep the company I worked for in business. Not to put up with whiny little mommy's boy like you. If somebody (like yourself) was upset because I did not say hi fast enough or did not like the way I said hi. There are other stores go shop there. I have been in sales for the better part of 23 years and my customer service has been excellent but I would never put up with a customer like you. Even in this economy there are some customers that you don't need(i.e. people like you).

In closing I have shopped a couple of the stores that you have mentioned and I have always received excellent service from everyone in there.”



“I can’t agree with you more on your review of Jordan Creek Mall. The arrogance of the employees in many of the women’s clothing stores where I shop, is unbelievable. Where do they find these people? Considering all of the very qualified, talented, thoughtful people who are unemployed in this economy, certainly these mall stores can find a higher caliber of person to hire. I hope the owners are listening to you.”



“I would have to disagree with you about Crazy 8. Every time I go in there I'm greeted right away by hi how are you? is there anything I can help you find? They are very nice. I have never had a problem with the store. I was a customer in the store the day you were and I over heard you talking to the employees. I have to say that you were very rude in the way you handled things. Nothing was said bad about the employee that didn’t show up for work. So I would have to totally disagree with they way you handled things. I enjoy shopping there. I think it is rude how you handled every stores experience it sounded like none of the stores were up to your expatiations.”



"Hey! I read your article.  I hate Jordan Creek Mall because it doesn't have a gosh darn store directory and map.  It's HOPELESS. I don't mind malls. I'm just saying if the zombie virus happened, I wouldn't go there cause I couldn't find what store I wanted to hide in."



"Loved this!  I'm tempted to go into Crazy 8 (which I've never been in) just to see if I get a different experience walking in there with 3 kids…

 …K...I couldn't resist.  Had to go to Jordan Creek for something else so we stopped at Crazy 8.  I had all three kids with me.  The woman (couldn't see her name tag because it was turned around) jumped me within two seconds after I walked in the door, asked me if I needed help finding anything, and then asked the kids if they wanted to go watch a movie in the back while I shopped.”



"As an avid shopper of Jordan Creek Town Center, and someone who was there I find this article to be ridiculous and I am shocked that any radio station would allow you to be so cruel in your remarks. Quite frankly, you are a total jerk - not looking to purchase a single thing. Be a customer, and you will be treated like a customer --- it's pretty simple. Walk through stores where you are greeted and continue to stalk every employee that works there - and of course, you won't have a pleasant shopping experience.

After talking to a couple of the stores in the mall tonight, what you are saying here is not all true - it's your interpretation of what happened. Honesty is huge, and you obviously aren't in that business...therefore you don't deserve a greeting from any store.”



“This is what stores get when they hire kids, pay them minimum wage and let them run things unsupervised, without proper training or oversight. Thank God for shopping online.”



“Reading these reviews is a little hilarious, because the last thing I want when I'm shopping in a clothing store is a salesperson breathing down my neck asking me if I need anything or if they can help me.  All I care about is whether I can quickly flag someone down when I have a question, need a size, or need a dressing room.  In fact, though I love White House/Black Market's clothes, I almost always am annoyed by how aggressive and "helpful" their salespeople are.  You would probably give them top marks...”



“Just got through your Jordan Creek post.  I loved it, laughed out loud, and as a mall shopper, so completely related.  Wonderful review!”



“Upon reading the entire posting, I feel compelled to comment on some things I read.  As someone who has been a customer trainer for seven years, you must also know the psychology behind perception.  An enormous deal is understood without speaking to those who enter the store.  Upon walking into the shops focused on girl tweens and teens that you mentioned, even younger employees intuitively distinguish customers as 1. who is there to shop, 2. who is there to “look”, and 3. those who cause discomfort.  In your case, you, a grown man, entered their stores (Wet Seal, Forever 21, Hollister, Aeropostale) with no business being in there and no interest in shopping there.  Do you see how it sets up a bad experience for both parties?  Single Dads that enter those shops act intrinsically different than you did and would have received a different level of service.

I understand what you do for a living.  I've been in contact with many people who do your line of work through my years of retail, but I have never, ever met anyone who approaches the employee and is verbally abusive as you illustrated.  Is it your job to berate the employee without being under contract with the company?  Or is that a side perk that entices a company to hire one such as yours?

I’d also like to add that it is difficult to read an entire review from someone who clearly and repeatedly declares his distaste for shopping malls.  Employees can sense the discontentment you exhibit while walking through their shopping mall and I would venture that you encouraged some of the ill will that you encountered.  When doing a thorough examination of their stores, I implore that you must also maintain a good attitude such a the one you seek or else you are likely to be faced with a mirror in the hands of those you meet.”



"Really liked the review on the mall. I checked out the Casey’s interview. I like it at Casey’s, but could use some service training. I have worked making pizza for 13 yrs. I started as a driver and worked into a manager for several different companies and have had to train and retrain people on the way they are to people, coming in to the stores or delivering to them. That’s why I like to hear your reviews and thoughts. Keep up the good work. And thank you. "



“It sounds like you were negative about the mall to begin with so your experiences were already tainted and you expected negative experiences without going into it with a clear and open mind.

I have shopped at Crazy 8 with my toddler and two girls were working that day, I was the only one in the store and had excellent customer service. They even went to the back storage room to try to find me more sizes in clothes my son was interested in. They went out of their way to call other stores to help me find a shirt he wanted. I have had nothing but positive things to say about Crazy 8.

What about the products they sell at Smart Art or even the space they are at?  All you post is about one person working there.  They have been in business for over 20 years so they obviously have a large client base and excellent customer service to be in business that long. We have art from there and it is gorgeous. I'm surprised you did not comment on any of the art they carry.”



“Loved this article.  Jordan Creek does a great job with customer service.  I did walk into a new desert business recently in the Des Moines area.  The gal at the counter was nice and I was the only one in the store.  I kept asking to speak with the owner to compliment him on the deserts and overall great appearance of the store. She kept insisting "he was busy making more deserts for later."  Such a shame.  I was going to recommend the place to more people and wanted to put in a bigger order.  Oh well.  I tried.”



“How can you tell if a business has bad customer service or if YOU just had a bad customer service experience? Isn't it difficult to make broad assumptions on the reputation of a local business based on one person's experience on one particular day?"



(On “There Are No Second Chances In Retail – Just Ask Uncle Ralph’s Lamp Emporium.”)


“You hit the nail on the head. Business owners have one shot with customers, and if they blow it, they’ll never see that customer again.”



“I used to think you were a jerk but I’m starting to believe you’re right about all of this. It doesn’t make sense for businesses not to focus more on how their employees are treating their customers, especially with how bad the economy still is. Maybe I just didn’t pay that much attention before, but I’m really starting to notice how rude and uncaring salespeople are. Thanks for waking me up.”



“Where do I get an Uncle Ralph’s lamp?”




(On “Mike, Kum And Go, Catching Happiness And Paying It Forward.”)


“…Kum and Go honestly strives daily to put a smile on our customer’s faces, so seeing this makes me smile. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.”

-Meggan Kring

Director, Corporate Communications

Kum & Go


"The Kum And Go in Windsor Heights has the nicest employees, always friendly."



“Yay Jonnie, you made me smile at 3:30 a.m.  Good to know there are some nice ones out there.”



(On “The Unsecret Shopper Goes Shopping: Casey’s”)


"As with any other concern or suggestion, we will look into this. "

-Casey’s (via Facebook)


(On “The Unsecret Shopper” blog)


“Please reconsider your decision to use photos endangered great apes for advertising purposes. I'll be glad to educate you about why this is offensive if you care to hear about it.”



“I think you have the makings of a great book here. A compilation formatted just like these bloggings. It would be a best seller.”


“Please remove me from your email list.”



Odds And Ends...



Notice how the rain and cooler temps over the weekend, seemed to affect everyone – shoppers and employees alike – and not in a good way?

Any ten degree change in temperature, tends to make us a little more cranky – in Iowa, that crankiness is multiplied by 1,236 when the change is downward. In April. The greatest most awesomeness news? It has only ever snowed as late as May 28th, once, in Iowa.

Isn’t that the greatest most awesomeness news?

Isn't it?


Moving on... 

Some news that is truely awesomeness - there are 153 customer service jobs in Des Moines, listed on Career Builder.com.

That's a lot of great  opportunities for the unemployed or employed – but - dissatisfied, who have big smiles and happy attitudes, and want to share their joy with the rest of us. Click here to see the list of openings.


And finally..

Here’s a sign that some companies define “convenience” a little differently than you and I.

Guess it could be worse - if the same sign was on every floor.


My sign reads "Please Come Back Tomorrow."

Meantime, have a wonderful Monday...

...and don't forget to do this


Shop happy. Serve happy. :)



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

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