Hello shoppers…

Greetings to you this fine Monday morning. I hope your weekend jaunts, gallivants and journeys, were happy ones - shopping or not.

For those of you expecting the normal “Monday Morning Reaction” rundown of reader responses from last week’s posts, you’ll find them a week from today at this same blog time, same blog place, in a super-colossal two-week 5,000 word compendium overview that will have my friends in the bloginverse groaning and emailing me things like, “Dude, remember, blogs should be short.” and “This isn’t a blog, it’s War And Peace.”

Ahhhhh, ya nutty blogsters.

And so to our novel idea, proposed in Friday’s post - what would happen if one were to wear a t-shirt that said, “I am Secret Shopping This Store.” into every store visited, the entire weekend? How would employees react? Would they react? Would it make any difference?


I set out to find out the answers to these questions, using a homemade t-shirt and no plotted-out plans or mapped-out route - just go where the retail winds would blow me, said the small voice inside my head that wouldn’t  have followed directions even if they had been written out.

The blowing started Saturday morning, ended late Sunday afternoon and produced some very interesting reaction, non-reaction and conversation along the way, which you‘ll experience in the same order as I did.

So hop on the bus, grab a comfy seat, turn up the Beatles music (what I listened to as I drove) as we begin our Magical Mystery Shopping Tour - which is, of course, waiting to take us away, take us away, to...  


 9:30am Quik Trip on Fleur Drive

I was immediately greeted by Reva, overtop of the heads of two other customers at the counter.

“Hi Jonnie!”

Wow - this magical t-shirt not only makes people greet me immediately, but also forces my name into their brain! I’m gonna make a fortune!

Actually it was Reva who had the magic memory, remembering me as a regular from her days at another Quik Trip.

She took a look at the shirt, smiled and said, “Are you seeing if people will treat you better?”

Yep - and it couldn’t have started at a better place, with a better person, working for a better company.


 9:40am Target on S.E. 14th

In the ten minutes it took me to drive to Target, the magic evaporated.

Sharla at checkout didn’t notice the shirt - or me - as she somehow talked to one customer about one thing and to a co-worker about another while engaging what I'd purchased with the price scanner - and I didn't get squat, no greeting, no price, no nutin.

Dumb shirt.


9:50am Hy-Vee on Fleur

Miranda in the Floral Department glanced at the shirt but didn’t need the reminder - she greeted me right away with a wonderfully open “What can I help you with?” question.

It’s rare to find an employee working around flowers, plants or animals, who will be anything but happy about being there - Miranda certainly was, and showed it.


11:00am Git N’ Go in Norwalk

“Secret Shopper? Welcome!”

Before I could get the store’s door open, Jeff the store manager greeted me like a mom welcoming home her son home from the Navy.

Then he fired a shot over my bow. 

“You probably picked the worst day - I’m short-handed and I’m getting hammered.”

I glanced around - the store was empty. It was just me, Jeff and 2 for $2.29 Salted Nut Rolls. 

I think Jeff was just nervous - or he was going Haley Joel Osmet and was “seeing dead people.”

He needn’t have worried - he was very cordial, smiled and said “Thank you, have a good day.” 

Sure. Uh...I’ll let you get back to your "other" customers…


1:00pm Gateway Market on Woodland

Two employees stood on either side of the entrance, close enough for me to high-five as I came in but, being a 5-9 bench-warmer, I wasn’t worthy of it, or a peep from either of them.

A few patrons noticed the shirt, snickered and moved on.

“How are you?“ frowned the cashier, who didn’t seem terribly happy about me, my shirt, my two jars of salsa or the fact that she was working on a busy Saturday at the store.


1:19pm YMCA 73rd street

Sue Johnson at the Y, greeted me with a big, warm, wonderful, “Hi Jonnie!” as I came up to the check-in counter, before I began my weekly humiliating defeat at the hands of free weights.

Sue noted the t-shirt and asked about it. Our conversation turned towards something her mother had told her, many times.

“First impressions are the ones that last.”

 Smart mom - who raised a smart daughter.


2:44pm Midas on 22nd street WDM

 “Hi - how can I help you?”

 Mike Kingery’s greeting was quick, pleasant, genuine and in spite of the dorky-looking shirt, not because of it.

 I told him I needed a quote on a tire - my left front has less tread than a bowling ball.

 Mike, as he should have, came outside to my car, looked at the irrepairably road-ruined P-165-35-R14, which codes out to mean “wouldn't hold up long enough to make a decent tire swing” and said, tongue-in-cheek, “It’s a little worn.” 

 That’s the sort of humor that you love to get from an employee.

 Here’s an example of a humor-less ham-handed approach, that occurred a few days before.

 Another mechanic from another auto repair place checked out the same tire last week and exclaimed, with tongue nowhere near cheek, “Why are you still driving on that tire?! That‘s unbelievable.”

 Note to people in the service industry - think twice before you chastise an adult for what they have vs. what you’re selling. It’s like a hair stylist yelling “Holy bird's nest!“ before going at your ‘do with the scissors. It’s an immediate turn-off, regardless of the intention.

 Back to Mike. 

 After I told him that the price he quoted me was a bit high, he said, “Check at Firestone, down by Hooters.“ He was helping me (I see ya smirking) not because it was good for him but because it was good for me. That’s the sign of a true professional.  

 As I thanked him, he glanced down at my shirt, looked up at me, gave me a smile for the first time and said, “thank you.”

 I resisted the urge to secret (t-shirt) shop Hooters - I meant mine, not theirs!


2:51pm Casey’s on 100th by 7 Flags

 As soon as I entered the store, Kevin, from behind the counter, said a nice, warm “How are you today?”

 Which brings me to another side story, also from last week.

 As you may remember reading in a previous blog post, this particular Casey’s was one of those I visited a few weeks back, for “The Unsecret Shopper Goes Shopping: Casey’s” secret shopper review. This location did not fare particularly well in that evaluation.

 Last week I walked into the same location and was immediately greeted by all three people behind the counter, plus a woman at the very end who I didn’t recognize, who apparently recognized me - “Hi Jonnie,” she said.

 I asked her how she knew my name.

 “Let just say, I know you,” she responded cryptically, and not terribly friend-il-ey.

 Apparently somebody had told someone, something - and I’ll leave it cryptically at that.


4:35pm Best Buy on Duff in Ames

The tour headed up north to Cyclone Country and Best Buy, where I wasn’t just greeted, I was swarmed.

 The “greeter” at the entrance did his part. Then B.J. and Eamon noticed my shirt and apparently sent a signal with their brains to eight other employees, who quickly surrounded me and began asking questions.

 “Who do you secret shop for?” “How are other companies doing?” “Is it fun?” “Are Brad and Angelina, toast?”

 B.J. told me that they’re used to being secret shopped, because Best Buy has their own secret shopper program. It showed - the guys were incredibly engaging and fun.

 And yes, I promise I will bring “I’m Secret Shopping This Store” t-shirts for all of you greetin, smilin, engagin guys, next time I’m back in Ames. 


4:45pm Swift Stop on Duff

Where was B.J. and the gang when you needed them?

 Grant and a co-worker behind the counter didn’t greet me as I came in, which would have disappointed Gary Thompson, the former ISU basketball great and owner of that store and others.

Grant rebounded - as he dribbled back into the cooler, searching for a diet caffeine-free Pepsi for moi, that moi couldn't find in the rack. No soda, but a very nice “sorry” and “thank you” as I left.

He shoots, he scores. 


5:01 Cinemark Movies 12 on Duff

Some curious t-shirt looks from patrons but no overt reaction from employees, as several walked past but said nothing.

The ticket-taker, whose name I unfortunately didn’t get, was outstanding, greeting with a very nice “Hi,“ then noticing the shirt and smiling as she tore my ticket to Kick-Ass.

The fact that Nicolas Cage and Aaron Johnson were too busy acting to notice my shirt, didn't matter - they were way too enjoyable in a film I thought I wouldn't.



 1:30pm La Tapatia on E. 14th

I listened carefully for “en secreto tienda" but nope...

What I did hear was the squeak squeak of patron’s shoes against what was the cleanest grocery store floor inside the cleanest grocery store I’ve ever seen.

The check-out girl said pleasantly, “hello,” “two-forty-five” (for my salsa) and “thank you.”


1:40pm Walgreens on E. 14th

I wasn’t engaged until the toothbrush aisle, when Jessica, fast-walking past me, saw my shirt, put on the brakes and said, “Can I help you find anything?”

I just did - an attentive employee.

The check-out girl gave a very nice “hello” and “have a nice day.”


2:00pm Ace Hardware at 2nd and Euclid

I went in, looking for prices on a power washer - to get the stupid ink outta this t-shirt.

Mike obliged, greeting me with “What can I help you find?” and sending me out with, “Have a great day!” He saw the shirt but would have been nice, regardless - great smile, great attitude.


2:45pm Rieman Music on Douglas Avenue

“Love that shirt! How can I help you”

Kyle’s greeting was almost immediate and very nice.


3:00pm Bike World on Douglas

Nobody at Bike World seemed to notice that I was wearing a “I’m Secret Shopping…“ t-shirt. Or that I was wearing generic pants. Or, as I passed within 4-5 feet of them, that I had shape, form and (quite a bit of) mass, took up quiteabita space or appeared to have many of the physical qualities associated with “shopper,” “customer” and “human.”

The four employees working in the store, in fact, were able to unnotice this for a startling 15 minutes - until I gave up looking for someone to tell me about a $3,500 recumbent, took my shirt, pants and wallet, and went home i.e. the next store.


3:21pm O’Reilly Auto Parts on Douglas

The t-shirt was quickly losing its aura, even as it gained “Essence de Unsecret Shopper” from being shopped in for two days.

An employee behind the counter engaging a customer said nothing to me as I entered, nor did Adam, another employee behind the same counter, engaging a magazine.

After the customer left and another two minutes passed, the first guy finally managed, “Finding what you need?”

No - got any greetings in my size?


3:45pm Furniture Source on 22nd Street WDM

Third time’s uncharming. 

Ernie didn’t notice me browsing the showroom floor because he was too busy browsing the internet, behind the counter.

 After three minutes, I gave the universal signal for “customer needs help” - I took off my shirt and held it upside-down.

 That did it. “Hello. How are you?”

 I told Ernie I was fine. And that was fine with Ernie, who went right back to web browsing.

 I walked away and listened as Tom, who had been with a customer when I first came in and was now finished, walked up to Ernie and said, “Has that guy been helped?”

 “He’s just looking,” replied Ernie, strangely, since all I’d said to him was “I’m fine.” Talk about reading between the lines.

 Tom, smartly, didn’t quite accept Ernie’s thumbnail evaluation of the situation, stepping up to engage me, anyway.

 “Anything I can help you with?”

 After I replied in the negative, Tom looked at my shirt and said, “A secret shopper - never seen one of those before.”

Neither has Ernie, Tom.


5:30pm Target on Plum Drive (off I-80/35) in Urbandale

Four employees couldn’t have given a hoot and a holler about me or my t-shirt, ignoring me as I walked within arm’s length of them.

Laura ended the drought, in stellar fashion.

“Hello, how are you?” she greeted with a beautiful smile at the checkout counter. Laura was the nicest employee I encountered that day, exchanging pleasantries and also handing me my merchandise as I began to walk off without it.

“I don’t want to have to chase you all the way out to the parking lot,” she joked.

I’m sure she would have. T-shirt or not.

And with that, the wheels on The Magical Mystery Shopping Tour bus quit going round and round, and the tour came to a halt.


Two days, 19 stores - and all I got was this smelly “I am Secret Shopping This Store” t-shirt.

 I also got better treatment from at least a quarter of the stores - my perception - based on the t-shirt, and an equal amount of not so hot, where the t-shirt's power was neutralized by that generic but still effective form of Kryptonite, ambivalence.

 For still others, their employees smiled, greeted, engaged and thanked - textbook offerings that prove that the power of great customer service, still lies in happy people more than great training…which doesn’t hurt, either.

 What the shirt did, more than anything, was create conversation - among patrons and employees alike - about customer service. And for a $4.99 six- pack of cotton 2XL t’s and an hour and three tries to draw the message semi-ledgibly, it seems more than worth it.

 Let’s hope the real conversation continues this morning, inside manager and employee meetings across Des Moines - about how every consumer who passes through a store’s doors, is a Secret Shopper - with or without the uniform.

 Have a great Monday. Shop happy. Serve happy. :)



Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketint 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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