What to do when you get busted?

How have you handled situations where staff suspect you are a mystery shopper, or even call you out on it?

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Play dumb.

It is normal for a new mystery shopper to think that everybody knows that they are the mystery shopper. Nope, not unless you are wagging around the survey form or otherwise being blatant. And if they suspect you are the shopper it should incentivize them to offer you service that goes above and beyond and perform according to that boring sales 'best practices' meeting last month. They have more on the line here than you do as their promotions, bonuses or other perks are dependent not on calling out the shopper but rather on performing as trained.

Ok, so the associate is too stupid to understand which side of his/her bread is buttered and they call you out. It happens. Him: "Are you a mystery shopper?" Me: "Does that get me an extra discount?" or "Is that what you call your loyalty card? How do I sign up?" My personal game plan is never to deny anything but rather play dumb enough that I think this is some special customer program offered by the store.

In the thousands of shops I have done I feel certain I have been identified about a hundred times because of ridiculous verbatim requests I was supposed to make. I have been asked if I was the shopper only a small handful of times, though I have seen associates shift gears and go from mediocre performances to by-the-book performances enough times that I figure they figured it out for themselves and decided to use the opportunity to their advantage. Only twice have I been discontinued from a client because they figured out I was the shopper. One was completely unavoidable because I was doing a series of bank shops and the banker I spoke with at location 1 entered location 4 while I was waiting for a banker so was my banker at that location as well. Hard to explain why I was in the bank again with the same agenda, though I tried. My other 'outing' seemed absurd because the location had performed very well and got a good report, so why would they gamble that the next shopper might treat them better?
I was once asked if I was the mystery shopper. I replied by saying, "I don't think I am very mysterious, just a regular person." The employee just said, "Sorry", and that was it.

That became my standard "back-up plan". I have used it about 6 more times. I have done well over 10,000 shops.

The only time I was outed was by the "slice and dice and flip pizza company". They had a reputation for outing shoppers. What made me stand out is beyond me. Why employees of that chain persisted in outing shoppers (read old threads on this Forum) is WAY beyond me. Why not just provide the greatest service to the person you suspect?

Shopping Southeast Pennsylvania, Delaware above the canal, and southwestern NJ since 2008
^^what you said - repeatedly using the same question for each time you go in and who knows how many other's go in on the months that I don't do the shop. (Do you do alignments? makes every employee perk up now...)
Me: "what. I heard that is just a big fraud scheme of some kind. I'm not that dumb!"

Based in MD, near DC
Shopping from the Carolinas to New York
Have video cam; will travel

Poor customer service? Don't get mad; get video.
@wildherbs wrote:

^^what you said - repeatedly using the same question for each time you go in and who knows how many other's go in on the months that I don't do the shop. (Do you do alignments? makes every employee perk up now...)

You still ask the question? I’ve been doing them for so long that the employees look up, hand me the auto program flyer, direct me to where the photo items are and smile. Easy peasy.
As others have said, when they ask or imply that they think you're the mystery shopper, my apin on it is to reply with: "Mystery shopper? What's that?!"
I was doing a comic book shop recently and after I asked the manager for two specific comic books, he asked if I was a mystery shopper, I gave him a puzzled look and asked, "What is that?". It worked because he backed away and looked embarrassed. Then he said, "Oh, ok. I guess you're not. You don't look like the type anyway." I tried hard not to laugh.
I've been asked a couple of times, when I had to use one of those specific phrases/scenarios that make it so obvious what you're doing. I gave the same reply: "What's a mystery shopper?" At least one of the times I'm pretty sure they still thought I was (the scenario they gave me was SO artificial!). I have never understood why an employee would out a shopper, though. It makes it so much easier for them to get a fantastic evaluation if they know to give you superior service. There's a restaurant I've shopped for years where I'm positive they know I'm a mystery shopper (again, it requires a really artificial scenario), but they've never admitted it. They give me the best service imaginable every time I go in, whether I'm doing a shop or not.
@HeatherC wrote:

I was doing a comic book shop recently and after I asked the manager for two specific comic books, he asked if I was a mystery shopper, I gave him a puzzled look and asked, "What is that?". It worked because he backed away and looked embarrassed. Then he said, "Oh, ok. I guess you're not. You don't look like the type anyway." I tried hard not to laugh.

The only time I felt uncomfortable with the question was on a comic book shop where new releases were the day after you asked for them. I believe it's because there are only two employees and one is the owner of the shop. He gets hit with the question every month.

Other than that, I feign ignorance.
I think as a shopper you need to say the same thing but not verbatim... Put it in a way that you would ask if you really were asking. Mystery shopping has a theater aspect to it, and if you can't pretend to be someone else, then you'll always get spotted.
Yeah, I remember those awful grocery store shops where I felt the dumba** questions would immediately out me as a shopper. I recall, specifically, one month the question was the heat of peppers in order, from not-hot to hottest. I really disguised it in a discussion about chile relenos..."um, you don't use a hot pepper for those do you? The ones I've seen on TV shows and in restaurants seem to be really big peppers, like take up a whole plate. So why wouldn't you use hot peppers? What are your hottest peppers?

That was one shop I really felt I learned a lot. At least, about peppers.

smiling smiley
I am always amazed when I tell the clerk "I don't know what's in the box, my mom gave it to me to mail" and they ACCEPT the package for Priority mail. How do they NOT know that is the mystery shop hazmat check after all these years?
I have a friend who works in a comic book store. He told me NO ONE other than the mystery shopper comes in on Tuesday night and asks for the 2 titles. Absolutely no one. Actual fans know comics are released on Wednesday and would not even think of asking. Non comic fans would not come in and ask for two random and unrelated titles. They know. Every time. It's up to them to decide how to react. And I have gotten comic book shops who do everything right as soon as I ask.
A few years ago I performed a shop which required me to sit at the bar for a certain period of time before moving onto casino floor. While sitting at the bar incognito, the bartender was talking to the guy next to me, saying that " these mystery shoppers come in here and I can spot them every time " He continued by sharing his tricks of the trade to spot the mystery shoppers. LOL He did not spot me. This I am sure of.
I'm also a new shopper doing grocery shops. I happened to get the same clerk three times in a row. I thought he had to know I was the mystery shopper because he was extra friendly; it turns out he wondered if I would like to get coffee with him. :-)
I reply, “Mystery shopper, what?” Then excuse me ...and then I get irritated they are asking me these questions and not waiting on me. I’ve only been outed by one company and actually for several clients because this company does not want any vague answers...so say I say the associate complimented me...I get it back with what exactly did the associate say. When I reply back, “the associate said she loved my brown and black purse and it’s exactly what she has been looking for herself...”. Well then the associate can remember me. And I try hard with this company to be vague but they do not want it that way.
look them in the eye, and ask ... a what? And then just roll right along! It's only happened to me a couple of times, and the last time was a couple nights after the shop., when I returned to a convenience store near my home. The clerk said that I was "that mystery shopper" who had been in a few days ago ... (apparently the client had already gotten with the employees with my findings - which weren't all good).

Looked him in the eye ... "a what shopper?", and went from there. Store wasn't busy, so we chatted for a couple minutes while he told me all about getting reamed by the boss, and how he remembered me, and thought I must have been the mystery shopper. He even explained to me what a MS is! Well, looked concerned and innocent, pulled it off, and convinced him it weren't little ol' me. Ive shopped the place several times since ... no problems.

Stay calm, play the role, stick to it, and ... get paid! It ain't lying, it's a job! Good luck!

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/19/2019 07:00PM by donmax.
What's really funny to me is when you are actually shopping and not mystery shopping, and the salesperson thinks that they are being mystery shopped. I had a situation last weekend in a major US city at a downtown location that I shopped three years ago, yet had to go back to this location due to knowing how good the person that I shopped was, and how true the actual price of the purchase was. The person mentioned that he remembered me slightly, yet I never confirmed it. He proceeded to go through the entire sales process as if he was on a script from his company. I let him go through with it, yet, neither confirming that he was actually mystery shopped some time ago. As I suspected, the product that I purchased from him was indeed the lowest that I had estimated from 8-10 different locations, as well as receiving a very thorough service from his assistants.
@wrosie wrote:

The only time I felt uncomfortable with the question was on a comic book shop where new releases were the day after you asked for them. I believe it's because there are only two employees and one is the owner of the shop. He gets hit with the question every month.

.
I quit doing those because of that. They know who we are. I end up feeling sorry for the guy that his store is (usually) empty and spend well over my fee on comic books, dice, and trinkets.

Seriously, nobody cares that you're offended.

(Yes, I stole Hoju's tagline.)
Politely leave and call your scheduler. I had to do it because it was the same person I shopped before who asked 'Are you going you rent a storage this time.".
This is exactly why I took a looooong break from grocery shops. It was becoming obvious I was either a mystery shopped or the dumbest person on earth.
To say that you shouldn't be picked out as a shopper if you're careful is false. But the reason you are picked out is often the fault of the shop design. My wife used to be in banking and she says they could ALWAYS pick out a shopper who was just inquiring. People don't just go into a bank and ask for rates and a copy of a brochure. Phones and the internet are much easier and the same questions were always asked. And once, you are picked out at one branch the word is spread to the nearby branches.

Also, especially in some areas your dress is entirely inappropriate. If you're in a higher income area, dress for the area even if it's a business with many locations.

But if you're picked out, the employee shouldn't as noted by others say anything. They should just do the best job they can and get the best score they can. And besides, if they pick you out and do everything they can, it makes the shop a lot easier. Less narrative.
A couple times it worked in my favor in places I did both announced audits for one company and then I return as a secret shopper for another company. They instantly greeted me and presumed I was doing the first job again but I had to tell them that I 'm not on assignment today and didn't come with a clipboard and paperwork for you to sign. After that I just go on about doing the shop.
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