Shops Gone Horribly Wrong!

Have you ever had a shop go horribly wrong? I mean so wrong as to make you want to seriously think about giving up mystery shopping? My “Car shop from hell” in Issue 17 of Mystery Shopper Magazine might have been close, had I not been as experienced as I was at the time. My very first shop, August 1, 2012, almost made me call mystery shopping quits.

It was Wednesday, overcast and drizzling. This was my first mystery shop ever, and it was at a Columbia Sportswear Outlet store. The assignment was supposed to be simple. Go in, find something to try on, ask for assistance with the fitting room. The associate was supposed to return within 10 minutes and I was to ask for the same item in a different color. Pay for the item and leave. Get an image of the receipt and then an optional return. The purchase had to be at least $20, with the option to return and the job would pay $15.

I called and verified the location’s hours. I arrive about an hour after they opened. It’s a drizzly day, not a steady rain, but enough to drive most people off the beach and into the shopping malls. I enter the store and start browsing.

The first thing I noticed was the cashier was busier than a one arm paper hanger. She had to run the register and assist the customers. I eventually found a shirt that was my size and that was available in several colors. I walked around the store and eventually found the store manager and another associate scanning items. I asked for assistance with the fitting room and you would have thought I’d asked her to break into Fort Knox. She muttered something under her breath as she got up and took me to the fitting room.

I tried on the shirt and then I proceeded to wait…and wait…and wait. According to the guidelines, she was supposed to check back with me within 10 minutes. Twenty minutes later, I decided she wasn’t going to come back. At this point I was wondering if I was doing something wrong, so I stepped out of secret shopper mode and just began watching everyone. The manager and the associate helping her were doing their best to ignore all the customers, leaving the cashier to struggle with everyone.

I watched this for about 15 minutes. I then made my purchase and left. On the report, I did mention that the reason I did not do a return was because I did not want to deal with that manager again.

This experience was so bad, I almost called mystery shopping quits at that point. Fortunately, I had several other shops already scheduled over the next week so I completed them and discovered the first shop was the exception, rather than the norm. Fortunately, I let the first experience flow off my back, and I’ve discovered that mystery shopping can be an enjoyable, and fascinating, occupation.

Do you have a mystery shopping horror story? Add it in the comments below!

Your Comments:

  1. Tiffany says:

    Ha – I’m the opposite!
    Whenever service is *that bad* and I’m not mystery shopping, I wish I was – so that I could report the issues (isn’t that terrible?1).

    • Richard Mann says:

      Me, too. My wife and I often say to each other, “Wow. I wish this were a shop! What a report we could write!”

    • cat says:

      I used to regularly mystery shop one of the local fast food restaurants. It was an easy shop and kind of fun. Plus I was a regular customer anyway. However, one time I went in there with my kids – the place was pretty dead only one other table with people in to restaurant. We ordered our food, got our drinks and waited for the food to be called. A half hour later, I had to ask about our food – they lost the order and told me it was my fault. I really wished I was on a shop at that time. The funny thing was, I was called the next week to shop that store. I told them that I was still so upset about them that I did not think I could do a fair evaluation and told the scheduler why. I think she took my story and wrote it up because she asked for many details of just what happened.

    • Dave Mayo says:

      You can report that shop even if you are not mystery shopping. If I am not mystery shopping and I receive poor service I go to the computer, find the corporate office and give them the facts. I do get replies and some time I get gift certificates for taking the time to comment. If I get exceptionally good service I write also. The sales person deserves to be praised.

  2. Richard Mann says:

    Although your shop was not fun, that situation is one of the reasons why we do all this shopping. When the store is doing everything wrong, it makes it hard to follow the shop guidelines, but a good report of what actually happened will bring some real consequences down on the heads of the misbehaving managers and associates. The company needs to know when this sort of lousy service is going on.

    So you did a good thing for the company.

    I’ve had a few shops that went that way. Everybody was doing everything wrong. I enjoy writing those reports (but have to be sure to keep the report to calmly reported facts, even though the situation might have made me really mad) because I know it will really help the company know they have a major problem that need to be fixed.


    • Dave Mayo says:

      OMG you get those shops where the employees did not get the memo and did not know the scenario? Amazing! I just answer the questions and write the narration to explain the “negative”. If the employees do not perform as trained you call it as you see it. The editors on occasion attempt to tell me I am too negitive. My reply is. “If the company standards allow this and that and the other thing” and this is acceptable then the performance was spectacular and the employee should be commended.

  3. Brenda says:

    Just shopping for a year now I have a couple but the one that I was really disappointed with because I let a scheduler talk me into doing. I was doing a fast food shop end of the month with bonus for the next day 50 miles away. I received a late night call begging me to pick up one more with another 20 miles added to the route I was taking. I did explain that I already had one shop for them during the same period. I was told she would take care of it, she just really needed shop done. It showed up in my email, I completed the shop and what happens, rejected because it is in the same meal period. I ate that one, literally, and I should have listened to my gut feelings that if they say only one shop per meal they mean one shop per meal. Live and learn.

    • treydawgmt says:

      Brenda –

      In a case like that (the late night phone call, or any phone call for that matter), request an email from the schedule BEFORE you leave for the shop. Inform her you won’t do the shop without her email outlining all the details. If she won’t do that, then you won’t shop. This will be written documentation if you have those problems.

    • todd says:

      You owe it to yourself to contact that person’s supervisor or even the MSC president to apprise them of the situation. Behavior like that should not be tolerated and your pay should come from the scheduler’s pocket if need be!

      Not holding MSCs accountable makes think they can get away with these type situations. I get upset with people just “chalking-off” to experience money they are legitimately owed my non-performing MSC’s. It ultimately hurts all of us, especially those of us out there trying to make a living as an I.C. and not just a bored spouse trying to get out of the house!!

  4. John says:

    I would not consider this a shop gone awry. As Richard said this is when a good report will let corporate know about these digressions by the manager and his associate. I once told my son that if a situation is encountered like this, the mystery shopper still says to the associates “Yes mam,””No sir,”” Thank you so very much.” Then expresses their factual wrath on the report.

  5. John says:

    Personally I think a shop that goes horribly wrong is one where you either discover, or suspect, that the associates know you are a mystery shopper on a shop and their service seems to go “above and beyond” their normal mode of operation.

  6. micahael says:

    My first really bad experience in ten years was @ North Face which required such a lengthy scenario that I doubted any salesman would be able to follow me. The young man who waited on me was clearly new and did not have a sales presentation, although North Face requires it’s people to be trained in one with several demanding points. He would and seemingly could not respond to my questions and disappeared after I tried on a shirt in the fitting room, contrary to his instructions from NF. I looked for him and bought it anyway with a return three hours later. I told the MSC that it was impossible to complete the scenario considering the circumstances. The MSC editor cancelled the shop which was $28.00 and on my regular route. I offered to do it again but asked to be paid twice……no such luck….and now NorthFace will miss out on training a newbie…..too bad that shoppers’ views are not always listened to…besides the usual low fees….I find higher paying shops with less detail but more specific information about the customer sales person exchange…oh well…..

  7. Mary Quinsland says:

    Actually, the experience gone wrong is the best to have, because you have a lot to report and hopefully it will serve the client to fix the problems.!

  8. Betty says:

    I was doing a cell phone shop, had to ask about services and had one of the employees midway through the conversation ask if I was “one of those shoppers?” I asked what that was and laughed that I would love to be paid to shop. I must have been believable, because he did not score 100%.

  9. Niclas says:

    I had a shop at a luxury brand clothing store recently where I first overhead two employees shouting at each other in the back room, then a little later all three employees in the store at the time started arguing loudly at the cash desk… Now that was one of my worst shops so far.
    Did manage to write an excellent rapport but it took a little extra time getting it right.
    And it probably comes as no surprise, to the questions if I’d return to the store and if I’d recommend it to friends, my answer was NO.

  10. Barbara says:

    I did a gas station/convenience store shop just yesterday. The manager of this rather dumpy little establishment was rude beyond words. I was to make two visits inside the store; one for a prepaid gas purchase, and one for a product. I used a credit card to make a $5 gas purchase and you would have thought it was the end of the world for this manager. He went to great lengths to tell me how ‘stupid’ I was for using a credit card for a $5 purchase…and didn’t I realize he had to pay the credit card company…and how did people like me expect him to make any money…and on and on. As I was the only customer anywhere near the store, I chose to let the manager finish his harangue, while I went out to pump gas. I looked toward the store one time, and the man actually shook his fist at me. Needless to say, I did not return to the store a second time. I’m not timid by any means, and I can take care of myself, but…why tempt fate? This man had serious problems I did not wish to encounter a second time!

  11. Barb Allen says:

    I’ve been shopping for several years and my worst by far was a gas station/convenience store situation. I entered and gave the manager/owner my LOA and he immediately began to question me. He didn’t know I was coming, no one told him he was going to be evaluated; I wasn’t dressed appropriately – most people come in to see him dressed in a suit; what was I going to be looking for. I advised him he could call the phone number listed on my LOA or he could call his retailer but he much preferred berating me. Once I concluded my evaluation then he wanted to question every response. I told him I was not authorized to discuss the responses with him, that I was merely following a corporate guideline. He reluctantly signed my document and I immediately left his premises. I called my scheduler immediately and also made comments in the “for our eyes only” section of the report. I should have requested hazardous duty pay!!

    • Bev says:

      I did a similar shop a couple years ago. I gave the clerk my LOA and she asked do you need to speak with the Manager. I stated that I would like to and waited for him to finish selling some parts. The clerk did read the LOA, the Manager when he was done also read the LOA and both knew exactly what I was doing. There were a number of infractions that I found at that location. A few days later I received an email stating that both the Manager and Clerk said that they had no idea what I was doing there. That I had not shown them the LOA or introduced myself. I replied to the email exactly what I did at every location I had shopped in the past year and that they did have security cameras up so they could see for themselves that I walked to the front counter and handed the clerk my LOA and then met with the Manager and gave him the LOA. Apparently everything was fine after that as I was paid promptly and asked to do more shops.

  12. Laura says:

    I just finished 3 merchandizing shops that went very wrong and I lost money performing. It included 2 trips to each store, multiple phone calls being assured the space had been prepped and the supplies were ready to be mounted, only to find that nothing had been done, lots of blaming and excuses for why they weren’t doing what corporate had demanded they do and, in the case of one store, being THROWN OUT by the manager because he didn’t want to deal with broken promises and hassles! Then the MSC decides they don’t want to pay me! I spent more than 2 hours and a fair amount of gas driving back again to try to get this job done, was snarled at, the managers doing nothing to complete this, and the MSC didn’t want to pay me — like this was my fault! (I finally got them to agree to pay me $10). Worst. Job. Ever.

  13. Laura says:

    I just finished 3 merchandizing shops that went very wrong and I lost money performing. It included 2 trips to each store, multiple phone calls being assured the space had been prepped and the supplies were ready to be mounted, only to find that nothing had been done, lots of blaming and excuses for why they weren’t doing what corporate had demanded they do and, in the case of one store, being THROWN OUT by the manager because he didn’t want to deal with broken promises and hassles! Then the MSC decides they don’t want to pay me! I spent more than 2 hours and a fair amount of gas driving back again to this one sore, to try to get this job done, was snarled at, the managers doing nothing to complete this, and the MSC didn’t want to pay me — like this was my fault! (I finally got them to agree to pay me $10). Worst. Job. Ever.

  14. Susan says:

    I was shopping a meat counter at a national grocery chain store when the butcher made several sexually explicit comments to me. I actually called the scheduler asking how I should report this. She almost fell out of her chair and got very, very angry for me. Even worse, when I asked the question of the butcher I was required by the client to ask, the butcher told he that “everyone knew” if a customer asked that question they were a mystery shopper. THAT was an interesting report.

  15. Anna says:

    My most hated shop was at a big box retail chain. I’d done a couple of these already, so I didn’t anticipate any problems. The issue was I was expected to interact with staff on the floor, but I couldn’t find anyone. I went around for an hour trying to find someone. I did all the checks for ADA—bathroom, fitting rooms, etc.—and still, no one on the floor. I put all this in my report, and the reviewer rejected it on the grounds that I did not do my interactions. I asked her what I was supposed to have done, and her response was that I should have gone back at another time! What? I reported what I found, isn’t that what the company wants to know? I never got paid for that shop.

  16. Linda says:

    I am having an ongoing problem now with one of my mystery shops. I reported what happened, everything went wrong. I wrote up what happened in great detail. I am still being questioned about what happened two months later. (I have been paid for the job.) I refer them to my paperwork. I have been told, “Oh, I did not read that.”

    It is very upsetting that the proof-readers do not preform their jobs correctly.

  17. Catherine says:

    I have completed over 7500 shops, and I have some best and some worst. One that sits with me 14 years after my having done it was one I did as a Spanish speaker in an orange home improvement store in the Los Angeles area. I “appear” European but am on the Puerto Rico Masters Track team and was wearing my uniform with all the flags and pins, so was “passing” as someone from Puerto Rico. The idea was to find out how Spanish speakers were being treated by the associates in the store; was there any discrimination? Was help given? I went up to the information counter. There were two 19 year old blonde twits, both chomping gum. One looked at me and said, “Yeah?” I said, “Me no English. Me Puerto Rico. Me Spanish. You help?” The second girl stared at me and yelled, “ENGLISH!” I answered, “Me no English. Me Puerto Rico. You help?” I turned my back so they could see the big flag on the back of my uniform. The first girl turned to the second one and sassed, “Ya know, if these goddamned Porto Ricans wanna be part of America, they better learn to speak American!” (Oh how I wished I could “come out” and bust them on the spot … but my report took care of that!)

  18. Dave Mayo says:

    I thrive on shops that went wrong. Because I was in law enforcement way back in my checkered career I learned how to adapt to the streets. I took the calls from the desperate schedulers who told me their shopper was not familiar with the neighborhood. They did a “drive by” and their vehicle, the way they were dressed and their lack of experience would identify them as a mystery shopper. The shopper also feared for their personal safety. I shoppped this location at least once a month, often times more. There were many others like this location. There were always a new crew as the turnover was very high. I was solicited for drugs. “Ladies” of the evening were out any time during the day or evening offering “pleasure”. You had to have the experience of gently refusing the offer without insulting them. There were people looking for “change” who in reality were probably quite wealthy from the “donations” people gave them. Undercover officers asked me many times if I was buying or selling (drugs). Why do I take those jobs? I love the challenge. I can dress up or down and ajust my attitude to fit any level of economic situations. I would not go to some neighborhoods at night. The residents of those neighborhoods do not go out if they do not have to be out. I do not attempt to take a shop if I can not speak the lanuage. If you see a shop that is on the boards for a long time there must be a reason why even the desperate are not taking the shop. Do not poke the skunk there is only one result you can possibly have and it will not be pleasant. Mystery shopping can be fun if you know you can change your clothes and resume your “normal” lifestyle. It makes you think, “but for mentors that helped me along the way I could be there for real. On the other side of the coin I eat the $150 lunches in high end department stores. People actually do that every day! I drive the high end vehicles. Very nice but not practical unless I win the lottery. It is educational and inspirational to step into roles and be able to function at those levels. There are many “professionals” that are wearing ten gallon hats and have no cattle. They are trapped in a lifestyle that their families love but they are working like a dog to keep up the image. Mystery shopping, if you are paying attention, can teach you how to appreciate where you are at and give you incentive to get to the next level.