Wired.com has published an interesting article on the secret lives of some professional secret shoppers, who work for Consumer Reports. It just so happens that the job of a secret shopper is a lot like the jobs of undercover police officers and private investigators.
There are nine full-time and 85 freelance secret shoppers that are part of an undercover shopping network employed by Consumer Reports. Their jobs often require them to make some peculiar purchases under suspicious circumstances that require good acting and explanations with little white lies as well as some tall tales.
There is the time when a secret shopper named “Jon” had to buy 9 pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with the requirements that all the pints needed to be from the same production line, on the same date.
Jon walks into a supermarket with a Styrofoam cooler filled with dry ice (to keep the ice cream cool), a pair of gloves (to keep his hands warm), and a flashlight (to help him see the indentations on the bottom of the containers that show where and when the ice cream was made). This whole incident required some creative excuse making, when an unhappy stocker approached him as to why he was stacking pints of ice cream all over the store floor.
Consumer Reports tests thousands of products a year and spends millions of dollars purchasing these products. According to the magazine’s strict ethics code, all of these purchases need to be made by secret shoppers. Making large and sometimes strange purchases like these without giving explanations can be a difficult business.
According to the article, Jon once told a salesman that he needed an older model because his mother had Alzheimer’s disease and he couldn’t teach her how to use a newer model. Another time he recalls all the strange looks he received from people when he filled up a shopping cart with condoms. He once excused the purchase of five different washing machines by saying that his landlord dad had given his renters their choice of brands.
And how did he get out of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream debacle with the angry supermarket stocker? According to Jon — “I go into my Rain Man routine,” he says. “Count the vanilla, count the vanilla, gotta count the vanilla.’ Eventually, the stocker just gives up and walks away. And I get my ice cream.”