[ stock photo courtesy of: Paige Foster ]
Pay close attention to the guy outside your local electronics store—average height, average build, easy to dismiss. Yet there’s more here than meets the eye. You might be looking at a Consumer Reports secret shopper.
Behind the newspaper he’s apparently studying, our man is steeling himself for a performance that will require quick thinking and steady nerves. He must spend thousands of dollars on unlikely purchases without raising suspicion or compromising his under-cover status. When his job is done and the glass doors close behind him, employees will find it difficult to recall his face. Success. He can return another day.
At least that might be how Tom Clancy would describe it.
The secret shopper I shadowed on a recent outing (let’s call him Mr. X) is more Average Joe than 007. But, he is still an agent with a number to his name—it’s printed on a credit card that’s reimbursed by Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.
Granted, a piece of plastic isn’t as state-of-the-art as one of Q’s gizmos. But despite the workaday aspects of his job, a secret shopper needs a creative mind and a flair for adventure. Picture this: Our Mr. X goes into a store to buy five TVs. Big ones. The sales guy cocks an eyebrow. Five TVs? What for?
Our man has to think quickly before he’s “made.” He does—he pulls out a clever excuse so believable (which I won’t reprint here, because he uses it often) that the salesperson’s face turns from skeptical to amused and, ultimately, convinced. Mr. X will then cart the TVs back to our labs, where our testers run them through a gauntlet of tests.
Our secret shoppers in New York and 65 other cities nationwide buy products at retail—just as you do—to ensure we’re getting the real McCoy and not a souped-up version from the manufacturer. We pay retail prices too: Consumer Reports spends $250,000 per year on TVs alone.
So our shopper signs his name, pockets the receipt, and walks coolly out the front door. You can’t beat a confident, informed consumer. Eat your heart out, Mr. Bond. —Nick K. Mandle