secret shopper
n. A person hired by a retailer to evaluate and monitor the store's employees or operations by posing as a shopper.
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Doug Gould, director of mystery shopping for Taco Bell, credits the program for helping speed up the chain's drive-through service. He said reports from secret shoppers highlighted delays caused by workers pushing promotions and repeating simple orders to customers. Ultimately, he said, Taco Bell slashed drive-through wait times from an average of 5 minutes to 3 1/2 minutes—a huge achievement in an industry obsessed with peeling seconds off the process.
—Marc Ballon, “A Retail Spying Spree,” Los Angeles Times, April 06, 2002
1983 (earliest)
The enormous number of coupons in circulation represents a potential for abuse in the billions of dollars. Misredemption and fraud have plagued both marketers and retailers, accounting for an estimated 10% to 12% of all coupon refunds, industry experts say. Misredemption, often innocent, happens when customers cash expired coupons and cashiers fail to check the expiration dates. Supermarkets General Corp. in Woodbridge, N. J., has hired "secret shoppers" to patrol its Pathmark stores.
—“Retailing may have overdosed on coupons,” Business Week, June 13, 1983
As the first citation hints, secret shoppers are also known in the trade as mystery shoppers who go mystery shopping. Retail stores are the most frequent users of secret shopper services, but just about any operation that deals with the public has hired these covert consumers, including restaurants, hotels, resorts, day-care centers, airlines, and even funeral homes.
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