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Front Page » August 29, 2006 » Local News » Mystery shopper prowls around local businesses
Published 2,885 days ago

Mystery shopper prowls around local businesses


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

For shop and business owners in Carbon County, a mystery shopper may appear in the future. But then, the person may have already come into their establishments.

Late last winter, the county's economic development office and the Carbon Chamber of Commerce came up with an idea to help businesses better evaluate how customers view the establishments.

The plan that emerged from the business growth committee, a group exploring ways to improved establisments in the area, was a mystery shopper program. The program would give feedback to the local business community.

The plan was simple. Enlist a person who would go into various businesses and either buy or look at the services and wares offered there.

Then the person would do a structured evaluation on the business and the business owner or manager would get a letter from the committee as to what was found in terms of services and products in their store.

Early in the summer, the program was begun and the shopper visited about 70 businesses, every kind from car dealers to grocery stores.

The results came back and each business that was evaluated was sent a letter with the findings.

"Actually the results that were returned showed mostly positive for the businesses surveyed," said county economic director Delynn Fielding last week. "The letters went out in June. Interestingly enough we haven't heard one thing back from the businesses we sent the correspondence to."

The survey has almost one dozen parameters a business is judged on.

The points considered on the survey include:

•Are shoppers greeted promptly and in a friendly manner when they walk through the door?

•Is the atmosphere of the shop generally friendly or do shoppers feel like they are just there and are expected to do some business?

•Is the establishment clean?

•Is the business family friendly?

•Is the order or the service the shopper requests accurate? How does the establishment perform when it comes to the area? If something is ordered because it isn't in stock, when it does arrive and is it what the customer wanted?

"We found situations where one store didn't have something in stock and the store employee recognized that the person needed it right away. A few of those shops actually sent the person to their competitors so that the customer could get it right away," said Fielding.

There are also other caveats to the situation.

For example, how an employee of a business handles a certain situation is important.

Often, people go into a business looking for something specific. If the business doesn't handle the particular thing, shoppers may be turned away with no information on where they can be helped, wrong information or information that detracts from the other businesses in the area.

"We had a case where an employee actually told the shopper that they didn't have the product and that no one else in town did either," reported Fielding. "Whether the employee didn't know or just didn't care, he told the shopper they would have to go over the mountain to secure what they wanted. In actuality four other businesses in town had the product the shopper wanted."

Part of the survey concentrates on those very things. Meeting customer requests the business can handle and reviewing those that they can't, leads to some interesting information. How businesses handle ones they can't do are particularly important to the overall economic well being of the area.

Every community has what is called "leakage." Leakage are the dollars that go somewhere else rather than stay in the local economy. This can take place when people travel somewhere else to buy something, use catalogues and mail order to get goods and in today's market it also includes Internet sales.

Carbon County's leakage is a large problem in some areas of business, but in others the county actually is ahead of the game. The figures for leakage are determined by the population of the area as compared to their average income. For instance, when it comes to convenience store sales, Carbon's sales figures are much higher that an average area of its size. That is because the county is located on a major route between two large cities (Denver and Salt Lake) and there is a lot of tourist traffic through the area. Many people tend to stop and buy gasoline, snacks and other items.

On the other hand some areas show large amounts of money going out of the community. For instance, building material purchases outside the area are very high, despite the fact that there are a number of stores in Castle Country that sell such items.

When an employee of one business recommends that a person go outside the area to purchase something when it is available in town, they can be hurting the overall local economy. So recommending local businesses helps the entire economy of the area, even if the business is a competitor. By helping customers spend locally, businesses can help local residents spend more of their shopping budget locally.

Another item on the survey, which is particularly important with out-of-town customers, is giving accurate directions to people when they want to go somewhere in the area, and knowing and recommending attractions in the Carbon or Emery county area that will keep them here a little longer.

"For instance, a waitress or waiter at a restaurant can be a big factor when it comes to tourists staying in the area," said Fielding. "Often either patrons of the establishment will be discussing what they will be doing for the day or may have outright questions about what attractions are available in the area. If the server is knowledgeable about local attractions, they can often recommend where people can go and what they can do. That helps to keep tourists in the area and then they spend more money here too."

The survey also gives the "mystery shopper" places to make additional comments about businesses. Many of the comments that have come back refer to specific people in businesses that went overboard to help them. That is a good sign, said Fielding.

The program is going to continue indefinitely and the "mystery shopper" will be approaching more and more businesses.

"When a business owner gets a letter from us it is very confidential," pointed out Fielding. "We want them to use this project as a tool to improve their business practices. We want it to help improve the local economy."



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