I’ve Begun A New Career As A Secret Shopper


I have always wanted to be part of a retail focus group and now, thanks to someone referring me, that dream has finally come true.

Think about it — instead of wandering the aisles of a store, grumbling about why that awesome comforter doesn’t come in pink or why the otherwise-contemporary shower curtain has that stupid fringe or why most blue candles smell like poison, I can blurt those things right out. And they’ll listen!

It’s like therapy, except they pay me.

First, I was contacted via e-mail. Was I interested in joining the group? Yes! If so, did I have trouble expressing myself? No!

Second, they called me on the phone. Would I be able to be a secret shopper for an hour or so? Yes! Would I be able to participate in a 90-minute group discussion the next day? Yes! Would $150 cover my time and travel and opinions? Absolutely!

Third, they used the postal service to mail me a single sheet of survey questions that I was to read after shopping but before leaving the store. OK, sure.

Fourth, they e-mailed me a follow-up. Was I sure the days and times they had chosen would work for me? Listen, guys, I’ll postpone my vacation for this. I’ll reschedule my doctor’s appointment. I’ll celebrate my anniversary another time. Let’s get on with it!

The following Tuesday, I went to the department store they had asked me to go to. I pretend-shopped for baby gifts, just like they had asked me to. I reread my survey several times, then went to the bathroom to fill it out… because no one would ever suspect a secret shopper (or a Russian spy or a CIA agent) to hide in the bathroom. I am so clever.

On Wednesday, I put on the clothes I had ironed (twice) especially for this occasion. I wore the new shoes I had bought in the department store and worried about possible pandering. I put on fake fingernails, noticed one was upside-down, cursed loudly and re-did it.

I was nervous because I wanted to make a good impression so they would have me back. My retail opinions are vital to humanity, as they would soon find out.

But just before I left the house, I re-read the e-mail and — oh, no! — I had read the survey before doing my shopping. OMG! I was going to be bumped, deleted, asked to leave! My opinions would count for nothing because I cannot follow the simplest direction. I was a slug. No, lower than a slug — slug slime. I was nothing but the slimy residue left behind by an icky slug, and my opinion was less than that.

I asked myself, what should I do? Should I go to the focus group anyway? If they asked who had followed directions, would I lie? Honestly, would I sink so low as to lie about this?

I would? Then I am lower than slug slime! I am the slime that slug children maneuver around so they don’t get cooties.

Not only that, but the fact that I am planning to go to this meeting and lie just so I can be part of a group gathered for their honesty is pathetic. Not only that, but if I am willing to lie about this tiny thing, what else will I lie about?

St. Peter: Deb, it says here you lied so you wouldn’t be removed from a focus group.

Me: Well, I really, really wanted to get in.

St. Peter: Do you care at all about getting in here, Deb?

Me: Of course I do… now. But, back then, it was mostly the focus group I was interested in. No, wait. Let me rephrase that. I have always wanted to get in here and… and that’s the truth.

I don’t think St. Peter bought it.

In the end, I went to the meeting. When asked who had accidentally read the survey first, 8 out of 10 of us raised our hands (yes, me too) and the facilitator apologized for not reminding us on the outside of the envelope. But she did make a checkmark next to my name.

And so did St. Peter.


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