As you browsed through a shop in downtown Leavenworth last October, that person next to you might not have been a normal shopper at all. They could have been...a secret shopper.
Last October, the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce sent out secret shoppers to evaluate the retails shops in town. The idea first came up at a Chamber retreat last year, said Kevin Rieke, chamber president. Typically, they get varied reports about the shops, cleanliness and customer service, for example.
"The idea of a secret shopper came up, but we wanted confidentiality," Rieke said, at the Jan. 8 Leavenworth City Council study session. "We decided to do a secret shopper, but something purely beneficial to each business."
The idea was to have secret shopper go through and score all the retail businesses in town, not the restaurants or hotels. And whether that business was a chamber member or not. The results would be tabulated by an independent accounting firm and sent directly to the business. The chamber office never saw the comments, he said.
"We did not want to be invasive with the idea. We did tell our members that is was going to happen, but we didn't tell them exactly when," said Nancy Smith, chamber executive director. "We did solicit questions from our membership of what they would like to hear about should somebody come in and secret shop them."
The restaurants and hotels were left out, Smith said, mainly because the chamber did not want to have to pick up the tab for all those dinners and hotel rooms. In all, 100 shops were visited.
The secret shoppers were not locals, she said, but they did reside in Chelan County.
"They were just normal people. They were shoppers," she said. "We researched doing a professional secret shopper program. Along with that comes people that want to go into shops and sell them a customer service program. It was a little heavier than we wanted. We just found three people who were happy to go out and about."
The shoppers were two women and one man, varying in age. They were given a span of time to complete the task, she said, so they didn't feel like they had to do it all at once.
Rieke said it seemed to work really well. At his shop, the secret shopper came in asked where live music was playing that evening. But the person at his shop could not quite come up with the answer.
"We have a system in place. They should have been able to see it. So, it's retraining for us because it was not on the top of their brain and they did not quickly go find it. It's just good information," Rieke said. "They told me my Hat Shop was messy. I knew it was messy because of Oktoberfest. Hats were everywhere. Good feedback."
It was not by any means polished, Smith said, it was just information.
Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or email@example.com.