Age Compliance - An Unconventional But Valuable Use of Mystery Shopping
Written by Marianne Hynd
Mystery shopping services are typically used to measure employee performance or customer service levels. However, a more unconventional use for this service is compliance checks.
Age compliance is a big concern for businesses, and taking a proactive approach will save time, headaches, fines, and potentially losing a license to sell these products. The most common compliance checks are for tobacco and liquor products - it is well known that law enforcement agencies will conduct their own checks by sending in underage people to see if they are able to make purchases. Companies can take this one step further by engaging in a compliance program to stop problems before it's too late.
Mystery shoppers who fall into the 18-26 year old demographic are perfect for this type of work. They simply visit your place of business and purchase tobacco or liquor products and document whether or not the employee asks for identification. For tobacco compliance checks, they are also responsible for documenting that appropriate "No Smoking" signage is visible. This can be taken one step further, and if asked, the mystery shopper can say that they do not have their identification on them, but they are of age to purchase such products. This will give you even further insight into how the employee handles the situation: do they rely on the customer's word and sell the product, or do they refuse?
Many restaurants have incorporated compliance checks into the regular mystery shopping program to ensure that their bar and wait staff are in compliance as well.
Another area where compliance is a concern is video games. Like movies, video games disclose age ratings such as "E" for everyone, "T" for teen, and "M" for mature. For this type of evaluation, a mystery shopper may accompany a child or teen to the store and allow the child to select a video game out of their age group and attempt to make the purchase. The parent stands out of sight of the employee to document what happens.
This is different than what law enforcement may do, as they accompany under age people to stores and restaurants to conduct their evaluation. This is not used in mystery shopping, as it is not in the same league as law enforcement. Mystery shopping companies are required to use shoppers who are of the legal age to make such purchases.
Aside from the obvious reasons, utilizing mystery shopping as a proactive measure can help in other ways, including:
Avoiding paying penalties and fines, as a mystery shopping program tends to keep employees "on their toes" and may lower the risk of non-compliance.
Should issues arise, documenting the fact that your business is proactive by using such a program, most court systems will take this into consideration; this can result in lesser penalties and/or loss of a license to sell products.
Taking the extra step of reporting the results of your mystery shopping program to the Attorney General, for example, will document a good track record for your company and provide further evidence of your commitment to adhering to age compliance standards.
Compliance checks can be used as a stand-alone program or be incorporated into your current mystery shopping program. They can be completely covert, or, to make the program more positive and enticing to staff, "reveal" shops can be put into place. After a mystery shopper makes a purchase, they can "reveal" the purpose of their visit to the store manager and/or employee. The employee then receives an instant monetary reward, gift card, or similar incentive for compliance during the transaction. This is yet another way to heighten the importance of compliance for staff and make it a positive exercise for all.