US Government Uses Mystery Shopping to Ensure Compliance

US Government Uses Mystery Shopping to Ensure Compliance

In two recent cases, the U.S. government used mystery shopping techniques to audit what individual consumers were told during one-on-one interactions. These cases highlight the consequences of giving inaccurate or incomplete information to customers. Auditing the information given to customers could have perhaps helped these companies avoid the costly consequences of wrongdoing or unintentional misrepresentation.  

In the first case, school officials at 15 for-profit colleges made unsubstantiated claims about their schools in order to encourage enrollment.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) used secret shoppers to investigate the unethical practices , and now has evidence that will encourage tougher laws and enforcement for these types of institutions.

Wouldn’t it have been better if leaders at the colleges had instituted a secret shopping program proactively?  They would have been able to identify situations where employees did not follow code of conduct standards, and make improvements immediately.

In the second case, according to a recent article on, FTC has also levied fines on national pharmacy chains and their suppliers of more than $6 million for deceptive dietary supplement marketing claims that simply mimicked the claims made by a national brand.”   This is a high price to pay, and one that emphasizes the need for evaluation of employee product conversations at the retail level.   The GAO learned that retailers made claims about dietary supplements that were not permissible, and didn’t meet standards established by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).  Retail employees either did not understand the guidelines or were not aware of them.  The article suggested that retailers and manufacturers provide comprehensive education programs, but doesn’t mention how the companies evaluate the effectiveness of the training. Firms can avoid costly mistakes, such as these, with ongoing mystery shopping programs designed to measure employees’ compliance with critical areas.  

Consider what happens at your company.  Is it possible that employees could make improper claims about your product or service? Are there regulatory requirements in your industry which must be met consistently? Do you rely on managers “passing by” to ensure that salespeople make truthful claims? If mistakes are possible, and the regulatory or public relations backlash would damage your business, perhaps it is an appropriate time to consider a measurement program to ensure the integrity of your sales process.

Share this page via