A Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) study of sales practices of wireless mobile services used “mystery shoppers” to evaluate how those products were being sold.
The results of the mystery shoppers were interesting – 80% satisfaction overall, 74% were recommended appropriate products – but not as revealing as the results when those mystery shoppers turned into actual shoppers.
Mystery shoppers pretend to be interested in a product, engage a merchant as a potential customer and later evaluate the experience. The CRTC engaged a mystery shopping research firm to conduct 422 such “shops” at Canada’s largest service providers (Bell, Rogers, Telus, Freedom, Sasktel and Videotron) and the report on those experiences is enlightening.
For example, the largest firms (Bell, Rogers, Telus) do not offer much flexibility of choice, with the lowest-priced postpaid plans costing $75 a month (excluding a device) for 10GB of data. Consumers who do not use that much data can receive lower priced plans from Freedom ($50 a month), while Sasktel and Videotron offer more variety of data allowances and pricing. Shoppers with disabilities face significant barriers in accessing appropriate products or services. Shoppers with language barriers are also dissatisfied on many levels, while seniors have higher satisfaction than non-seniors in every category. Satisfaction is also higher for in-person visits, and lower for online chats.
The survey found that 26% of shoppers were not recommended appropriate products or services. The overall satisfaction rates across all the key metrics was about 80%, so the balance, roughly 1 in 5, perceived they faced misleading or aggressive sales practices.
It also found “a sizeable portion of sales interactions that involved salespeople being rude to shoppers and on occasion even refusing service and telling them to go to another service provider”, but because this was not anticipated, questions were not included to gather data on the topic.
For this project, mystery shoppers were offered twice the pay rate for shops in which a purchase was completed, thus turning into actual shoppers. This was done to provide an opportunity to review actual contract terms, as well as return policies.
The first interesting finding is that only 10 of the 422 shoppers decided to complete the purchase. The common reasons for not doing so included that it could involve a credit check which could lower their credit score, concerns that the cancellation processes would be “cumbersome due to their lack of trust in the Service Providers’ fee structures and the possibility that the salesperson would make the cancellation process difficult.”
Because only 10 shoppers executed agreements, the results are not considered “meaningful” in a statistically significant sense. But informally, they do suggest that the majority of shoppers were justified in their concerns.
Three of the 10 shoppers indicate that the details in the contract did not match the terms they agreed to in the sales process.
Four out of the 10 reported that the one- or two-page critical information summary document was not provided.
Five out of the 10 attempted to cancel their purchase within a trial period. Two of those five indicated the staff made it difficult to cancel their services.
Of the five who made purchases in store, two were not provided a permanent copy of the contract immediately after they agreed to it.
The two shoppers who purchased prepaid plans both indicated that salesperson did not explain the conditions properly.
The summary report recommends further study of the entire sales interaction, including more completed purchases to better understand concerns.