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South Dakota Stores Use Mystery Shopping on Black Friday

FORT WORTH, TX -  NOVEMBER 27:  Shopper Mike M...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Given the veritable blizzard of deals and early-bird specials, and the vast profit potential of Black Friday — the traditional kickoff of the holiday shopping bonanza — it could be easy for store employees to let details slip through the cracks.

But some business owners in Sioux Falls decided to be proactive and get the Christmas season off on a merry foot: They hired mystery shoppers to keep tabs on all aspects of their operations, from customer service to the cleanliness of their bathrooms.

So, in the sea of customers heading out to begin their shopping on Black Friday, a few went incognito. A recent story on went behind the scenes with Identifeye, a Sioux Falls–based mystery shopping company that sent numerous shoppers out to various stores and restaurants on Black Friday.

Unlike democratic review sites like Yelp, which have drawn considerable criticism from business owners in the past couple of years, services like Identifeye ask their shoppers to offer more of an unbiased critique, often giving the good with the bad.

These services are often more helpful to businesses looking to improve because they can pinpoint specific issues the shoppers should be on the lookout for. For example, the Alpine Inn restaurant in Sioux Falls wanted to ensure that all their employees had a positive attitude when dealing with customers.

Businesses sometimes warn their employees to expect that a mystery shopper could come in any time. According to the National Retail Federation‘s 2010 survey of Black Friday shoppers, the average Black Friday weekend shopper spent just over $365 this year. That’s an increase over the $343 average from 2009.

The jury’s out on whether Black Friday is still “the busiest shopping day of the year,” as it once was, but it’s certainly one where expectations are high: Is there enough product available for everyone who comes through the doors? Are clerks on their best behavior and willing to help out with a smile? Are the bathrooms clean and stocked with supplies?

That’s what businesses are trying to find out by hiring mystery shoppers. And maybe, just maybe, with the results of these shoppers’ unbiased accounts, businesses will be able to meet their customers’ expectations even better than before, and that spending will go up even more for 2011 — and beyond.

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