Mary Portas’s Secret Shopper puts mystery shopping in the spotlight


TV retail expert Mary Portas’s website has attracted hundreds of reviews from shoppers all around the country, but are the results overshadowed by Portas’s growing celebrity?

“I’m waging war on poor service in Great Britain, and your reports from the frontline are essential in delivering feedback straight to brands,” the juggernaut that is Mary Portas announces on her Secret Shopper website.

Portas has taken social media engagement and brought it into her own branded platform to let disgruntled consumers rant about, or praise, the customer service and retail environment delivered by the brands on the UK high street.

Hundreds of votes and comments have been cast, and a league table of 105 brands is available on her website.

To Portas’s credit, the list is clear in stipulating how many votes have been cast, and gives a rating from scores averaged across votes.

At first glance, the list looks very valuable, and there are a few surprises in this list, with perhaps unlikely brands such as Peacocks, Staples UK and Farmfoods all making the top 20 list.

I’m not sure what Portas plans to do with her list but her celebrity power is escalating so her league table could become a benchmark for high street service

Budget supermarket Iceland comes in at 6th, with an array of glowing comments, such as this one from a shopper in Newport, South Wales: “The checkout girls are always happy and chatty and also pack your bags, which is very helpful. There is always plenty of staff on the shop floor which are more than happy to show you to products and deal with queries.”

For those brands that score well, it is great PR material, and the vast amount of comments mean Portas’s website is an easily accessible reference for brands to gauge their feedback.

But for those who fall into the unenviable bottom 15, should the power of Portas have them shaking in their boots? I’m a regular shopper at Tesco and Zara, who are ranked 98 and 99 respectively. I personally find Zara to be good value, and when I lost a bangle in an Oxford Street branch, the security guard kept it for me in case I returned.

While there are lots of one star ratings from ruffled Zara shoppers who have commented that stores are crowded with long queues, there are also a significant amount of positive comments noting Zara’s value for money and positioning on the high street.

The same goes for Tesco, where I feel a strange of sense of achievement when I come in waving the vouchers that I have earned from my Clubcard, despite it scoring so low on Portas’s list.

While the negative comments on Portas’s list does give brands food for thought, the fact that it is an open rant from anyone, without taking into account any consistency factors, such as the type of outlet, brand category, or number of visits can mislead the public.

I’m not sure what Portas plans to do with her list but her celebrity power is escalating so her league table could become a benchmark for high street service, and could become the Trip Advisor of the retail world.

Considering this, brands are better off collaborating with Portas than resisting her, but they should be aware of the problems brands in the travel industry are having with the likes of Trip Advisor where bias is not always easy to strip out.

Consumers place a lot of trust in Trip Advisor, and it looks like Portas could be heading in the same direction. While some brands might be unfairly represented in her league table, on the bright side, it puts service back in the spotlight.

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