Secret Shopper Review: Are You Being Served?

SECRET SHOPPER: Wednesday 19th January, C4, 9pm ALERT ME

You make me sick. You’re rubbish at your job and you need someone to tell you how to do it (Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares), your house is a disgraceful mess (How Clean Is Your House) and you can’t even dress yourself properly (Trinny & Susannah). It’s only a matter of time before a celebrity arse-wiping specialist arrives on our screens.

Despite sounding like it’s going to patronise your face off, Secret Shopper is different. Mary Portas speaks her mind but she never confuses directness with rudeness or passion for shouting. She’s got a bee in her bonnet about UK customer service, which on closer inspection turns out to be on a par with that of Fawlty Towers.

A quick trip into a variety of fast fashion outlets with a hidden camera reveals that the shops are in disarray; displays are spilling products onto the floor; assistants are unhelpful and don’t know where to find things and customers leave dissatisfied. That’s hardly a revelation, as anyone that’s dared to venture onto a major high street will tell you, but it does illuminate the scale of the problem which is practically epidemic.

Mary wants to make shopping a pleasurable experience again (personally I’d rather boil my head in acid than set foot in a high street store) but modern fast fashion outlets have a “pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheapâ€? attitude towards their goods and the figures don’t lie, it’s working; they’re raking in millions. But with companies like Primark and H&M making massive profits, what incentive do they have to change their business practices?

Mary’s outraged, “Are we all supposed to go “it’s fine because it’s cheapâ€??â€? she rages. Her quest for better customer service is admirable but the only way to change the business practices of large companies is to affect their bottom line – everything else is irrelevant. They’re not going to change because you make them feel bad – or if they do they’ll only change because of the negative publicity they might attract which will affect their sales.

Mary may be idealistic but there’s no doubt that from the customer’s point of view, any improvement can only be a good thing. She takes fast fashion chain Pilot under her wing, whose CEO Chris is a perfect example of resistance to her thinking – he makes millions and doesn’t see what he’s doing wrong. But by visiting fast food chain Leon she shows that his bored assistants can be productive members of staff if given the right training.

Speaking from personal experience that’s true, Leon are extremely friendly but it is reflected in the price of their food which is expensive – the same can be said of Pret who she holds in similar esteem. Will fast fashion outlets be willing to invest money to improve their customer service or will shoppers remain as disposable as the clothes they stock?