Youth Mystery Shoppers Put Retail Skills to the Test

August 1, 2017

What makes excellent customer service? What kinds of store layouts are appealing, eye-catching and effective? What motivates you to buy a product – or ignore a pushy salesperson? These are all questions the Leaders in Service Training students explored on a Mystery Shopper field trip to Scarborough Town Centre on July 25.

Like all New Circles’ employment training programs, Leaders in Service Training combines classroom learning with hands-on experiences. LIST students have the chance to work in GLOW, go on field trips, and experience real retail environments in the community. And what better way to learn about retail and customer service than by going out into real stores and seeing what retailers and employees are doing – the good and the bad.

Working in pairs, the students each visited a popular store in the mall (such as Foot Locker, Sephora, American Eagle, Calvin Klein, Dynamite, Forever 21, Roots, and others) in order to discreetly evaluate the retail experience, from greeting to sale.

22 students aged 15-18 are participating in the LIST program this year, which includes both classroom learning and hands-on work experience.After their shopping experience, each pair prepared a presentation including an overview of the retailer, its target market, branding and sales approach, and an evaluation of the store space, customer service, merchandising, store policies, sales techniques and more. 

“Our goal was to help the students learn how to be good sales associates by applying the essential skills they learned in class,” said LIST facilitator Rhea Hirji. “Many students had poor customer service experiences in the stores, and this taught them how they can be better retail associates in the future, and ensure their customers have positive experiences.”

The Mystery Shopper exercise is just one of many activities LIST students participate in over the course of this seven-week training program, covering topics such as customer service, inventory management, professionalism, workplace safety, financial literacy, job search skills, and volunteerism. This cohort of 22 students aged 15-18 have only three more weeks to go before writing their Retail Associate exam and graduating on August 18.

“It was amazing to see how hard the students worked and how enthusiastic they were about the Mystery Shopper project,” said Rhea, who just finished her first year at the University of Ottawa. “They were able to use the topics we’ve been exploring to make suggestions on how these stores can improve their services.”




New Circles' GLOW clothing service is the largest clothing bank in Toronto. We help 12,000 people of all ages annually.