Seven of the stores browsed by PROFIT passed our secret shopping test. Too bad the other seven flunked — and most were nowhere close to passing. Here's a sampling of what mystery shopper Andrij Brygidyr and writer Laura Pratt found.
• PJ's Pet Store is a popular family outing, so it's tough to squeeze past all the fawning youngsters pressed up against the puppy pens. Both staffers I buttonhole tell me they're too busy to help me buy a dog. You'll have to wait, they say, then disappear. A woman cradling a mewling boxer pup in her arms tells me she's been waiting half an hour to discuss buying the animal they gave her to hold. "They've abandoned me," she says. Ultimately, we do the same to this store.
• We're supposedly looking for biographies of celebrity chefs at our visit to Chapters, but we never get a chance to make that claim to a soul. "That's okay," forgives Brygidyr. This mega-bookstore is, after all, set up as a self-service kind of place. And, sure enough, our do-it-yourself experience at one of the "search & shop" terminals is fruitful, yielding 19 matches for our search terms. "Maybe you don't want a pesky person asking what you need," says Brygidyr. All good, except when we see a wheelchair-bound customer at the cash struggling to reach and see over the counter, then later to squeeze through the security panels to reach the automatic-door button at the exit.
• No one would enter a Payless ShoeSource anticipating stellar service. Still, there's something offputting about being ignored by a sales clerk two metres away as you struggle to use a foot-measuring device and express extreme frustration in your shoe-buying pursuits. Even on the retail bottom rungs, you should be able to expect a minimum of courtesy and assistance.
• The elegant Russian counter girl at Rodeo Jewellers is enchanting and helpful. She laughs at Brygidyr's goofy jokes and produces a timely solution for the man looking to do business and go diving in the same day. She could know a few more of the technicalities of this $4,100 watch, but gets by gracefully on her charm.
• The younger-than-springtime cashier at the Fossil watches, accessories and apparel store clearly wishes we weren't there, muddying up the otherwise sleek barrenness of her shop. When it becomes clear we're not leaving, she approaches. The store doesn't carry the leather work satchels I'm seeking, she says. When I point out one on a shelf, she dismisses it with, "It's for a man." The possibility that I might like it anyway never crosses her mind.