Friday, February 20, 2009

Secret Shopper


By Bub
Don't miss the video at the end!!!

Petrol 107.9
Natural Gas 44.3
Diesel 118.9


I had no idea how to convert the metric system. But these prices seemed reasonable, especially considering the fact that you save 4 cents per litre instantly when you spend $5 or more inside the petrol station. I was reminded of this no less than eight times on my way to the front door. When I got there a large sign asked me to please remove my helmet. There was a picture of a helmet with a circle around it and a line crossing it diagonally. I had no choice but to comply.

I was here on a mission – a mission to determine the quality of my local petrol mart, at any cost necessary. I didn’t shop there, I didn’t even own a car. But I did want to earn the respect of my peers, and they only respect … SECRET SHOPPERS!!! (echo)


I walked straight to the magazine rack and began to take stock. It was a pretty bare selection – soft-core porn, Women’s Day-ish periodicals and crossword puzzles. There was no method to their placement either. Issues of The Picture featuring a spread on Oz’s best racks were nestled in right beside copies of Madison that boasted a free designer beach bag within its plastic wrap instead of uncensored nudity.

The attendant became suspicious at this point as I was not merely fingering all the merchandise in front of me but I was also taking notes into a little black notebook, the kind you would write the names of people you wanted dead into.

“Can I help you?” He asked.

“No. Just doing some research,” I answered and turned away. ‘Fair enough’ he must have thought.

Next to the magazines was the movie selection. You could buy several copies of Steven Segal’s On Dangerous Ground, or you could pick up Round the Twist for your kid, which is a program purportedly for children but features a picture on the box of a child with a robotic helmet on who is sticking a hose into his mouth and performing what appears to be an auto-lobotomy.

Next to the movies was an electronic kiosk that read Trailer Rentals – Self Serve. I could not however locate the trailers or where they could possibly be dispensed from the machine.

Along the south wall were two sections. I knew this only because their names were painted above them on the wall. Otherwise they ran into each other seamlessly. They were Auto and Grocery.

Grocery was the most peculiar section of the entire store. Underneath the sign was a few loose soft drink bottles, 10 packs of Kirk’s Lemon Squash and Lemonade, 10 packs of three variations of Coke, “V” Energy Drink, Red Bull, no food for human consumption and 34 different varieties of pet food. Just saying ’34 different varieties’ doesn’t convey the relative magnitude of the selection, so for reference I will add that there were more types of pet food than any other single product category. I counted. In my hour+ of being there I saw no pets entering or exiting the establishment. The attendant could not say if they had ever sold any pet food. It was as if the longer the dry-spell on pet food sales the more selections were added to increase customer enticement until it got to a point to where they would have to make a serious choice – continue the Quixotic quest of tilting toward pet food windmills and forfeit the robust and profitable Auto section, or just call it a day with the pet food. I don’t know where they stand at this point.

In the frozen section there was a selection of frozen dinners and meat pies. The meat pies had a skate-boarding crow featured prominently on the package. I couldn’t tell if this meant that the meat in the meat pies was crow or if it just meant that crows were ‘cool’. There were boxes of Golden Gaytime, which is an ice cream treat with a taste so pleasurable that Mormons have banned it from export to the United States. And there was a line of Connoisseur brand ice cream with such exotic flavors as Chocolate Obsession and Cookies and Cream.

The candy selection was decent, nothing remarkable but completely apt. There was also a section of candy bars that didn’t have candy in them – like carob slices, and sesame bars and what looked like congealed wood paste. In between this section and the health section were two types of baby food. I don’t know if you remember all the way back to two paragraphs ago but this is a place with 34 different types of pet food… and only two types of baby food: Heinz Smooth Custard with Banana in a can; and Heinz pureed Fruity Apple (as if an apple were not fruity enough) this time thankfully in a jar. To put the baby food selection in perspective, there was a wider array of sexual lubricants in the neighboring health section.

There was an entire display wall of potato chips or variations on that theme with a total of 28 different varieties and boasting such obscure flavors as Moroccan Spiced Chicken & Lime, and Honey-Baked Ham. Very impressive.

The pop selection was nearly average but was pushed over the top to ‘good’ by having Coke in glass bottles.

There was also a deep freezer with ice cream Drumsticks inside that were Super Choc, Tim Tam, Amaretto and Vanilla flavored. I couldn’t begin to guess what the words Tim Tam mean even though there are whole isles of grocery stores here devoted to selling products that contain them.

In the north-east corner the Mrs. Mac’s Traditional Pastries warmer offered two burnt beef pies and a shriveled sausage roll. This is roughly the Australian equivalent of profusely sweating hot dogs and sausages that have turned to charcoal. By Mrs. Mac was a Romanza Coffee Machine that offered a by-the-cup selection of just about every kind of coffee drink Australians no how to make – short black, long black, latte, cappuccino, hot chocolate. It sounds pretty good but it seemed suspiciously close to the coffee machine at the ‘gas station’ I ‘managed’ for an Indian mobster where there were three different cappuccino flavour spigots, but they all received the same powder. I’m not buying it, Romanza Coffee machine.

Last for the merchandise was the clearance rack. It was a three tiered rack of circular plates that were sparsely littered with merchandise. It was clear that there was a place at the top to stick something informing customers that this was indeed the clearance section, but according to the attendant, the sign had to be removed after customers pointed out that most of the items on the clearance rack had the same price as the corresponding items in the non-clearance sections. And the items in the clearance section were predictably pathetic – expired yogurt bars, diapers, several kinds of shaving cream, lube, and taped-up bags of M&Ms.

Now there was only one product I had yet to consider – the car wash. Exxon Mobil seemed exceptionally proud of the ‘Wash ’n’ Run’ car washes on their website and since they had done so much for me already I decided I would purchase a car wash to placate them. When the attendant understood that I had no car to wash but was planning to proceed with the car wash nonetheless, he valiantly offered to sponsor my ‘wash’ himself. This courageous gentleman even locked customers out of the business establishment so he could assist me and capture this feat on video file. The car wash was cold and wet. But on the plus side it tickled quite a bit. I think I have since come down with a cold.

Overall I give my local petrol mart a grade of B. They have great stuff, all the pet food you could ever want, free non-car car washes, etc. But the other prices are ridiculously inflated. It costs $6 for a 2 litre bottle of Coke. It costs $100 to rent a virtual trailer. That’s not the America I grew up in. But at least the service was good.



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