Is Your Store the Target of a Sting? (It Should Be)


Selling tobacco or alcohol to minors is illegal, and convenience stores can face steep penalties if one of their employees is caught breaking the law. While there may have been some interruption to compliance checks during the past year or so, you can count on federal, state, and local agencies to step up their efforts now. Don’t wait for an underage sales sting to hit your store – do your own secret compliance shopping to make sure your employees are following the law.

Compliance Check Tips

To test your employees on age-restricted sales compliance, hire a service or bring in someone you trust who looks underage to conduct compliance checks at your store. Schedule times for mystery shops to occur throughout different shifts. At a minimum, secret shoppers should test how well the employee who helps them completes an age-restricted sale according to company policy. This includes:

  • Did the employee ask for ID for the purchase of an age-restricted product?
  • Did the employee request for the ID to be taken out of a wallet?
  • Did the employee inspect the ID to ensure it was a valid state-issued ID?
  • If the secret shopper did not have an ID or if they presented a fake ID, did the employee follow company policy to refuse the sale?

Additionally, for tobacco sales, did the employee wait until after they properly checked the ID to retrieve the tobacco product from the shelf? For alcohol sales, did the employee pull the alcohol toward themselves and away from the customer before checking the ID?

While you have a secret shopper in the store, capitalize on the time they are there. Have them evaluate the store’s appearance, employees’ compliance to dress codes, attractiveness of merchandising displays, freshness of foodservice offerings, and general customer service.

Prepare Your Staff for Compliance Checks

Starting a secret shopping program doesn’t have to be completely secret. It’s okay to let your employees know they may encounter a mystery shopper on their shift. You don’t want to set your employees up to fail, so ensure they’re properly trained. Assign refresher training to your veteran staff members, and make sure new employees have completed your Responsible Alcohol Sales and Responsible Tobacco Sales training programs. Training or re-training your employees in preparation for secret shoppers will make them more likely to implement the strategies they learn.

Trade Out Secret Shopping Services

If your budget doesn’t allow for you to hire secret compliance shoppers right now, you have options. Convenience stores aren’t the only businesses looking for this kind of service. Consider trading with other retail stores or restaurants in your area. Their managers can mystery shop at your location, and you can do it at theirs. If you go this route, make sure you and your counterpart work from a specific checklist for each business.

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