RRForum Research Briefs: Insights and learnings from 25 years of research in responsible retailing

Mark Willingham Uncategorized

RRForum Research Briefs: Insights and learnings from 25 years of research in responsible retailing

Responsible Retail Forum
By Brad Krevor
August 2, 2022

Research Brief #5: How to improve compliance part III – Incentivizing staff performance 

Context: Licensees who have taken what appear to be reasonable measures to prevent underage sales and service find that sales to minors can still occur. Instructing staff to check the IDs of customers appearing to be under a designated trigger age; teaching explicit protocols to verify age and detect fake IDs; and policies for staff who sell or serve alcohol to a minor (usually termination) are all necessary – but insufficient. An additional strategy to achieve more consistent compliance uses incentives to reinforce positive staff conduct.

Spot the Mystery Shopper™. In 2015, RRForum partnered with Montgomery County Alcohol Beverage Services (“MC ABS”) to develop an incentivized approach to improve compliance. MC ABS had already included RRForum’s mystery shopper program, 21 Matters™, as part of its overall enforcement and education program. Licensees understood that they could be inspected for sales-to-minors by Montgomery County law enforcement officers in underage decoy compliance checks; or they could be inspected by young, legal-age mystery shoppers who would provide on-the-spot feedback on staff ID-checking conduct without any risk of penalties for not checking IDs (since the mystery shoppers, though young enough to trigger an ID check, are all of legal age).

The Spot the Mystery Shopper campaign added a wrinkle to these mystery shop inspections. Selecting a cohort of establishments that had been cited for sales-to-minors in the prior year, MC ABS informed licensees that they might soon be inspected by RRForum and provided small cards that could be placed by cash registers showing the first names and last initials of the mystery shoppers (e.g., Sarah M, age 23; Allen T, age 21) who would be inspecting them. If, when checking IDs, staff members recognized that the customer was an RRForum mystery shopper (before the mystery shoppers revealed themselves), they would receive a $50 award for spotting the mystery shopper.

RRForum conducted inspections of these 97 Montgomery County licensees.

  • Eighty of the establishments that previously failed to verify age correctly requested an ID from the mystery shopper – a rate of 82.5%
  • Nine staff correctly spotted the mystery shopper and received the $50 thank you.

“Spot the Mystery Shopper worked especially well because it allowed us to work in partnership with our licensed establishments to achieve alcohol compliance,” explains Kathie Durbin, Director of the MC ABS. “ABS, business owners, and sellers and servers all rallied behind this program. Together we celebrated those who passed the test and especially those who spotted the mystery shopper and earned an award. This program will remain an important (and fun!) tool in our efforts reduce sales and service of alcohol to people who are under 21.”

Discussion. Research Brief #1 explains that the cause of most underage sales are simply lapses in attention. Employees know what they should do; but during a long shift, attention wanders and protocols are not followed assiduously. In this regard, underage sales are like industrial accidents. Licensee policies and penalties are necessary and helpful, but they do not eliminate lapses in staff performance. An incentive to check IDs can forestall such inattention.

In some instances, staff are fully aware that a customer is young enough to trigger an ID check but they have no buy-in to the licensee’s policies and may be willing to sell or serve alcohol if they are not being observed and feel they are not at risk (see Research Brief #4). An incentive provides an additional motivation to check IDs.

A Spot the Mystery Shopper campaign can be conducted by community organizations and distributors.

Individual licensees can reward staff who correctly check IDs and pass a compliance check, or a mystery shop (like RRForum’s 21 Matters™) arranged by licensees themselves.

Licensees can also offer a reward simply for spotting a fake or expired ID.

Take Away. Licensees who provide an incentive to check every ID carefully help staff be more attentive to ID-checking protocols and exhibit more buy-in to following the licensee’s policies and protocols.

For additional Research Briefs, visit: https://rrforum.org/rr-projects/