The effect of mystery shopper reports on age verification for tobacco purchases

J Health Commun. 2011 Sep;16(8):820-30. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2011.561912. Epub 2011 May 24.


Mystery shops involving attempted tobacco purchases by young buyers have been implemented in order to monitor retail stores' performance in refusing underage sales. Anecdotal evidence suggests that mystery shop visits with immediate feedback to store personnel can improve age verification. This study investigated the effect of monthly and twice-monthly mystery shop reports on age verification. Mystery shoppers visited 45 Walgreens stores 20 times. The stores were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 conditions. Control group stores received no feedback, whereas 2 treatment groups received feedback communications on every visit (twice monthly) or on every second visit (monthly) after baseline. Logit regression models tested whether each treatment group improved verification rates relative to the control group. Postbaseline verification rates were higher in both treatment groups than in the control group, but only the stores receiving monthly communications had a significantly greater improvement compared with the control group stores. Verification rates increased significantly during the study period for all 3 groups, with delayed improvement among control group stores. Communication between managers regarding the mystery shop program may account for the delayed age-verification improvements observed in the control group stores. Encouraging interstore communication might extend the benefits of mystery shop programs beyond those stores that receive this intervention.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Commerce / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Commerce / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Research Report*
  • Smoking / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Tobacco*
  • United States
  • Young Adult