"Honesty Spies" at stores

My wife worked for Banana Republic a few years ago. While cleaning the changing room, she found a billfold with about $100 in it. Like a good girl, she returned it to the store manager, who kind of said something to the effect of “If I were you, I would have never turned it in…”

Well, the guy who the billfold belonged to came back during my wife’s lunch break (she never saw him). The store manager said that he was very excited and he was going to call the head of the company and complement my wife. My wife mentioned it to me that night with a “yeah right” kind of attitude. Everyone was happy.

Two days later, the store manager hands my wife the phone. To my wife’s surprise, the guy on the phone is Mr. Drexler, the CEO of Gap/Banana Republic. He thanks my wife for turning in the billfold, and tells her to go out for a nice dinner, care of The Gap. We went out and had an incredible dinner, and everyone was really happy.

A few things have always bugged me about the incident. Such a short turn around from relieved customer to CEO of the company seems a little odd, unless the customer happened to have some contacts in the Gap Corporation. Second, such an strong reaction, both from the customer and corporation, from the find of a naked billfold (no credit cards or ID or anything) with around $100 in it is a little disproportionate, especially considering the complementary meal was well over $100. Third is the fact that my wife never saw or heard from the guy.

So my question: Is it a common practice for stores to use “honesty spies” to check out how honest the employees are? You know, plant the billfold and see who pockets it and who turns it in? A less likely possibility I can think of is the whole investigative journalism thing by where she was filmed to find out how honest people were (although she never was told of this).

Stores do use “spies” to report on customer service, management and so on, though I’ve never heard of one testing employee honesty in such a way.

Although I’ve never heard any confirmations of ‘honesty spies’, I do have a story of my own…

While working at Denninger’s, a European imported food store, I once found roughly 70 dollars folded in a money clip on the floor. Without really thinking about it, I brought it to the manager. Later that day someone came in to claim it. I never heard anything more about it.

So while there was no congratulatory notes or anything, it just seems a little strange that my experience, as well as yours and others, all involve cash with no identification attached. Possibly it was some form of employee testing? Knowing the attitude of the management at this store, I really wouldn’t be surprised if it were…

I was under the impression that most chains employ professional “shoppers” who check everything from how friendly the sales staff is to what they do if someone grabs a $3 item and tosses a $5 bill on the counter and walk out (at most stores the employee has to fill out a form or something for the extra $2). I’ve heard of them testing the honesty of their employees with small amounts, but never with large amounts like $100.

It is well-known that store security personnel keep their eyes on employees the same as on shoppers.

That said, the wallet with $100 seems like a pretty expensive test, unless the store security people were confident that they would have their eyes on the wallet at all times. I guess it is credible if it was in plain view of a security camera or–better yet–it was laid down and picked up again by a guard after only a brief interval.

Once when I worked in the shoe department of a large department store a shopping bag with some men’s ties in it was found stashed in the store room. A coworker with long experience in the store was livid; he was convinced it was a “set-up” from the security department.