CRTC's undercover shoppers find fault with 1-in-5 interactions with wireless sellers

Secret shoppers find fault

A "secret shopper" campaign on behalf of the CRTC found evidence of misleading or aggressive behaviour in about one-fifth of the interactions between its undercover shoppers and sales staff for six major wireless carriers.

Canada's telecom regulator said the vast majority of interactions during its "secret shopper" investigation early this year were perceived as positive.

However, it found that 20 per cent of shoppers felt they were given misleading information or faced aggressive sales practices — particularly if they had disabilities and or didn't use English or French as their first language.

“The secret shopper project allowed us to gain on-the-ground insight into the challenges Canadians may face when engaging with communications service providers’ salespeople," CRTC chair Ian Scott said Tuesday in a statement.

"This is why the secret shopper project will continue into the future. We look forward to using this information to promote the fair treatment of consumers.”

More than 400 undercover shoppers evaluated six large wireless providers — BCE's Bell Canada, Rogers Communications, Telus, Shaw's Freedom, Quebecor's Videotron and SaskTel, which is owned by Saskatchewan's provincial government.

The number of engagements was determined by market share. Most of them at one of the three national carriers: Bell (121), Rogers (133) and Telus (124). About half the contacts (53 per cent) were in stores and the rest were split evenly between online and phone channels.

A spokeswoman for OpenMedia, one of several consumer-oriented groups that speak out against Canada's large internet and wireless communications companies, said the report confirms that there's a systemic problem that should be fixed.

"What this report completely fails to do however, is provide any path forward to improvement. The CRTC can’t let this be the end of the road. Canadians deserve better," OpenMedia executive director Laura Tribe said in an email after the report was issued.

The CRTC's first secret shopper report was issued 20 months after the CRTC announced in February 2019 that it would embark on the program, one of several initiatives it planned to take as a result of an investigation into alleged misleading and aggressive practices.

The investigation included five days of testimony at public hearings in October and months of information gathering by the CRTC, which oversees Canada's mobile, internet and television service providers.

Among the participants was a research team from the University of Ottawa, headed by Mary Cavanagh, who submitted the results of a first-hand secret shopper program to evaluate the exchange of information in the purchase of wireless services.

The CRTC's 2019 report noted that Rogers and Shaw had reported using secret shopper programs to evaluate their own retail sales force, but those observations weren't made public.



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