8 December 2010: Sebastian Krook from the Faculty of Business, looking at the ethics of mystery shopping, was the inaugural winner of Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) Three Minute Thesis Competition.
The competition is an exercise in developing researchers' communication skills. The six competing students had three minutes to present their PhD research topic in clear, engaging and concise terms to a non-specialist audience.
Sebastian’s research focuses on mystery shoppers - who are hired by store management to pretend to be a customer and gather information about how employees are behaving.
“There is a lot of research about mystery shopping but none of its asks the question is it ethical to use this kind of deception to monitor employees, and what do employees think about this,” he said.
“A lot of employees I have talked to have an uneasy feeling about mystery shopping. They feel as though management is spying on them. One employee said to me that mystery shoppers are like mother-in-laws, they only look for the things you do wrong, and somehow they find it.
“Managers on the other hand have a completely different idea of mystery shopping. One manager I spoke to said he used to be against mystery shopping when he was a casual employee, but then got promoted and he now sees the use of mystery shopping.
“While it may be the case that once we get promoted through the managerial ranks we get enlightened, and we see the managerial logic of mystery shopping, but it’s also true that most people today will never become managers.
“I think that it’s important that from time to time we interrupt or call into question this logic of customer service, and ask ourselves is it ethical and what do employees think.”
The diet of microbats which weigh as little as three grams, and the benefits of gymnastics for young girls, were some of the other topics covered by the finalists.