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Mystery Shop Programs To Reduce Underage Alcohol Sales

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2017
19 pages
This report presents findings on the features and effectiveness of "Mystery Shops," which constitute a community-based intervention strategy for achieving licensees' compliance with laws that prohibit alcohol sales to minors.

Mystery Shops have the common feature of employing young, legal-age inspectors to attempt purchases of age-restricted products in order to provide feedback to licensees on the procedures used by their staffs to prevent their sale of age-restricted products. Unlike similar inspections by law enforcement personnel, Mystery Shops do not intend to collect evidence for imposing legal penalties for failure to check the ID of someone young enough to trigger a confirmation procedure for purchases of age-restricted projects; rather, the intent of Mystery Shops is to provide advisory feedback to particular licensees on how they should improve their age-confirmation procedures for sales of age-restricted products. This evaluation of Mystery Shops partnered with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission in conducting 13 monthly Mystery Shops in 12 communities in each state. In eight communities, licensees received on-the-spot feedback and follow-up reports; in another eight communities, licensees received reports on aggregate community-level performance and "Responsible Retailing" best practices; the remaining eight communities acted as non-intervention controls. Findings show that the community-wide feedback intervention had an equivalent effect to the individual licensee feedback in Texas; however, in Oregon, community-wide impact was apparently somewhat less effective than direct feedback to each licensee. Given the lack of statistical significance, however, this pattern is difficult to interpret. The report notes that the full-scale implementation of Mystery Shops would be significantly less costly than providing feedback to each licensee monitored. Additional research should be conducted to examine the viability of this option. 7 tables, 1 figure, and 37 references

Date Published: August 1, 2017