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BBB: Secret shoppers help dealers to 'level the playing field'

March 10, 2017
As part of an annual meeting to review recent dealership advertising practices, staff of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and northern Illinois noted the BBB’s secret shopper program.
The February meeting included representatives of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, the Illinois Automobile Dealers Association, the Illinois attorney general’s office, and other agencies.
Patricia Kelly, chief counsel at the BBB, said consumers regularly contact her office to complain that sales prices advertised by certain dealers are not available to all persons who want to buy the advertised vehicles.
Section 475.310 of the Illinois Administrative Rules on Motor Vehicle Advertising states that all consumers must be able to buy a vehicle at its advertised price. The most common reason they can’t is because limited rebates, for which not all consumers may qualify, are factored into the advertised price.
That practice also runs afoul of the state advertising rule’s Section 475.530, which addresses available rebates.
Kelly said the BBB asks dealers to substantiate that they are not including limited rebates in their advertised prices when consumers cite a dealership. The BBB also uses secret shoppers to verify that all customers qualify for vehicle prices.  
Shoppers are consumers who contact the BBB and volunteer to be part of the Secret Shopper Program. They are paid a nominal fee for assisting the BBB in monitoring marketplace practices. 
They actually shop dealers online or in person to check the prices of specific advertised vehicles as chosen by the BBB.  The shoppers will ask about limited rebates and report back to the BBB.
Kelly described the program as a longstanding service to BBB-accredited businesses which assists in discovering sales practices that result in an unfair marketplace. The BBB attempts to level the playing field through the BBB-CATA advertising review program, and the use of secret shoppers is a useful tool that dealers should understand.
Kelly said the BBB is committed to ensuring a fair marketplace for all businesses and finds that the program goes far in achieving that goal.