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Publications > Research Papers > Mystery Shopping Experiences for Energy and Water Efficient Products
Mystery Shopping Experiences for Energy and Water Efficient Products

Consumers assert that they have trouble finding sustainable products because of confusion at the point of purchase. When a customer walks into a store to purchase an appliance such as a refrigerator, how does the store’s sales associate influence the model the customer decides to buy?  Moreover, how does that store promote (or not) the sale of energy efficient appliances?  Few studies have evaluated the current marketing mix strategies being used at the store level or whether these strategies address the barriers to purchasing sustainable products that have been identified by consumers. This study sought to examine the retailer influence on the uptake of energy and water efficient products.

Between October and November 2011, My Sustainable Canada sent four mystery shoppers into 38 retail stores to collect data across three distinct in-store covert observation efforts:

    1. Observing the presence of green messaging throughout the retail environment as well as the presence of marketing strategies to promote environmentally preferable products.
    2. Observing how (and if) retail stores use various promotional practices to showcase the environmental performance features of televisions and washing machines.
    3. Observing how (and if) sales associates present information about the environmental performance features of televisions and washing machines to theirThis included evaluating the sales associate knowledge and use of ENERGY STAR information when assisting customers.


Key findings included:

    • Little or no green messaging was encountered.  Of the 152 shopping experiences undertaken by the mystery shoppers in 38 stores, 66% encountered little or no green messaging, while 20% encountered some messaging and the remaining 14% encountered much or a great deal of green messaging.
    • The most common environmental claim observed was the ENERGY STAR label.  Mystery shoppers reported on average, that the ENERGY STAR symbol was clearly visible among 73% of all washing machines on display and on 53% of all televisions on display.
    • When asked, “What does ENERGY STAR mean?”, 50% of the sales associates among the 120 shopping experiences, accurately relayed the specific energy and water savings of ENERGY STAR qualified washing machines, while only 19% of sales associates were able to accurately relay the energy savings of ENERGY STAR qualified televisions.   
    • In 64% of all television shopping experiences, the sales associates were observed as either having a poor ability (35%) or a very poor ability (29%) in finding information on the energy usage of televisions. Washing machine sales associates were observed to have somewhat better abilities in finding information on energy usage of washing machines.


My Sustainable Canada received funding from Industry Canada’s Contributions Program for Non-profit Consumer and Voluntary Organisations for this research project. The views expressed in this report are not necessarily those of Industry Canada or the Government of Canada.


Project Team:

Tania Del Matto, M.ES.
Director, My Sustainable Canada

Nicholas Cloet, B.ES.
Sustainability Research Coordinator

Brendan Wylie-Toal, B.Sc., HBOR
Program and Research Manager, My Sustainable Canada

Jennifer Lynes, PhD
Director, Environment and Business
Associate Professor
School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo

Manuel Riemer, PhD
Director, Community, Environment and Justice Research Group
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University

Lindsay Matthews, M.ES. (candidate)
Data Analyst, University of Waterloo