Go read this story about a mystery shopper creating confusion across the web

For over a year, a mystery shopper known only as “John Smith” has been creating confusion on the web. He has repeatedly visited numerous online stores, from car supply stores to household goods merchants, placed individual items in various shopping baskets, and then left without buying anything. The Wall Street Journal has the story of the mysterious buyer, and it’s worth reading to get to the bottom of what’s been going on.

The remarkable thing about John Smith is how unforgiving his online purchase seems to have been. On a recent Wednesday, he went on a binge with a total duration of 48 hours. A screenshot shared by FinnBinn, an online store that sells boxes for newborns to sleep in, shows 17 abandoned shopping carts in a span of just three days in April. Puzzled to the CEO of the company, Shawn Bercuson, who had multiple theories about the origin of the orders. Then it got even worse:

“Then it started to spiral out of control,” Bercuson said. “The amount of abandoned carts we got was just crazy.” In May, he said, John Smith started and walked away from 73 orders.

The aborted purchases painted an interesting image of John Smith, as explained by Jeffrey Gornstein of ComfortHouse.com, another site hit by Smith:

Gornstein said he can’t imagine John Smith, but that he has outlined an identity based on his purchases. You own a boat, or know one, based on custom picture frames designed for that person. An order for monogrammed leather checkbooks indicates that you may prefer an outdated way of paying bills. The coccyx cushion in his cart suggests that he may have suffered a fall.

It is also a romantic, if you create an attempt to buy a wall plate for Valentine’s Day.

John Smith’s story would be more fun if it didn’t create trouble for stores. Sites that automatically send follow-up emails to people when they leave unsold items in their shopping carts have received error responses from their email providers about sending emails to non-existent accounts. Others reported that abandoned cars skewed their store’s analyzes.

We don’t want to spoil it here, but you’ll be happy to hear that The Wall Street Journal finally manages to get to the bottom of the John Smith mystery. It’s a great little research, and we recommend reading it.


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