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

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


The mystery of John Smith’s many abandoned shopping carts

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Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

For over a year, a mystery shopper known only as “John Smith” has been creating confusion across the web. He’s repeatedly visited numerous online stores, ranging from auto supply shops to home goods merchants, placed single items in multiple shopping baskets, and then left without buying anything. The Wall Street Journal has the story of the mysterious shopper, and it’s well worth reading to get to the bottom of what’s been happening.

The remarkable thing about John Smith is just how relentless his online shopping seems to have been. On a recent Wednesday, he went on a spree lasting a total of 48 hours. One screenshot shared by FinnBinn, an online store that sells boxes for newborns to sleep in, shows 17 abandoned shopping carts from a period of just three days in April. It perplexed the company’s CEO Shawn Bercuson who had multiple theories about where the orders were coming from. Then it got even worse:

“Then it started getting out of hand,” Mr. Bercuson said. “The amount of abandoned carts we got were just insane.” In May, he said, John Smith started and walked away from 73 orders.

The aborted purchases painted an interesting picture of John Smith, as Jeffrey Gornstein from, another site hit by Smith, explains:

Mr. Gornstein said he can’t picture John Smith but has sketched out an identity based on his purchases. He’s a boat owner, or knows one, based on personalized picture frames designed for just such a person. An order for monogrammed leather checkbooks indicates he may prefer an old-fashioned way of paying bills. The coccyx cushion in his cart suggests he may have suffered a fall.

He’s also a romantic, if an attempt to buy a Valentine’s Day wall plaque is to be believed.

John Smith’s story would be more amusing if he wasn’t creating problems for the stores. Sites that automatically send follow-up emails to people when they leave unpurchased items in their shopping carts have received error replies from their email providers about sending emails to nonexistent accounts. Others reported that the abandoned carts skewed their store’s analytics.

We don’t want to spoil it here, but you’ll be happy to know that The Wall Street Journal does eventually manage to get to the bottom of the John Smith mystery. It’s a great little investigation, and we’d recommend giving it a read.