Over the past few years, telecommuting has become a huge business. With that “mystery shoppers” have also become an important part of evaluating retail stores and the employees. When I lived in San Diego the people that worked at the grocery stores were always looking over their shoulders wondering if there was a mystery shopper in the store, watching them at work, taking mental notes. Being someone that loves to shop, this was something that I really wanted to get into. Not only did you get to purchase things that you got to keep (you were reimbursed for almost everything) but you were able to let companies know exactly what was working and what wasn’t at local stores. Some of the places that we got picked to evaluate were fast food restaurants (Burger King, Jack In The Box), service stations (Jiffy Lube, Lube King), grocery stores (Vons, Ralph’s, Albertsons), stores (Blockbuster, Game Stop, Hollywood Video), malls and movie theaters. Don’t think that you’ll get the same types of offers; a lot of the picking process for jobs depends on where you live, your age, sex, shopping preferences and the parent companies criteria. Also keep in mind that places that have franchises (Subway is a good example) might not do this as a chain wide type of thing so the owner of a certain store will contact a company to set up a Mystery Shopping plan that may have three to six visits per year for a flat fee.
The Golden Rules
1. Never pay to join a service that says they will get you started in a Mystery Shopping program
One such company to be extremely leery of is Mystery Shop Link. They are currently blitzing radio stations with advertisements for their company. I decided to see exactly what the deal was with this site, to see if they had some inside track or scoop on mystery shopping that I couldn’t come across on my own on the internet. Just as I thought, they want you to spend your money for a start up kit but wait, it gets better, they also want you to have a credit card or checking account to pay for this. That means you don’t get to evaluate their “service” before you decide whether or not it is for you. There is no money back guarantee and since you are giving them your information it might be extremely easy for them to ‘accidentally’ double bill you. Places like this aren’t new. If you get any amount of spam email you will know that some of them are adverts for Mystery Shopping companies that want you to “make money hand over fist”. Yeah, after you pay their fees and get links to sites that are free to start with. Wouldn’t that be funny .. mystery shopping a site that brokers mystery shopping ‘events’. Oh as soon as the site gets listed, I’ll be giving you the skinny on this rip off company. Per their website .. “The total subscription cost for MysteryShopLink is $99.95 and provides unlimited access to the program for one year. A discounted registration fee of $149.95 is available for two years – SAVE $50!!“
Can you say ‘complete rip off’? If you are wondering where the complaints are about this company … check your local Better Business Bureau.
2. Weigh your options
If you have to drive thirty miles to do a mystery shopping job are you going to get compensated for mileage? Is it going to actually pay to take the job? If you have to pass on an assignment make sure you email them as soon as possible so they can send out requests to other people. If jobs are posted at the site make sure that you check it often so you don’t miss out on opportunities. Most places will pay you a flat fee for an evaluation and then you get reimbursed for mileage and items purchased. Make copies of all the receipts as well as writing down the mileage; record keeping is part of the process so if you aren’t someone that keeps track of these things then mystery shopping may not be for you. Don’t worry about passing on certain jobs, most companies won’t hold it against you if you are honest with them about it being too far or that it isn’t something that you feel comfortable or qualified to evaluate.
3. Fill out your personal information completely and don’t forget the kids!
By filling out your bio sections and including as much information as possible, you stand a better chance of getting assignments. Places that cater to kids are always looking for parents to visit their places to be evaluated; people without kids won’t pick up on things like how sticky a table is or if the wait staff is kid friendly. Most of the time when you sign up with a site they will ask you to “fill out the boxes”, the more information you add, the more they have to work with. If you eat out at fast food places on a regular basis, add that – that is one of the biggest markets for them. Some people think that if you have too much information that it will limit what you get picked to do, that isn’t the case. Who would you rather have working for you? Someone that fills out the bare minimum of a form or someone that takes the time to add a lot of detail? Detail is what these companies want … so start off on the right foot and don’t overlook anything when filling out your profile or bio.
4. Mental notes are better than carrying around a notebook
You are going to have to do a little bit of paper work to make your reports, the more thorough you are with details, the more impressed people are going to be when they receive it .. and that means that when they send the report to the company that hired them, they are going to see that they are getting their moneys worth. It’s not all that practical to sit there with a notebook and write stuff down, people are going to see you doing that and if you don’t look like a student … they are going to act differently towards you. Think I am kidding? Walk into a place with a notebook, start looking around and see if all of a sudden people don’t bend over backwards to be nice to you. The more you observe and report, the better it looks on paper. If someone waited on your or really helped you out, make sure you mention their name. In most cases that information is passed along to the manager and they could get a nice little reward for it. One of the grocery stores in San Diego offered employees a bonus of $50.00 if they were named in a Mystery Shopper report. If the store got high marks across the board the owner would buy gift cards and have a drawing that the employees could win.
So what do you want to look for? That’s tricky because each type of business is different. I’ll use grocery stores as an example. Here is the mental check list that I have .. this is not on a form that you have to fill out for a site but it’s one that I’ve come up with so I can have enough detail to write a thorough report.
– Carpets: flat, clean, no chance of tripping.
– Ambiance: volume of music, lighting, temperature.
– Navigation: carts move easily, nothing blocking aisles.
– Presentation: nothing stacked higher than permitted, cans and bottles are dust free, produce section freshness.
– Prices: items scan as priced on shelf tags, errors are corrects, coupons processed correctly, rainchecks issued for out of stock items.
– Employees: uniforms, friendliness, helpfulness,
– Safety: meats, deli and fish areas are clean and appropriate items are packed in ice, exits are labeled, no spills on floors, bathrooms are easily accessible.
Overall: Were your questions answered? Were employees goofing around excessively? Were aisles blocked during night stock? How many cashiers were working and how long did it take to get through the check out? Was your change accurate? Were you given a receipt?
Usually you know what to look for when you get an assignment but there may be times when you get specific requests like to check the bathrooms or go at a certain time. This usually happens if there have been complaints from customers or other mystery shoppers and the company wants more feedback. Be sure to read all the instructions and details; you may be asked to buy certain items or ask if a certain product is in the store. Again, this is where your attention to detail comes into play. Of course you are going to have different lists for different types of businesses; but the basics still stand – customer service, answering questions, prices and honesty.
5. Referrals aren’t always what they seem
If someone says that you’ll get a bonus if you sign up for a program then chances are they are going to see a bulk of the bonus and there will be a fee involved. If a site or company asks you to pay for a start up kit chances are you are going to end up with a bunch of stuff that you can get for free on the internet. Referral programs are nice but I would rather have someone tell me about a site that is legit and gets new members by word of mouth advertising than a site that has to use referral programs to suck new people into the flock. Most of the time sites that offer referrals have a certain number of new people that you have to recruit each month to get the cash … and that leads to people making outrageous claims and outright lies about what they are making from mystery shopping.
6. Mystery shopping isn’t going to make you rich
That is the bottom line. You might make a couple of extra dollars here and there, get a free lunch or dinner, see a couple of movies or get your oil changed but you aren’t going to be paying the mortgage with what you make from it. If you are getting into mystery shopping to make money then you are going to be disappointed with it. I am not saying that you aren’t going to make some extra cash but it takes time to get assignments and get paid. Never believe any site that says you are going to be making hundreds of dollars doing this … maybe over the course of a year you might but don’t plan on quitting your day job.
So if you are still interested in doing some mystery shopping, the next task is finding a reputable place to work with. Any company, website or organization that asks you for a fee, requires you to buy a start up kit or leave a deposit isn’t legit. I don’t care what someone has said about them … what testimonials claim … if they charge a fee they aren’t on the up and up. There are lots of places that can and will help you get you mystery shopping leads or assignments. Your best bet is to start poking around on the internet to see if there are any local companies that you can get started with and then move on to ones that are strictly online. Read message boards to see how quickly they pay, if the have ever stiffed someone and what their general feedback from ’employees’ looks like. You won’t get rich from mystery shopping but it’s fun to get some free stuff, voice your opinion and let upper management know what’s going on.