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So you want to be a Secret Shopper?

I began doing "mystery shopping" or secret shopping about 20 years ago when I was disabled in an accident. I had previously worked for Equifax which was an investigative agency for insurance agencies principally along with being a credit bureau. We did reports for a hamburger place in Tx checking their service and quality of product. This is where I learned of mystery shopping.

Mystery shopping defined is where a professional shopper goes into a retail business posing as a customer of whatever service they offer and evaluates the service they receive from the business and writes up the report to the shopping company. The client may be the business themselves who want to get feedback on conditions and service at their business. Sometimes the client may be a competitive business who want to get insight into other businesses in their area to make decisions about their own business. Business owners can't be at their business 24/7 to see how their employees are treating the public and whether the employees are following their guidelines for service that they have trained their employee for are being carried out. Mystery or secret shopping is useful for them in that regard.

PAY Shoppers are paid by the scheduling company for their reports. There may be reimbursement also for purchases made by the shoppers. This is common in restaurant reports. Many times the shopper must pay for the services but there is a fee plus reimbursement. Sometimes due to the nature of the shop there will be reimbursement only. For example a high end restaurant where the shopper dines with a partner may be given only a reimbursement for his meal. In rare occasions where the shopper must travel long distances, many companies add a bonus for travel to cover their extra expense. BTW, companies that ask you to sign up and buy a book or course are BS. You don't have to pay someone to give you jobs! MPAA Certification is seminars that are a good thing but not required to do shops for 95% of most mystery shopping companies.

Shops questionnaires may be filled out on the web or paper forms and mailed or faxed into the shopping company. Some forms are very short with only a few questions while others may be as many as 5 pages. Some shops may be a yes/no or multiple choice form while other may be narratives detailing what the shopping experience was like to the consumer. The average pay for a shop would be about $10 per shop with some shops paying as much as $50 depending on the scenario of the shop.

What kind of places are shopped? I have shopping pawn shops, restaurants, fast food, banks, employment agencies, cell phones, auto dealers, auto supplies, airports, grocery stores, hotels, recreation facilities, home window contractors, glass dealers, apartments, home builders, hardware stores, gas stations, and even a shop during a baseball game in the Astrodome. If one has the means to travel to various cities you can do a bunch of shops and receive travel expenses for the trips. Also many companies do surveys which are similar to mystery shopping but with the exception that the employees know who you are and may assist the shopper. For example a major soft drink company may want to know positions in cooler boxes in convienence store of their products and a survey may be created to see that.

How much money can you make? In a large metro city with patience a shopper may be able to make a couple hundred dollars a month doing mystery shopping and surveys. Don't expect to get rich doing mystery shopping. Those who travel to do shops may do much better but have much more expense. Some can make thousands in a month or two shopping area of the countryside around their residence. Shops are done in large cities, and small towns. Shopping companies always have some out of the way places they need shopped and look long and hard for people to shop them. I have a daughter who travels around in an RV doing shops in multiple states and makes good money for them.

A growing trend in shopping is the video shop. This is where a company will outfit the shopper with a sophisticated video gear and have the shopper record the shop and return the tape to them. These are high paying and fun shops to do. I will have contacts in this page to check out that.

What skills should a shopper have? A shopper should be observant and have a good command of English. He should be able to put into words a word picture of what took place during his shop. Try writing out a good experience you have had at a business in service and also a BAD experience. That is good training and also a question you may be asked while applying for a mystery shopping company. NAMES and DESCRIPTION of the employees you encounter are essential. If they have a name badge that is great but also a word picture of sex, hair color, height, and age is essential to help identify the employee to the report. Also own a stop watch! It is essential in timing many aspects of a shop. Letting the employee speak freely and not prompting him with questions is another good attribute. You may know what the employee should do but let the employee do that so you can evaluate him objectively.

Some shops require you to identify yourself as a shopper. One memorable shop I did in a large metro bank required me if the employee preformed a certain way to get up and create a scene, throwing confetti and blowing a little toy horn to let that employee and his BOSS know that he was successful at the shop; while taking pictures of the employee. It was quite a hoot.... but couldn't shop THAT bank for a YEAR!

Another type of shop is the security shop. This is where most of your attention is focused on how your cash is handled. The questionaire will reflect questions on how the cash was handled. You are looking to see if the employee gives you a receipt, rings up the sale and PUTs the money in the register. Most all shops require a receipt that is either mailed, faxed, or scanned in an attachment to them when a shopper pays for a service or product. ALWAYS GET RECEIPTS. Business cards are also used for proof of shop also.

What kinds of tools do I need to do mystery shopping?
Many shops are online forms on the web. WebTV units can do many of the shops but many forms are in pdf or word format attachments that you may have to fill out and are hard for WebTV to do. A printer is essential also to print forms. A fax machine is helpful so you don't have to run down to Kinko's to fax in reports and most shopping companies don't reinburse for faxes. Excel, Word are essential for opening forms. A Excel reader is available at ????. Digital cameras are also used for some shops to document various things. Internet connection is essential for receiving reports. A small notepad you need to take notes is handy too.

You must be available to do the shops and complete the reports within usually a 24 hour period. If you are late with reports or forget to do a shops the companies are not amused and you might not get any more shops from that company. Organization of your time is a key. If for any reason something comes up and you can't do a shop.... CALL the shopping company ASAP to let them know and see if it can be rescheduled.

Mystery Shopping you are an INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR. That means that although the shopping company may have a W2 for you to fill out in almost all cases no taxes are taken out and you (if you make $600) you will receive a 1099 form at the end of the year, otherwise you will have to keep tab of your earnings and expenses. In most cases you will fill out a contract for a mystery shopping outfit for an independent contractor. Another thing.... you must keep you findings and your identity as a mystery shopper confidential. If you are exposed as a shopper you will not be able to shop for that company again. Plus you may not be reinbused for the shop!

You have to be able to THINK ON YOUR FEET. For example many shops require you to get a name. If the person shopped does not have a name tag you need to ask him for his name in a smooth offhand manner. I had a shop one time that required me to pawn some jewelry at a pawn shop and then pick it next the next month. Well, what happened was that the jewelry was stolen by a robbery and was gone when I returned. The clerk offered to pay me or give me substitute merchandise. I had to think.... what would the shopping company want since I was supposed to return the jewelry to them? I corrected selected alternative jewelry. You must follow the scenario given to by the shopping company exactly or your shop may be invalid and useless to the company. Attention to details is very important. And as I said, ability to put into narritive form what you experienced is vital to the shopping company.

data.gif On the next page I will outline where you should go to find places that do mystery or secret shopping......


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