Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ready, Set, Action!!!

If you are new to mystery shopping, it may come as a surprise to you that acting is a substantial piece of what you will be doing. Even if you are not Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep, you will often be required to be the star of the show in many mystery shopping assignments. Mystery shopping companies and their clients will have very specific requirements for assignments and frequently these scenarios do not mesh with what is happening in your 'real' life. Are you really in the market for a new 42" TV? Ready to purchase a BMW? Want to make 1,000 copies of some silly document? Nope......thus, the need for acting.  Don't let the prospect of this turn you away from taking assignments or strike you numb with are some helpful tips to coax you onto center stage.

Read The Guidelines Thoroughly
While this is sage advice for any assignment, really take a peak to see if you will need to act out a certain scenario. Seasoned shopping professionals can pretty quickly scan the project documents and requirements for these key pieces.

Ask Your Scheduler If You Can Modify
For example, if you are supposed to pose as someone looking for a nursing home for your parent and you are only 21 years old, you may want to ask the scheduler if you can pose as someone looking for placement for their grandparent. Be sure to ask upfront if you can make these adjustments (no matter how small they may seem to you) prior to completing the assignment.

Develop The Story In Advance
Like any actor preparing for a part, you need to craft a storyline to accompany your assignment. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is and how this will make the project so much more comfortable for you. For instance, if you are posing as someone looking for a laptop for your college aged child, think about:

  • The child's name
  • His or her college
  • Their major
  • Their age
  • Why you are replacing their laptop
  • What they like to do on their computer (e.g., gaming, listening to music, writing poetry)

Exude Confidence
Remember, the person at the store doesn't know you and does not know your story. Even if you may feel butterflies, they will never know. Don't look down, squirm, stutter, or refer to any notes. If you need to make up details of your story on the spot, just do it. They are thinking of you as a customer and nothing else. In fact, most employees have little idea that mystery shopping is even occurring at their store.

Acting Versus Lying
So, isn't this just lying? How can I live with that? Is my moral compass broken?! No, this is just acting. This is a method to provide critical information to the owner of the store. In some cases, the employee may be bonused for exceptional sales ability. In some other instances, the store may offer additional training to employees whose skills are lacking. one is going to Hell for acting out a mystery shopping script.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Just How Much Can You Earn?

The second mystery shopping question that I am consistently being asked (right after being queried, “Is this a scam or what?”) is with regards to how much money can be made via mystery shopping. Obviously this will depend on a variety of factors, including the following:

·      Geographical Location

·      Time Commitment

·      Willingness To Travel

·      Number Of Mystery Shopping Companies You Join
Now, keep in mind that very few people do this as a career. In fact, I am a freelance writer by trade and only mystery shop to supplement my income and get out of the house when writer’s block renders my mind a blank slate. To give you a very specific idea of my experience, following is a typical day, week, and month. I have pulled this information from my very detailed Mystery Shopping Log, which I have been diligent in maintaining since the very beginning of this adventure. Your results may vary, but I believe that I am a fairly average mystery shopper and you can likely expect very similar outcomes yourself.

May 2, 2012
TOTAL: $48

This day I did five assignments, including a fast food lunch, hockey supply shop, two shipping companies, and a telephonic survey. The total time I spent mystery shopping on this day was approximately, 2-1/2 hours and that included drive time.

May 6, 2012 – May 12, 2012
TOTAL: $256.55

During this week I did a total of 17 assignments. Some of these assignments included a plumbing supply shop, major home improvement store, a national resale shop, a clothing store and a great brunch with my family at a very popular and upscale location.

May 2012
TOTAL: $1,000.30

I ended up doing a total of 69 shops this month. Some of these assignments (besides the aforementioned locations) included a local coffee shop, electronics store, smoothie shop, bowling alley, office supply store, movie theater, and an overnight stay at a five star resort.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tips For Writing The Perfect Mystery Shopping Application Essay

For many mystery shopping companies, an essay is required as a component of the application process. This is to ensure that you will be able to communicate to them and the client an accurate description of happens during the course of a mystery shopping assignment. While not every assignment requires a long-winded essay as part of the report process, many of the more high-dollar ones will have this as a requirement. Most often, the mystery shopping company will ask you to write an essay about a recent shopping experience.  Here are some tips on writing a winning essay as part of your application process:

Where to Write

Write your essay in a Word program, then copy and paste to the site. This way, you can spell check your essay and really take your time in creating a great piece. Some of the mystery shopping company sites will time-out of the application process after 15 or 30 minutes and if you do not complete your full essay in that period of time, your work may be lost.

Start At the Beginning

When writing your essay, start at the beginning of your visit and proceed from there in a chronological fashion. Do not start in the middle of your visit, then revert to when you first entered the store, then jump to the check-out section.

Details…And Then More Details

The more detail you can provide in your report, the better. When describing a bathroom, for instance, refrain from saying “It was filthy”. Instead, state “The floor had trash on it near the garbage can. The mirror had visible handprints. The vanity area had spilled soap. The back of stall number three had graffiti “.  When describing a sales employee interaction with you, include both verbal and non-verbal descriptions. As an example, rather than saying “Karen was helpful” you should state, “Karen assisted me within 30 seconds of my arriving in the shoe department. She smiled and made eye contact with me, as she walked towards me. She warmly said, ‘What can I help you find today?’ When I replied I wanted shoes for a wedding, she asked clarifying questions regarding the heel size and color. As I spoke, she leaned in and listened intently.”

Descriptors of Staff

Some companies allow their shoppers to describe staff members in terms of race and some frown on that. To be on the safe side, keep this out of your application essay. Instead, include these key pieces when describing staff members:

·       Sex

·       Age Range

·       Height

·       Hair Color

·       Hair Length

·       Distinguishing Characteristics (e.g., glasses, piercings, tattoos)

Timing Is Everything

Nearly all mystery shopping assignments have some sort of timing component, so include this in your essay. Instead of saying “I entered the store on Monday morning” state “I entered the store at 10:15 AM on Monday July 9, 2012.” You should also specifically mention how long it took to be helped by an employee, how long you had to wait in line and how quickly your payment was processed.

Keep It Impartial

In general, mystery shopping clients want reports that are objective and free from your personal opinion. This will mean that a description of French fries as “Way over done” is not preferred, but instead writing “They were a very deep and dark golden color, with some fries a medium brown” is better.

More Than Spell Check

Is spell check important when reviewing your essay? Absolutely! But you also must go beyond spell check and also review your essay at least twice. Just because spell check understands that “read hare” is spelled correctly, only you know that this should read “red hair”.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

So tell me again...What is Mystery Shopping?

What is Mystery Shopping? And Why Would Companies Invest Money In It?

Mystery shopping is when individuals patronize a wide range of establishments (more on that in a moment) and observe a variety of situations, employee behaviors, and transactions. Mystery shopping is by no means limited to just a few clothing stores or fast food restaurants. In fact, I have seen mystery shopping assignment postings for...

  • Dentists
  • Cell Phone Stores
  • Tanning Salons
  • High End Make-Up Counters
  • Oil Change Facilities
  • Banks
  • Five Star Resorts
  • Electronics Stores
  • Bowling
  • Botanical Gardens
  • Shipping Services
  • Office Supply Stores
  • Smoothie Shops
  • Soccer Games
  • Movie Theaters

Honestly, I could just go on and on. Suffice it to say, that virtually every single legal aspect of life that involves a consumer experience and the exchange of cash has a related mystery shopping assignment. Hard to believe, right? I was shocked as well.

So why would a company want to invest money in mystery shopping? Why give away a free overnight stay at a resort, several hundred dollars of dental services or a $75 steak dinner? If they are trying to make money, doesn't this just defeat the purpose?

Actually, mystery shopping reports give business owners the real inside line as to what is happening in their establishment. This is done in a professional, objective and independent fashion. And, the reports that they receive from mystery shopping companies will actually help them to refine their business practices while the improve the shopping experience for all patrons.

Some of the things that business owners are looking for when engaging in mystery shopping may include:

  • Making sure that a store's rewards program is mentioned to the shopper
  • Ensuring that drinks are offered with all sandwich orders
  • Cashiers are friendly towards customers
  • Bathrooms are clean
  • Drinks are properly rung up at a bar and bartenders are not pocketing the cash
  • Store specials are mentioned to customers
  • Customers are greeted within one minute of arriving in the store
  • IDs are being checked on customers that appear to be underage for purchasing tobacco

The specific requirements for each store and assignment will vary not only between companies, but also may change month-to-month. For instance, an ice cream shop may want the mystery shopper to ask if there are any job openings one month and then the next month may ask the mystery shopper to ask the cashier if there are any dairy-free options on the menu.

Mystery shopping provides business owners with important information regarding the consumer experience and will provide key data for them to improve their business tactics. Additionally, several companies use mystery shopping programs in an effort to provide bonuses and other incentives to their employees. Because the employee can never be quite sure which patron is a mystery shopper, they are more likely to treat each and every customer like a valued visitor to their establishment.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Legitimate and Reputable Mystery Shopping Companies

I feel my powers growing stronger even as you read this. You are, wait, I have crystal ball is speaking to me and the voice is getting louder and louder and.....what you yearn to know is simply this:

How do I find a legit
mystery shopping company?

Great question! First, be aware you should never have to pay to join a mystery shopping company. Never ever ever. If someone asks you to pay money to join, clutch you wallet tight and run the other way. Got it? Good!

The best place to find a mystery shopping company is by checking out the MSPA or Mystery Shopping Provider Association. They maintain a list of companies and have an excellent resource in the shoppers section of their page.

Welcome To Adventures In Mystery Shopping

Welcome to Adventures In Mystery Shopping. This blog will chronicle my journey through the interesting and often amusing world of mystery shopping. Along the way, I hope to impart to you some valuable information so that you can embark on your own adventure. And, hopefully make a few bucks along the way.

I started out as a mystery shopper ten years ago when I was a stay-at-home mother living near the beach in South Florida. I had relocated there from the Chicago area to marry and start a family with the love of my life, but I sure felt like a fish out of water.  I had nothing but time on my hands and wanted to get to know the community better. After reading an article about mystery shopping and doing a modicum of research, I figured it would be a good fit for me. At the time I had a newborn daughter and she just tagged along on assignments. I did this for about six months before we opted to relocate back to the Chicago area, as I wanted to resume my career as an executive at a large firm in the suburbs of Chicago. Still, mystery shopping was an exciting experience for me...we got to go out to eat a few times, I hit a few retails shops, and  I really loved getting out of the house.

Flash forward six years ►► In late spring 2008 I was 'relieved of my duties' (read: fired) from my job and suddenly found myself home once again. I decided to pursue my passion for writing and became a freelance writer. I loved it! I could make my own hours, take only the assignments that intrigued me and got to be at home. However, several years into this portion of my career I found myself getting seriously stir-crazy. I loved being at home, but yearned to make contact with the outside world. At those moments when writer's block set it, I desperately needed to get out of the house and clear my mind. Still, budgetary constraints being what they are, I wanted to make money while outside of the home rather than spend it. Then, I remembered my mystery shopping days and decided to return to that.

Boy, things had changed since I did this ten years ago. Now, everything is online and getting assignments is easy peasy. Plus, the Chicago area had literally thousands of assignments to choose from! Woo hoo, this was going to be amazing!  I have now been mystery shopping for about six months, but have learned a ton in a short period of time (not to worry -- I will share all of my secrets with you!).  Further, my goal is to make this a very interactive blog. This means that if you have any questions at all regarding mystery shopping, just post it in the comments section and I will get you an answer ASAP.

Now....Let's start shopping!!