by Steve Pearce
A Steady Income in Mystery Shopping
Though the name itself may seem a bit mysterious, the concept of mystery shopping is actually straightforward. Also referred to as secret shopping, performance evaluations, service checks and frontline evaluations to name a few, mystery shopping allows companies to obtain a "snapshot in time" by trained researchers who know in advance what they are to evaluate. It provides management a method to quickly yet efficiently evaluate their business practices, deliverables, and employees from the perspective of a non-biased consumer. Mystery shoppers visit or call businesses posing as ordinary customers and provide detailed evaluations of their experience using written reports or questionnaires.
Mystery shopping is used in a wide variety of industries such as retail, restaurants, financial institutions, convenience stores and gas stations, service providers, manufacturers, department stores, travel and entertainment, etc.
Though there is a certain level of responsibility and professionalism required to be an effective mystery shopper, you should never have to pay to get a job. There are dozens of companies claiming that by paying them a registration fee, they will send you job opportunities and teach you the steps to becoming a shopper. This may be true, but it is also completely unnecessary.
The legitimate mystery shopping companies in the industry never charge fees to the shopper. Training, tips for improvement, and shopping opportunities are provided free to registered shoppers. Mystery shoppers are either paid a pre-arranged fee for a particular shop, a reimbursement for a purchase or a combination of both. Though it is possible to make a living solely from mystery shopping, it is not very common. Most shoppers view this as a second income source or as a way to obtain fully reimbursed meals, products, and services.
The registration process with leading mystery shopping companies has improved over the years. Most provide a simple online form that takes only a few minutes to complete. Once you have registered with a company or two, they will start informing you of shopping opportunities. Most of these are "first-come, first-serve," so be sure to provide the company with an email address that you check regularly, and a phone number where you can be easily reached.
Be willing to accept last minute assignments and treat bottom-of-the-barrel assignments just like top-of-the-line assignments. At first, take whatever you can get. This will allow you to build a reputation with each company. The old adage, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression," is exceptionally true in this industry. Make sure you completely understand the instructions for the particular shop, be impartial, and focus on accuracy. You may be required to document employee names and descriptions, prices, inventory evaluations, etc.
Go hi-tech. More and more mystery shopping companies are requiring shoppers to have access to the Internet, email and a fax machine. Some shops even require the use of a digital camera to capture product placement, signage, cleanliness or other focus points.
Complete all assignments on time. If you absolutely cannot complete an assignment, contact the mystery shopping company immediately so they can reschedule the assignment. Dependable shoppers get the best assignments!
Assignments can be as basic as sitting in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant for 20 minutes to document drive-thru service times to taking an all-expense-paid trip to a resort for two weeks to document your daily service experiences.
Now that you understand the mystery shopping industry a little more clearly, the next step is to locate a few top mystery shopping providers and register, remembering that even if a firm doesn't have a client in your area today, they may next month. Once registered with a company, it would not hurt to call or send an email to express your willingness to shop and to confirm your professionalism and attention to detail. Just make sure that you do not send an email full of typos and grammatical errors. That's definitely not the type of first impression that you want to leave.
Another method for finding potential shopping opportunities and to gather further industry knowledge is by monitoring online mystery shopping message boards and forums. To locate a few, type words like "mystery shopping message board" or "mystery shopping forum" into your favorite browser.
Mystery shopping may not become your next career, but it will provide you with some extra income, free goods, and maybe even a few adventures along the way!
Steve Pearce is the Director of Business Development for National Shopping Service. NSS has been a pioneer in the mystery shopping industry since 1972, providing businesses with the information they need to understand and affect their businesses at points of customer interaction. Visit at www.nationalshoppingservice.com or call 800-800-2704.Take the Next Step:
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