Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mystery Shopper Extraordinaire

Everyday someone asks me about this experience as a Mystery Shopper. It sounds like fun so people want to know where to sign up. But there are a couple of really important things to understand before you do.

First, DO NOT FALL FOR THE SCAMS! I have had several friends call me, "Hey, I just got a check for $3,500 to be a Mystery Shopper! All I have to do is deposit it and send the company $200 for their fees. The rest is money for me for visiting their stores." Again, DO NOT FALL FOR THIS! This is no different from the email you get from the solicitor in Nigeria who really wants to get rid of the 90Million US Dollars and all you need to do is send him your account information... It's not true and you will end up on the short side. Another scam is to charge people a sign up fee to become a mystery shopper. You do not have to pay money.

Second, this is not a "Get Rich Quick" job. In fact, many of the companies require that you make a purchase and they will reimburse you, but sometimes not for two months. You must be able to absorb these costs until reimbursement.

That being said, I am finding this experience to be a fun activity and it allows Matthew and me to do things we otherwise might not.

I started as a Mystery Shopper last year when someone forwarded me an email. After checking in to it I decided this was a legitimate company and signed up. We did a couple of shops out at Anthem and I thought maybe it was worth my time, but maybe not. (After all Anthem is about 20 miles from our house.) But then I was asked to attend some Insurance seminars. They were for retired people and the particular government agency wanted to make sure that the companies were following all their rules...can't say this, can't be disparaging about the government, etc., etc. They didn't need only seniors--one could have a relative of the right age. So I signed up. Or I should say, Matthew and I did... We actually enjoyed listening to the information (though I think Matthew enjoyed the free soda most). I would come home, write up my report and at the end of the month got a small paycheck.

Well, it was easy enough that I started investigating and discovered a whole new world. I remembered that years ago my mom visited restaurants and would have to check them for all kinds of things. She was a pioneer mystery shopper.

So here I am today. I am sure the process is much easier and faster with the Internet and email for contacts than is likely was for my mom. But much is the same. I work as an independent contractor. Should I actually make enough money I would have to pay taxes on it as a contractor. I keep records, mileage, and track of any expenses that are not reimbursed. There are many companies doing this. And, as I discovered, there is even a certification that one can get. It's not like one of Rebecca's finals but does emphasize the need for paying attention to details. I also discovered a lot of companies encourage getting the certification.

I think it's important to note again that most of the jobs don't pay a whole heck of a lot. The restaurant visits I've done generally pay for the meal up to a certain amount (meaning, if I take the kids I'm likely covering their meal.) Other shops may pay as little as $5 for the visit but some are much higher. Of course, the higher the pay, the more sought after. It's not always a guarantee that you'll get a job--some are self assign but others you just sign up for and the company gets to pick and choose. One thing that I like is when there is a job that no one wants to do and the company gets down to their deadline they will raise the pay. Okay, so you still aren't getting rich, but Matthew and I have had fun traveling across the state doing some of these last minute jobs.

The last important thing to look at is the report. Some companies have short yes/no questions and want a sentence or two about the visit. Most, that I have found, want much more detail. What time did you enter the store, step in line, finish at the register? Describe the salesman. What did his name tag say? Did he have any distinguishing features? Earrings? Glasses? What did he say when he greeted you? What did he say at the completion of the transaction? Did he use suggestive selling and if so what was mentioned? You may be better at remembering all these details than me; but yesterday, for example, we visited a grocery store and I had to remember those details for six employees. And most of the companies want complete, grammatically correct sentences. Typing skills are important. All this, and don't be spotted writing notes. We work in "stealth" mode. (In fact, a friend told me that at his company they would try to spot the mystery shoppers and the employee who did would get a bonus--yikes!)

So there you have it. Mostly, I get to be my average self doing every day things just observing the stores and workers. Sometimes we get to dress up (and Rebecca always wants to accompany me then) and sometimes we get to dress down. It's important not to stand out in the crowd.

If you want more information just give me a shout.

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