We’ve seen the ads in the classified section and other employment-related periodicals. Make $150 an hour! No Experience Necessary! Training Provided! Easy Money! Call our toll-free number for more information!
In the midst of some equally personal and professional issues, I held on to some leads ifound in a recognizable business magazine pertaining to mystery shopping and did my research one weekend. Honestly, it’s not a bad thing to get into. You do get have things for free, see marketing in a way you’re probably not used to seeing it and meet interesting people. Depending on your background and your drive, it could provide the foundation to a long-term career or you can pursue other goals while paying your bills since one shop takes an average of one hour or less. Like other lines of work (and yes, it is work and not like an outing with friends – at least not most of the time), there are downsides. Some things are across the board and other issues might just be a conflict of interest that would vary from one individual to another. Here are few things I have picked up on in a very short time and will gladly pass on to anyone who may ask how it’s really done.
1. Do not give any company money. The company gets a fee from the client who wishes to have a fair evulation performed within their company. A lot of these with 800 numbers and outrageous promises charge for kits and/or training. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) is the world’s leading authority in Mystery Shopping. They determine a fair set of rules and regulations that ensure that all persons and companies who join the organization, provide goods and service that pretty much guarantee repeat business. The MSPA offers a nationally recognized certification that neither guarantees a job or is necessary to be hired by a company. The Silver Certification is the most popular as you can take the exam online and only costs $15. The Gold Certifcation must be taken in person and costs a few dollars more. While the Silver exam is more pragmatic and its questions have more to do with discretion while shopping, the Gold is better for someone who has done several shops. Occaisonally, I see job posts requesting Gold Certification (more information on that later) but some companies have their own evaluation process that costs nothing to take and they don’t charge you to work.
2. If you have any of the following characteristics – a loud voice, a bad temper, shyness, easily provoked or just plain forgetful, you may want to reconsider. The reason being that there is some acting involved. If you are to pretend to be a normal customer and you have no more than 20 items to check off of your evaluation list, you should be able to breeze through it with no problem. Sometimes you may have an evaluation with 80 items to check off and submit to your company within the next 24 hours. Some of the items may seem minor but your attention to detail is important meaning you must have names of the person that conducted your transaction, were the fixtures damaged and even signage is important. Since the customer is always right and is the determining factor in a businesses’ success or failure, the customer has to take the upper hand. Let’s face it though, working in retail is rarely glamorous or fun and most of us have had sales help who made it known in their own way that they wanted to be anywhere but there. While these people don’t see sales and customer interaction as job stability, they may take this out on the customer. The last thing a mystery shopper wants to do is bring attention to themselves. Remain calm and friendly so if you need to ask for something you can record your answers, carry nothing that resembles something that may contain reports. I carry evaluation copies inside a magazine or newspaper and fill out once I get outside.
3. Yes, there are some good paying assignments. It depends entirely on acting ability, shoppers’ experience and distance you are willing to travel. If you live in a major city, it is possible to make a modest salary. If you live in a smaller city, you have to determine as to whether it is worth the time and most importantly…gas money does not take your money before you get it in hand. If you feel you have the discipline, you can do mystery shopping along with your regular shopping or dining (there are few projects that request couples only – no exceptions), just make sure you turn in paperwork with the time set by the company or you will not get paid. Now, those $100 or more assigments require that you stick to a particular script and converse only to not make it seem as if you are NOT doing an evaluation. Sometimes these take all day and require Gold Certification to ensure for all concerned that desired results will be achieved.
4. Contractor vs.Employee. You can broaden your experience by working as a merchandiser or invertory clerk. The best offers I have seen are permanent, part-time employment with some benefits. Otherwise, you are a contractor who will be responsible for filing taxes if your yearly income is over $600 but the upside is that you may be able to take deductions (talk to a tax professional). Also, employment is at-will and you are not obligated to take any shopping assignment you don’t want to. Sometimes, there may be a conflict of interest such as your friend or relative may work for the business you are evaluating, your diet may not allow you visit a bakery under any circumstances or you just don’t have the time to do a justifiable job. With reasonable notice, most companies are understanding and will not harass you about this.
5. Money (last and certainly not least). While few jobs pay more than $75 per visit, the majority pay from $7-25 per visit. As stated before, the more complex and detailed the assignment, the higher fee you will receive. It is best to start small and get a feel for what’s involved before investing in things large enough to be considered an investment such as certification fees, use of your own, credit/debit cards and divulging of personal information. If you want to work on that level, take time out to investigate the company, find out if they have been reported to the Better Business Bureau and this site provides a wealth of information from actual shoppers when it comes to companies that pay, etc. If you needed money last week, this is good for supplemental income as most places pay every 4-6 weeks but most will tell you that do not provide enough work to be considered as a full-time prospect. Also remember that it takes your own money to do the evaluations (though there are a few shopping assignments that do not require a sale and are inquiry only, others may want to know how return sales are handled) so if money is tight, then you may want to hold off or just choose carefully.
On a final note, this is a good opportunity for minorities (for example, women may be requested to do auto repair shops as mechanics have a reputation for ripping us off). Since the only color any decent business person should be concerned with are green (or turning red into green), it is their job to ensure that everyone who patronizes their business will not only return but refer to others who may become good-paying customers.
So if a person can give an honest, non-speculative account of their shopping experience (even if it was just window shopping), do not have a problem with deadlines and they want to make a few dollars, then they should begin to check out the local companies nearest to them.