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ADVANTAGES OF MYSTERY SHOPPING
“ The biggest advantage to me as a mystery shopper is the diversity of shops. I do not get bored, and they are a pleasure to conduct.” - Phyllis P.
Have you ever wanted to help a business in your community succeed? Have you ever wanted to take a clerk, store associate, or ofﬁce employee aside and tell them what they could be doing to make your experience as a customer better? Or, how about this? Have you ever wanted to assemble the entire management team of an organization in one room and share with them what they are doing really well and what they need to do to improve so that you’ll feel good about calling yourself one of their customers? Well, you are about to get your chance to really make a difference in the service that is being offered in stores and businesses all over the world. As a mystery shopper, the observations you share in the evaluations you will be performing will go a long way to help businesses understand what it is the you want as a consumer. You are in a very exciting and powerful position. We polled mystery shoppers from our database to get an idea of some of the reasons why people like doing this kind of work and we were overwhelmed with responses. We picked some of the more popular advantages to share with you in this book and we added a few that some of your more seasoned shoppers may not have considered in the past. Here are some of the advantages our top shoppers shared:
Work from home - With today’s rising gas and parking prices and increasing trafﬁc issues, many of our shoppers indicated that the ability to work from home was a distinct advantage. Rolling out of bed, grabbing a cup of coffee, turning on the computer to review the day’s possible assignments, all while wearing your bunny slippers is a nice way to start the day. In control of your own schedule - Today’s shoppers and consumers, in general, have a lot of responsibilities, including the care of aging parents, tending to small children, doctor’s appointments, volunteer commitments, church activities, and the never-ending laundry list of things to do, places to go and people to see. Mystery shopping allows you to be in control of your own schedule. As a mystery shopper who is an independent contractor, you can take on assignments when you want to and only if they ﬁt into your schedule. Work independently - Many mystery shoppers enjoy the advantage of working independently. Shoppers who cited this as an advantage like the ability to take on an assignment and then get the job done without having to wait on the rest of the team for assistance or supervisory permission. The ability to work independently is a very attractive beneﬁt for many of the mystery shoppers in the ﬁeld today, but keep in mind those who are the most successful working this way are those who are highly disciplined. Successful shoppers we talked to, who cited this as an advantage, said that their days are structured and that routine activities are key to their being able to work on their own successfully. One shopper we talked to said that before she decided on a daily routine, her days were “all over the place.” Sandy found it difﬁcult to stay organized but more important, she found it difﬁcult to make money. This was a source of frustration for her as she was seeing many of her friends reap the ﬁnancial rewards of being a mystery shopper. Sandy told us, when interviewed, that she would become involved in housework or running errands and before she knew it, it would be time to get the kids off the bus and get into the second part of her day. Staying focused, especially as she was starting her career as a shopper was the secret to turning around her situation.
Since routine and focus are so important in this industry, we asked Sandy to share some of her scheduling secrets with us. She provided us with a schedule of how she structures her day. This approach may also work for you!
Sandy’s daily routine: 5:30 am - ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Review forms and mentally practice scenarios, if applicable Contact mystery shopping companies via email and/or phone with ! questions! Scan job boards for new posts and apply for shops and jobs of interest Charge computer and cell phone Review shopping route for most efﬁcient gas mileage and to see if ! personal errands can be worked in Do 2 or 3 light housekeeping projects before leaving for the day Exercise and eat breakfast Pack lunches and get kids on the bus Shower and dress (depending on where she’s shopping for the day) 6:00 - 7:30 -! Rise and shine for the family
7:30 - 9:00 -! Review mystery shopping schedule for the day
9:00 - Noon - Mystery shopping Noon - 1:00 PM -! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Mystery shop for lunch at a fast food restaurant or coffee shop with ! Wiﬁ Complete the morning’s shops on laptop during lunch Time permitting, return calls to friends/family/make doctor ! appointments, etc. Also check voice mail and email to see if
! ! ! ! ! !
! ! ! ! ! !
! ! ! ! !
! ! !
any mystery shopping companies have comtacted her ! ! about her assignments
Check schedule to see afternoon shopping jobs
1:00 - 2:30 - !Complete mystery shopping assignments scheduled for the afternoon Return home to get kids off the bus
3:00 - 5:00 pm - Start kids on their homework and prep dinner 5:00 - 5:30 pm- Dinner 5:30 - 7:00 pm -! ! ! ! ! ! ! Drive kids to evening activities In between drop off and pick -up complete afternoon shop and ! submit ! ! ! Pick up kids from activities Make sure homework is ﬁnished Get kids ready for bed Tie up loose ends from the day of shopping Return phone calls, emails, and check social media Check job boards to see if anything interesting popped up during ! the day ! Do 2 or 3 light housekeeping chores Time for bed!!! !
7:00 - 7:30 pm- ! 7:30 - 9:00 pm - ! ! ! !
9:00 - 11:00 pm -! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
Work with many mystery shopping companies - As an independent contractor you get to choose which companies you want to work with. You will have the opportunity to enjoy getting to know the various company presidents and owners as well as the account managers, project coordinators, editors and schedulers. If you decide you like this kind of work, you are encouraged to sign up with a number of mystery shopping companies. There is no single mystery shopping company that can keep you as busy as you would like, so sign up with some of the larger ﬁrms and get a good sampling of the kinds of shops that are available. The other thing to note is that every mystery shopping company has its own “personality” that is as unique as its owner or founder. Some companies are aggressive while others tend to be more laid back. Some rely heavily on technology while others may offer a variety of ways for shoppers to communicate and submit their work. And still others are very driven by their policies and procedures while some tend to take things on a case-by-case basis. You will quickly get a sense of where you are most comfortable working. Another thing to consider is that since the mystery shopping industry has been around for a long time, mystery shopping companies can be in various stages of the business life cycle which will have a deﬁnite impact on the way they do business. For example, there are many start up companies out there. These companies are just getting their feet wet in the industry and may not have all of the procedural kinks worked out yet. You may need to be patient as they learn how to process shopper payments or handle shopper and client disputes. Other companies may be in the mature phase of the business life cycle. These companies usually have a clear idea of the types of clients they enjoy working with and they have a process and procedure deﬁned for all of the important areas of their operations. These companies usually have an internal staff in place to handle the day-
to-day issues that arise and they make decisions based on what they know will work best for their organization. Mystery shopping companies in the decline phase of the business life cycle are not aggressively marketing and may be looking to shut down or sell off their operations. Job postings from companies in this phase will be few and far between and shoppers often ﬁnd that companies in this phase are not keeping up with technology or investing in the advances of the market research industry. Shoppers can easily determine which phase of the life cycle a company is in by asking how long the company has been in business and by observing how operational issues are handled. Working for companies in all phases of the business life cycle is a smart idea. As a shopper, you will want to keep an eye on how companies are handling their operations so you are not caught off guard when a company closes its doors, sells its interest to a new owner, or makes changes to its technology that may leave you out in the cold as a shopper. Likewise, you also want to be working for companies who are growing and aggressively marketing so that you always have shopping opportunities on the horizon. Flexible work schedule - Mystery shoppers, as in dependent contractors, have the ability to jump in and out of the assignment pool based on their needs. For example, as a mystery shopper you can choose to work in the winter but not in the summer. Some like to work only when they need the extra income for the holidays or when they want to pay off some bills, while others enjoy the chance to stay busy with interesting assignments all year long by working with a number of mystery shopping companies. It should also be noted that another advantage of mystery shopping is that it is not a 9 to 5 job. Many mystery shoppers conduct their evaluations during the day and submit their reports to the mystery shopping companies long after the tasks of the day are done.
Using your skills and talents - You may be in a job that does not allow you to fully use all of your skills and talents. Mystery shopping is a means that allows you to use your skills and talents in new and exciting ways. This calls to mind some of my favorite shoppers who also happen to be actors and actresses. Mystery shopping is the perfect job for them to be able to use their theatrical skills on a much smaller stage, but using their skills none-the-less. Keep your old skills sharp - If you are a stay-at-home mom or dad or are simply taking a break from the corporate world for a while, mystery shopping allows you to keep your work skills sharp. Mystery shopping will require you to use your communication, technology, writing, observation and organizational skills on a regular basis. So if you are taking a break from the grind of the 9 to 5 corporate world, fear not! You can still keep at the top of your game by incorporating mystery shopping into your life. A chance to learn new skills - Many of our senior shoppers tell us they love mystery shopping because it has forced them to keep learning and growing. In particular, the challenges of technology have been the most fun for many to master. Many of today’s seniors are not really ready to retire. They still want to work but on terms that work best for them. They want to have a schedule that is ﬂexible, one that will allow them to travel, take care of grandchildren, or simply relax when they want to. They have so much to share with today’s corporate management teams and mystery shopping provides seniors with the perfect vehicle to communicate their vast knowledge and experience in ways that will help businesses deliver legendary service. Likewise, many people in today’s workforce are looking to learn new skills in an attempt to be more marketable in the job market. Finding full time employment can be a challenge in an economy that is unstable. Most people today know that the more skills and talents you have to offer could make you a more attractive candidate to a potential employer. If you are in between jobs or are looking to make a change in the future, don’t
forget to add mystery shopping to your resume. It shows that you are in industrious and creative person and if nothing else, it will demonstrate your knowledge and experience in the customer service industry and it will surely be a topic of interest in the interviewing process. When you tell people you mystery shop, it automatically makes you a very interesting person - and if you are already interesting - it makes you even more so! A chance to make a difference - You get to make a difference for all consumers. Mystery shopping allows you to make a contribution to the level of service offered by some of today’s most successful companies and companies who are on track to be successful. No need for childcare - If you have children, or if you are caring for children during the day, you are often allowed and encouraged to take your children or grandchildren with you on assignments, but ask your contact at the mystery shopping company FIRST if this is an acceptable condition on the evaluation you’ll be performing. Owning a small business - In today’s economy, mystery shopping is a great way to enter the world of entrepreneurship. Some mystery shoppers choose to establish themselves as small business owners as a way to enjoy tax advantages that allow them to write-off certain business operation expenses. We highly recommend that you make an appointment with an accountant to discuss the tax laws in your state. With your accountant, determine the best way to set up your business from a tax standpoint. Some shoppers do not choose to formally set themselves up in business. Instead, they see their jobs as mystery shoppers simply as a way to earn extra income. We suggest doing a few mystery shops ﬁrst to see if you like this line of work and if you do, decide how formal you want your commitment to be. Either way, you are an independent contractor for most of the mystery shopping ﬁrms you’ll be working with. We’ll talk more about what it means to be an independent contractor in the next chapter.
TOP-NOTCH SHOPPER SECRETS
Do you have an interest in working from home? Set up a quiet space in your home that is used for your work. Dedicate that space for work only to help you stay organized, focused and highly professional. Do you like the idea of having a ﬂexible work schedule and independence? Mystery shopping allows you to work when it ﬁts into your schedule with no one looking over your shoulder to make sure you understand your assignment and meet your deadlines. Are you interested in learning new skills or keeping your current skill set sharp? Mystery shopping is a job that requires excellent verbal, written, observation, organizational and technology skills. These are all skills that are good to have and maintain no matter what line of work you are in. Do you want to do work that makes a difference? Mystery shopping reports are used by companies in a variety of ways. Coaching and counseling employees, training, and policy and procedure revisions are just a few of the ways that companies apply information they gain from the observations you make while in their stores and businesses. Have you ever wanted to be in business for yourself? Mystery shoppers are independent contractors and as a contract worker, you are running your own business. How’s that for being in control? Being a business owner has lots of perks including prestige, independence, ﬂexibility, and for some, there are tax advantages. Be sure to check out this angle with your accountant or ﬁnancial advisor. Are you ready for some excitement? Mystery shopping is one of the most fun and exciting jobs out there. It’s a line of work that captures the attention of anyone you talk to. No day or assignment is ever the same and we guarantee you will enjoy the opportunity to get to know some things about yourself that you never knew before as a result of doing this type of work.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR?
“As an independent contractor, I have ﬂexibility to select assignments which match my interests, qualiﬁcations, and available time. Flexibility requires managing my commitments conscientiously, and affords me the perspective of running my own (small) business.”- Harvey G.
Independent contractors are workers who perform a job for a fee. In the mystery shopping world, this means that you are paid per assignment, by the job, or by the report by the mystery shopping companies you are working for. The fee for that assignment is agreed upon in advance. Some examples of independent contractors would include merchandisers, graphic artists, software programmers, web designers, and workers in the building and construction industries such as carpenters, electricians and plumbers. Most mystery shopping companies classify their mystery shoppers as independent contractors. You can usually ﬁnd this information on their websites, but we recommend calling the mystery shopping company or emailing them to conﬁrm this information. It should be noted that in some states like Nevada, a mystery shopper must be an employee of a private investigative ﬁrm.
WHAT’S EXPECTED OF AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR?
1. Most mystery shopping companies will have a written contract for you to sign or electronically initial at their websites. These contracts are intended to inform and educate so be prepared to read through the contracts carefully to fully understand what will be required of you. All mystery shopping companies are different so be sure to take the time to read. 2. As an independent contractor you will be required to supply all of your own equipment, supplies and means of getting your assignments completed. You will
need standard ofﬁce supplies along with a computer for communicating with the mystery shopping companies you are working for and for ﬁlling out your reports. You will also need a car and a driver’s license or other reliable means of transportation for getting to and from your assignments. 3. Unless you read books on how to be a mystery shopper or sign up for a class at your local community college or adult education facility, you really won’t get much formal training from the mystery shopping companies on how to shop. For the most part, you are being asked to be a typical consumer and rate the customer experiences you have in the various stores, restaurants, hotels and businesses you call on. There really isn’t any training on how to be a typical consumer. What the mystery shopping companies WILL do is orient you to any special aspects of the job they want you to be aware of so you can do a good job for them. Some mystery shopping companies will send you audio ﬁles to listen to or videos to watch explaining these special instructions. If the mystery shopping company has taken the time to provide you with this information, take the time to listen and watch. It’s important or they wouldn’t have taken the time to make the recordings. So buy all the books, CDs and DVDs you can on the subject, and sign up for a class or two at the community college on being a mystery shopper and running a small business. You’ll be glad you did. 4. Many mystery shopping companies like to give their shoppers feedback on the quality of their work, but don’t expect formal performance evaluations like we have in corporate America. Companies offer feedback in a variety of ways. You might get an email from the company rating the quality of your work after handing in an assignment. Some companies, like Market Viewpoint, report this information on the individual’s Shopper Proﬁle at our website. The ratings tell you how well you did in carrying out your assignment. If there are improvements you can make, you will see how you can do better on your next assignment. The idea is to be a top shopper so you get the choice assignments from each company you work for.
WHAT ARE THE RELATIONSHIP ISSUES?
The difference between being an independent contractor or an employee of a company is a little like the difference between dating and being married. As an independent contractor, you can work for as many different mystery shopping companies as you like. This increases your chances of getting a good supply of assignment offers. You can also choose to work exclusively with one company if you like. Whatever you decide to do, be sure to keep good, detailed records of the ﬁrms you are working with. At Market Viewpoint, we will occasionally get a report from a shopper that was intended for another mystery shopping company. Keeping it all straight is professional and critical. Mystery shopping companies will use your services for as long as they have work in your area and as long as you are qualiﬁed to perform the work and are handing in quality reports (More about quality reports in a later chapter). Mystery shopping companies like working with people who have agreeable personalities and are more positive in their approach to work. Complaining about the reimbursement fees, lack of shops in your immediate area, complexity of the report forms, or saying unprofessional things about the mystery shopping company in public forums such as job boards and social networking sites is guaranteed to force your name to the bottom of the list of preferred shoppers. Keep in mind that a mystery shopping company can elect to stop working with you at any time and vice versa! There is no guarantee of the volume or frequency of work. It is one of the reasons why shoppers work for several carefully chosen mystery shopping companies at the same time. Just starting out? Work for one or two of the bigger companies to get a sense of what this industry is all about? Like the work and want more? Add a new company to your portfolio each month and keep notes about what you like and don’t like about each.
TOP-NOTCH SHOPPER SECRETS
Make a list of the supplies you’ll need to get started as a mystery shopper. Don’t forget to include stationery, including business cards so you can market yourself to mystery shopping companies, general ofﬁce supplies, and a computer that has the basic standard software to do emailing, word processing and spreadsheet functions. A great inexpensive place to purchase business cards is http://www.vistaprint.com. They have a wide selection of ofﬁce supplies to help you get started. Carefully review the contracts of the mystery shopping companies you have identiﬁed as good companies to work with. Print these off, store them electronically, or bookmark these sites as your favorites on your computer system as the start of your system for organizing this data. Meet with your accountant or ﬁnancial advisor to set up a system for paying your taxes. They will provide you with information for quarterly and annual ﬁling purposes. Make a list of the costs associated with most assignments. This list may include mileage, tolls, parking, postage, etc. Research the internet to determine if there are other publications out there you can buy to increase your knowledge of the mystery shopping business and round out the skills you’ll need to be a top performer. Investigate classes being offered at your local community college, then get yourself scheduled. You can write-off the purchase of these materials or classes as legitimate business expenses. Determine how much money you would like to make each month. Be sure to consider any contribution you might need to make for the cost of healthcare, your taxes, and insurances you might need or want. Plan for some time off during the year for vacation and buffer in days each quarter for sick time.
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