Friday, May 2, 2014

Make Extra Money: Become a Mystery Shopper

July 2, 2008
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Many people have heard of mystery shopping, but not all of us understand exactly what it's really about.

Mystery shopping is focused on monitoring and improving service quality to ensure consistency with brand standards using anonymous resources. A growing trend involves home-based mystery shoppers who conduct their work by calling (as opposed to visiting) catalog companies, call centers and others, which accounts for 15 percent of the industry, according to trade group Mystery Shopping Providers Association.

With mystery shopping, an individual walks into a retail, grocery or convenience store, a restaurant, or a gas station to measure specific behaviors and make certain observations. Among them: associate greetings, the length of time to be served, the availability of merchandise, the knowledge of the sales team, and so on.

 Many companies request "shops" of their own locations as well as those of their competitors. It enables them to understand how their services stack up against the competition — both generally and in specific areas.

One hypothetical example: Mystery shopper assignments might measure the wait in line at Target versus Wal-Mart. A hypothetical assignment might also measure how much information a Best Buy sales associate in electronics knows about a specific digital camera, compared with the sales associate at Circuit City.

Another option involves merchandising, where you're charged with helping manufacturers and retailers present their product consistent with brand standards in a retail environment to generate sales. You may assemble displays, distribute coupons, sample food, restock shelves or demonstrate products. The needs and the skill levels vary; companies post opportunities for people to sample cheese in grocery stores and they also look for techies to demonstrate a new video camera during in-store promotional events.

In both cases — mystery shopping and merchandising — retailers don't hire shoppers or merchandisers directly; all of this is handled by a third-party vendor. You accept an assigned task and then to get paid you must prove that you've completed it, which is typically done by answering and submitting an online survey about the experience. You might also be required to take photographs of your work, specifically for merchandising assignments. It's all spelled out in advance before you agree to the work.

According to Market Force, a nationwide leader in mystery shopping and merchandising among top brands, some of the requirements in the online questionnaire for a mystery shop may include:

Were you greeted properly?
Were all display items priced and in good condition?
Were accessories priced and well stocked (no empty peg hooks)?

Getting started making money. Both mystery shopping and merchandising pay by the assignment. You work as an independent contractor, which means you work when you want, but work is never guaranteed.

Most mystery shopping assignments pay between $8 and $10. Merchandising is generally in the range of $13 to $18. Some assignments offer free meals and/or groceries either as a form of compensation or in addition to a small fee. More complex assignments pay more — up to $30 or so per assignment. If you're being offered substantially more, that's a red flag and you should question the legitimacy of the assignment.

 There are hundreds of companies throughout the country that hire shoppers and merchandisers. Some hire for both; others handle one or the other. Every shopper who told me she makes at least $100 a week is registered with several companies and actively takes on several assignments per week. Some women I spoke with say they make upwards of $500 a month because they're diligent about working at it.

Register with multiple companies because they all have different needs and they serve different clients. (If you live in a remote area without access to ample stores and restaurants, unfortunately your options are severely limited. Home-based "shops" might be best for you. Merchandising cannot be done from home.)

Click here for a listing of companies that offer mystery shopping and merchandising opportunities to independent contractors.

Details, details. Most companies critique your online application for proper spelling, grammar and punctuation, especially since your proof-of-completion reports are submitted in writing to the client. Poor spelling will knock you out of the running.

Pay attention to distance. Don't accept an assignment that pays $10 if you have to drive 20 miles each way to complete the task. The gas will eat up your fee.

Think about bundling assignments. Pick a time — after work, early mornings while your kids are in school or on a weekend — and pack as many assignments into those timeslots as possible. Companies will alert you to restrictions, if any, on how many competitive events you can work at once.

Many assignments require you to monitor the exact time of specific tasks. If you're easily flustered and don't like to multitask, this probably isn't the right fit for you. You'll find many people who've tried this type of work and hated it. They complain it's tedious and time-consuming — not worth the minimal money they were paid.

Two trade associations offer extensive information on their respective industries. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association and the and the National Association for Retail Marketing Services offer listings of legitimate companies and opportunities, a code of ethics guiding their industry and tips for success.

Avoid the scams. Many people are concerned about scams and rightly so, since they're everywhere in this space. Arm yourself with knowledge before getting started.

Never pay to be a mystery shopper or merchandiser. No legitimate opportunity requires a fee. (The MSPA offers a certification process that is optional, not required, to get work.)

Never get involved in check-cashing schemes. Legitimate opportunities will never require you to cash any checks as an assignment. If your assignment requires you to order a specific item in a restaurant, you'll have to front the cash, but with a receipt you'll be reimbursed.

Never respond to unsolicited requests by phone, e-mail or mail to become a mystery shopper or merchandiser. Most likely a fee will be involved with promises to teach you the "secrets" of making big bucks with little effort. That "secret" is a lie: There's no way to make lots of money with minimal effort in these industries.

Tory Johnson is the Workplace Contributor on ABC's Good Morning America and the CEO of Women For Hire. Connect with her at

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Turn the hopelessness within you into a fruitful opportunity. By RIDO

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mystery shoppers: Do companies benefit?

 By Catherine Burns Business reporter, BBC News
15 April 2011 Last updated at 19:01

The tough economy means companies are having to take extra steps to make sure their customers are happy, so more are trying out mystery shopping.

Demand has gone up by 40% in the past two years, the Mystery Shopping Providers Association says, and the industry is worth an estimated £70m a year.

Mystery shopping started in the 1940s, and the association says well over a million assessments are carried out every year.

Each one takes up to 20 minutes, and the secret shopper can be paid up to £15 a go.
Undercover experience

We decided to go undercover and try it for ourselves. One mystery shopper, who has been doing it for years as a part-time job, gave us some tips. Unsurprisingly she asked to remain anonymous.

"You're looking out for if the store is clean, the staff are friendly, and if they approach you," she says.
Mystery shopper with Catherine Burns An experienced mystery shopper says she reports on whether staff approach her

"If you ask a question, do they take you to the relevant section? Do they ask you open questions, and try to sell you as much as they can?"

With that in mind, we headed to the Llantrisant branch of Leekes, a department store chain based mostly in Wales.

The company knew we were coming, but they had no idea when.

It was a mixed experience. We had to search for someone to help us in the homeware section. But once we had found someone they were friendly and approachable.

In other departments, staff were just hanging around, chatting to each other. But once we asked, they did their best to get a sale.

There were some examples of excellent customer service too.

Undercovery filming in Leekes Leekes said it uses mystery shoppers to rectify any problems

Some sales assistants did everything they could to answer our questions as helpfully as possible.

But Steve Hurst from the Mystery Shoppers Providers Association says the actual store visit is only part of the job.

"It's just as important what we, and the company itself does with the information. We put it all into a database, and can break it down from the bigger picture across the chain, to each individual store."

Companies pay about £40 each visit, which means nationwide chains can pay hefty bills.

It is difficult to say with any certainty what kind of return businesses get on that investment, Mr Hurst says, but he insists it is a cost-effective and unbiased research tool.

Fake and outdated

Not everyone agrees though. Jeremy Michael is from customer research company SMG, and used to work in mystery shopping. He now thinks it is outdated.

"Years ago, it was the best way to find out what was going on in a store, but now you've got much more modern methods," he says.

"Clients like Superdrug and Pets At Home have moved away from asking fake mystery shoppers, to asking genuine customers what they thought and how they can improve their experience."

But Leekes, who use mystery shoppers, say the feedback helps them.

"There are some positives in the way that staff dealt with you, but some negatives in terms of not being available when you were looking for assistance," says Peter Martin, store operations director at Leekes.

He says that the company will be able to learn from it, and fix any problems.

For them, mystery shopping is not about catching staff doing something wrong, but giving them a chance to show off their skills and training.

By Catherine Burns Business reporter, BBC News
15 April 2011 Last updated at 19:01

Turn the hopelessness within you into a fruitful opportunity. By RIDO