Become A Mystery Shopper2018-11-13T14:04:35+00:00

Mystery Shopping 101: Your Guide To Getting Started

Most people would agree: getting paid to eat out at restaurants, go shopping, or test-drive new cars would be awesome. Think about it – trips to your favorite stores, indulging in fine wines, sitting down to enjoy a 5 star Michelin chef-prepared meal, all the while knowing you don’t have to spend a penny. The stuff of dreams, right?

The dream is really not that far away. Whether you’re a freelance worker looking for additional revenue streams, or you’re saving up for your high school reunion, or you have some extra time on your hands and you’d like to test out your skills as a private investigator, mystery shopping offers a flexible, fun way to earn income and enjoy new experiences.

But you’re probably wondering what mystery shopping is, how it works, how you can begin to live the dream. There’s such a cloud of…well, mystery around it.

We’ve got you covered.

The Scoop: What Is Mystery Shopping?

Mystery shopping (sometimes called secret shopping) is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: shopping undercover or in secret. Mystery shoppers are used by companies anonymously to get a look at what really happens in their stores.

Now, of course, you don’t just waltz into a store and gleefully announce to the sales rep that you’re a mystery shopper. Anonymity is the name of the game.

The whole idea is to be that genuine customer, looking to splash some cash on a fancy new bag or gadget, or just trying to enjoy a burger at lunchtime. Part of the excitement of mystery shopping is that you get to put on various personas; today you’re the struggling student looking for a discount laptop bag, tomorrow you’re the busy executive looking to quickly replace your much loved, but much worn out credit card holder. Whatever the persona you’re channeling, the trick is to remain believable, authentic, natural.

Why Do Companies Utilize Mystery Shoppers?

Companies need valuable insights into the way their customers perceive and experience their products and services. They need to see through the eyes of the customer to understand the ways in which customer expectations are being met – or not being met.

Likewise, companies are interested in ensuring their employees are maintaining high standards in quality of delivery, the efficiency of service, and other areas of customer experience. However, managers can’t easily walk into one of their stores to get a real feel for what a customer experiences. For one thing, staff members are on their best behavior as soon as a manager walks in, and there’s little chance that the manager will experience the shop the same way the average customer would. For another, it is often difficult for a business owner, or a manager, or other decision makers within a company to truly put themselves in the place of a customer during a shopping experience.

The ability of a mystery shopper to walk into a store and be as believable as any other customer is crucial in obtaining a fair assessment of the company’s services. The mystery shopper is uniquely positioned to observe levels and quality of service being offered and grade the experience against the company’s brand promise or standards.

So you understand why it would be extremely valuable – not to mention, a lot more practical – for a manager to hire a mystery shopper, than to do a fake mustache, top hat, and coat, and try to pass as a customer.

Benefits of Mystery Shopping

As with most freelance positions, mystery shopping offers flexibility; it allows you to be in control of your time, and create a schedule that fits in with your lifestyle. At a time when increasing numbers of people are opting out of the 9-5 routine, and are building a more flexible ‘Millennial’ lifestyle, mystery shopping has become a truly attractive option for people who need or want to be their own boss.

In addition to flexibility, mystery shopping helps you curate a knowledge catalogue of brands/ companies that you might never even have heard of. To be able to identify an Anya Hindmarch purse, or a Hideo Wakamatsu carry on just by sighting the logo, is an admirable skill for the avid lifestyle curate.

Who Uses Mystery Shoppers?

All sorts of companies hire mystery shoppers. They’re a vital part of understanding the customer experience—whether companies interact with customers in-person, over the phone, or even online. All industries will need your help: retail, restaurants, banking, fitness, hotel, healthcare, call centers, real estate, automotive, travel and tourism, convenience stores and more.

Providers of luxury services, be it fashion, lifestyle or bespoke, particularly have a keen interest in ensuring the reputation of their brands remains intact as their clientele expect a certain level of service at all times.

Department stores who often have a wide range of brands, some of which are onboarded on a consignment basis (meaning the brand provides its own staff), are interested in ensuring the same or similar high standard of service across brands and departments within their store. Hence, they very often utilise the services of mystery shoppers to ensure consignees are maintaining their brand image.

Measuring customer satisfaction is also very important for hospitality service providers, such as hotels, since their value offer is largely experiential – in other words, the customer is paying for a certain intangible “feeling” or ambiance.

Your gig may require that you travel to a physical location, call a customer service center, or review a company’s websites. You’ll usually be reimbursed for whatever you spend at a store, and sometimes, you’ll be paid for your time, or even have travel expenses covered. Goals!

So, now that we have you daydreaming, how about you take the first step to becoming a mystery shopper? Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to….Ah, never mind. Get shopping. Here is a good starting point:

How Does It Work & How Do I Get Started?

Mystery Shopping: How Does it Work?

1. Register

2. Assignment

3. Training

4. Shop

5. Report

Getting started as a mystery shopper is easy, but it does require some upfront work. First, you need to register with reputable mystery shopping sites and sign up for gigs.

Now, while there are lots of great, genuine mystery shopping opportunities, there are some fake agencies out there looking to pull a fast one on the unsuspecting mystery shopping explorer so be alert as you’re seeking out opportunities.  Don’t get caught up in too-good-to-be-true shopping scams.

Now, while there are lots of great, genuine mystery shopping opportunities, there are some fake agencies out there looking to pull a fast one on the unsuspecting mystery shopping explorer so be alert as you’re seeking out opportunities.  Don’t get caught up in too-good-to-be-true shopping scams.

As a general rule, you should never have to pay any money upfront just to see available mystery shopping opportunities or to sign up for a gig. Also, before you give out your bank details or personal information, verify the authenticity and source of the gig. The Federal Trade Commission offers some great information and tips on steering clear of the sketchy ones. It may take a couple of hours to do your research, but it will be time well spent once you have your list of credible mystery shopping sites.

Moving on. Once you’ve signed up, you will start to receive notifications of available mystery shopping opportunities. You will usually be informed about opportunities at stores close to where you are located. Before you venture into the field, you’ll receive the company’s project objectives that describe what is expected of you and what aspects of the company’s business it hopes to receive feedback on through your shop. The project objectives could vary from one gig to another, but it would usually involve opportunities for you to participate in phone conversations, and view practice videos. Companies expect you to keep all your shopping activities a secret – no posting on social media, sharing your experiences with friends and family, or anything else that might compromise the ‘secrecy’ and confidentiality that makes mystery shopping effective.

During the actual ‘shop’ (ordering a meal, buying a new pair of shoes, getting a massage), you will need to remain attentive even while you’re enjoying the experience. You’ll need to take mental notes of associates you interact with, customer service and selling techniques, as well as other environmental factors like the cleanliness and layout of the store. Being able to take mental notes is crucial since you can’t whip out your notepad to jot down your observations (remember, we’re undercover agents here).

After you complete the mystery shopping opportunity, you’ll have to share your findings with the company you “shopped” – this could take the form of a survey you fill out or a detailed account of your experience written in essay format. We’re not talking academic papers here, so have no fear. The company just wants to hear in your own words, and in clear language, what your customer experience was like. That’s it!

So, now that we have you daydreaming, how about you take the first step to becoming a mystery shopper? Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to…. Ah, never mind. Get shopping.