Mystery shopping is, essentially, one or a series of recorded observations that indicate a customer’s experience with a business. Simply put, mystery shoppers give objective observations from a customer’s point of view by acting as customers and reporting what happened. Many different kinds of businesses use mystery shopping.
Most commonly, mystery shoppers visit retail stores and restaurants. However, all kinds of businesses use mystery shoppers – from airports to bowling alleys to movie theatres, to cruise lines. Anytime a customer experiences an aspect of a business, mystery shopping might be used. This could be speaking with an associate, or purchasing online, or making a phone call, or any number of other interactions.
Is mystery shopping for me?
Mystery shopping is not the same as being a regular customer. Sometimes you will have to do very specific things or use specific customer scenarios, though the number of restrictions will vary from business to business. To be a good mystery shopper, you must be:
A good written communicator. You must be able to write clearly and use proper spelling and grammar. Being a fast typist will help you reduce the amount of time spent on each report as well.
Able to use a web browser and email effectively. You do not need to be an expert, but you should be comfortable filling out forms on websites, navigating with your browser, and sending and receiving email.
Observant and have a good memory. You may be required to say specific phrases, or record specific amounts of time, all without using your notes. You will have to remember specific things that were said word-for-word.
Many other things will help you – we’ll get into those as well shortly – but these are essential for you to be successful as a mystery shopper.
Why do businesses use Mystery Shopping?
Many businesses want to know what a typical customer’s experience is like. By using mystery shopping, especially over a period of time, they can learn more about their businesses.
Customers often don’t speak up when there is a problem or, alternatively, something positive about their experience. Business owners and managers want to be able to recognize or train their employees based on their handling of customer interactions. It’s important to know what the quality of your service is. For other businesses, speed may be very important, and precise timings may be needed. By using an anonymous mystery shopper, they can find out more than they could by simply watching their employees and observing their business from the viewpoint of an individual manager.
What is mystery shopping really like?
Mystery shopping varies widely depending on the individual business. However, here is a sample of what you might be expected to do for a retail mystery shop. Shops can be more complicated than this, but this would be a relatively simple shop.
- Enter the store on a specific date, often a specific range of time (i.e. evening).
- Please note the names and/or descriptions of all store personnel you interact with.
- Notice any problems with the exterior signage and any cleanliness issues with the exterior of the store.
- When in the store, please browse and wait to be helped for at least 15 minutes. If you are not assisted, please approach an associate after 15 minutes.
- Ask the associate to locate a certain item.
- You will need to remember how they greeted you, how long it took to be greeted, and how they assisted you (did they take you to the item, tell you where it was, etc.?).
- After being assisted, please browse and select an item under $5.
- Please note any problems with cleanliness.
- Were any items out of stock?
- When you approached the cashier, how long did it take to be helped? How did the cashier greet you? Did the cashier offer a receipt? Did the cashier offer a suggestive sell purchase?
- How did the cashier close the interaction?
- And, How long did your visit last from start to finish?
How much can a Mystery Shopper earn?
This is a very difficult question to answer, though it is definitely a main concern for new shoppers. The short answer is, albeit unhelpfully, “it depends”.
Typically, you can earn enough money to make it worthwhile to mystery shop in your spare time, though this will be dependent on how much time you have and what area you live in. This makes it ideal for stay-at-home moms, retired individuals, or people who just want another source of income. Fortunately, mystery shopping is extremely flexible!
You will work as an independent contractor, which means you are not a direct employee and therefore will work individual assignments for companies. Being an independent contractor means you are not eligible for health care, benefits, and that sort of thing, but it also means that you are free to work for as many companies as you want to!
A reasonable expectation for a mystery shopper – after the initial few months of getting started and certified – would be a few hundred dollars a week if you apply yourself, sign up for as many companies as possible, and work assignments frequently. However, you can work more or less if you choose. Mystery shopping is highly variable!
Metropolitan areas and densely-populated regions will give more opportunity for shops, but also, typically, more competition from other shoppers. In remote and rural areas, you are likely to be able to get higher and more frequent bonuses, but shops will be scarcer. The larger an area you can cover, the more shops you will be able to do.
Ready for the next step?
If you’re ready to keep learning and move on to getting started with mystery shopping, please continue to the Complete Get Started Guide and learn how you can become a mystery shopper and start finding your own assignments!