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Mystery shopping first started in the 1940s and today it is a tool which is used in many different industries such as supermarkets, restaurants, shops and service providers. Researchers (trained or untrained) who know beforehand what they are to evaluate, will pose as a normal customer and investigate an outlet for either a market research company, a watchdog organisation or the actual company themselves.
The identity of the mystery shopper is unknown to those working in the establishment being evaluated as it is crucial that undistorted information be obtained. Indeed, if employees knew they were being checked up and reported on, they would, of course, be on their best behaviour!
Mystery shoppers may be used externally. This is when they work for a company unassociated with the outlet they are investigating, for example, a research company who may wish to find out details about certain products and services. They can also be used internally by companies, often to ensure that regulations are being followed correctly or to measure the quality of service. A mystery shopper will perform certain tasks like purchasing an item, asking questions about something or making a complaint. They will then give detailed feedback, both positive and negative, to the company carrying out the investigation based on their overall experience.
To become a mystery shopper you need to register with a mystery shopping company. These can be easily found on the internet and the online registration process will only take several minutes, though this may involve a simple test to assess whether your understanding of written English is up to scratch. Once registered, the company will start informing you of mystery shopping opportunities. This could be via email or telephone or it may be that you look at the jobs on their website and bid for the ones which you want to do.
Essentially, you should be able to use the internet so that you can report back via email, and to be able to use a digital camera as some research companies ask for digital photographs to be taken to capture a certain point. You will also need to be confident without being arrogant, efficient and polite and you must ensure that you understand and accurately carry out the instructions for each assignment that you do. You should be organised and keep good records, especially if you are working for more than one company. All receipts must be kept and feedback usually needs to be within 24 hours of carrying out the assignment, so you need to be able to complete the task in time. You should be careful and accurate in your criticism and reporting. For example, if someone realises that they have made a mistake, how did they go about rectifying it? Please bear in mind that your feedback may cost someone their job! By building up a good reputation with a company you will become dependable to them and more than likely be offered the better assignments.
Assignments vary considerably. Some may be straight forward, such as checking promotional materials in a retail store and taking a photograph of it, asking about a particular product, reporting on customer service or the general appearance of a shop. Others may be more involved. You may have a scenario which you are asked to carry out, for example, going to a large pet shop and asking for advice on an overweight pet or visiting a bank and opening a certain type of account. In this scenario you may have to telephone the bank beforehand to make an appointment. Some assignments require that you go and buy a drink in a bar or go and eat in a restaurant and this (as with all other predetermined expenses) would be paid for by the company.
In recent years, there has been an increase in mystery shopping scams. Some companies have been charging the public to register with them in order to become a mystery shopper. Reputable mystery shopping companies never ask for a sign up payment, so avoid all those which do. Others scams involve a company asking you to carry out an assignment for which they fund you in advance, but the funding they use is a money order for more than the cost of carrying out the job. They ask you to send the surplus back to them. Only then do you learn that the money order was not valid in the first place. Genuine companies will either pay money upfront into your bank account and only expect you to carry out the assignment when the funds have cleared or else they will pay you after the assignment is complete on a specified date. They will never overpay. Some scams get you to purchase a 'mystery shopping kit' or a list of research companies. The kits are not worthwhile and the lists are available for free on the internet already. Other scams involve you making a payment by Western Union, something which a genuine mystery shopping company would never ask you to do.
Whilst it is difficult to work out average pay per mystery shop, you can expect to earn anything from £5 to £20 for a basic assignment and perhaps over £250 for a job lasting a few days. You may not be paid in cash, but instead get a free meal and a night in a hotel. Obviously the better paid assignments are the quickest to be taken and may not be so frequent, but if you have proved yourself with the company then hopefully you will stand a good chance of securing these jobs.