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Professional Mystery Shopper

Written By Pamela White

I had to laugh at the article. One of my favorite newsletters had an interview with a professional mystery shopper. She talked of how the jobs were low-paying and hard to find. She did it, she said, for fun. There is no money in mystery shopping she declared.

I laughed because in my first month dabbling in mystery shopping, I billed one firm $175 for my shopping experiences. The second month I billed much less, $65, but lined up a future job that would last a full week and paid $12 per hour plus mileage and expenses. And I thought mystery shopping would be a sideline.

It’s easy to get hooked - the shopping part is simple and often fun. When a firm hires me as an independent contractor I take my job seriously. I see my role as a consumer advocate. How can a store or restaurant insure its success unless customer service and shop cleanliness is assured?

My role is to observe employees and their appearance, cleanliness and organization of the store, products or catalogs on display. I may be required to purchase an item that will be returned a few hours or a day later. Pay varies: I might get the price of a meal during a restaurant shop, $7 an hour, or $35 per job. I have already found that when locations are hard to find shoppers for a $10 to $20 bonus is not unusual. Some jobs include expenses for mileage. Shops are over the phone making hotel reservations or online ordering merchandise.

A typical retail job involves one to two visits to the store. Keen observation skills are essential. Who is greeting you? How many customers are in the store? How long (minutes and seconds) before you are noticed looking at computers or dresses? Are the aisles clear, is the special display up and full of product, are the customers treated with respect?

Always carry a notebook, but don’t bring it out. If you are supposed to be anonymous, you’ll blow your cover if you whip out a notebook while squinting at a sales associates name tag. You’ll need the notebook nearby in your pocket or purse for writing notes as soon as you are back in your car or out of sight of the store staff.

When you are to ask questions of a sales person or waiter, make sure the questions are logical. If you are a woman over 5’10” and of considerable girth, do not ask the sales clerk to show you some petite dresses. If you are 35 years old and doing a senior citizen apartment complex shop, then have a story prepared that you are doing preliminary checking for your retired parents who will be moving to your town next summer. If you are looking for office furniture, forgo the children and jeans/sneaker combo; polish your professional appearance.

I’m saying that every job will not be for every shopper. I cannot pretend to be pregnant for a maternity store shop at my age, nor can I take an assignment to try on clothes in a young and trendy casual shop. But I could bring my daughter to the latter and perhaps a younger friend to the former. In those cases, I can still note the names of sales staff and orderliness of the store and remain plausibly undercover.

Can you change your looks? You don’t have to be in disguise to look different
- lipstick, heels, dress coat and hair curled and moussed high make me look younger and professional. My heavy down coat and snow sneakers, thick-framed glasses and no make-up place me in the beyond middle-age and outdoorsy group. Besides, it’s fun to be someone else once in a while.

Where are the jobs? Do you have to wait until you find a want ad for Mystery
Shopper in your Sunday paper? Use your online know-how. Plug in mystery shopper, evaluators, auditors, mystery shops or any combination into your favorite search engine. Dozens of mystery shopping firms have found a way to expand business by allowing potential shoppers to sign up online. Many require that you keep checking back at their website for available jobs; they will not seek you out specifically.

Another way to find job openings is by joining mystery shopping mailing lists. Visit www.YahooGroups.com and www.topica.com for possibilites.

So what happens once you’re an experience shopper? You know how to study the client’s requirements and fulfill them. You are now an expert at remaining anonymous and blending in. You return purchases with aplomb and memorize seven employees names and descriptions with ease. Need another challenge? Do what the people you are working for do: start your own local evaluation firm.

But what about the professional mystery shopper who said there was no money to be made? You can make a small income, but it takes flexibility in scheduling and energy to track down local jobs, great record keeping for taxes and an eye for detail. It’s a wonderful part time venture to pick up extra cash - imagine taking your children to a fast food restaurant and having the food paid for and your fee paid as well. As your children move on to school, you can add on hours to suit your life or continue to use it as supplemental income.

Whatever you do - have fun!

Pamela has written an eBook which is sold right here at Bizymoms.com - Get it TODAY!

Shop 'Til You Drop, And Get Paid For It
Written By Stacey Posey

All my life I have know that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I grew up watching family members staying home to raise their kids and I saw the many rewards.

When I became pregnant with my son, I thought my dream was never going to some true. Although my husband and I were trying to conceive a child, we just didn't think it would happen so soon after we started trying. We had just bought a new sports car and had a LOT of credit card debt. Throughout my pregnancy I planned on returning to my job as a Human Resources Assistant after a 12 week maternity leave. My husband and I tried to figure out a way for me to stay home, but it just seemed impossible.

After my son's birth, I began having terrible crying episodes. I thought I was having more than "baby blues", until a light bulb came on in my head and I realized why I was so very sad. I couldn't bare the thought of returning to work and leaving my baby for someone else to raise.

It was then I began praying more than I had been that God would work a miracle in our financial situation so that I could stay home with my child. I talked to my husband and expressed how deeply I desired to be a SAHM. He was still convinced that we just couldn't make ends meet without my salary.

Well, two weeks before the day I had to go back to work, I told my husband I was just not going to be able to go back to work. I told him I wouldn't let us go broke, and if it looked like we were going to ruin our credit or could not put food on the table, I would return to work. Thankfully, he agreed.

My son is now nearing his one-year birthday and only by the grace of God have we been able to survive the past months. At first, we barely made end meet, but now, I have gotten involved with three home-based businesses that supplement our income. One of these "business adventures", as I like to call them, is mystery shopping.

I first heard of mystery shopping through my mother and aunt. The two of them work for a couple of different mystery shopping companies and they both gave me the companies' names, phone numbers, addresses, and website addresses. I sent each a nicely typed letter requesting an application. It took several weeks to hear back from one company, but the others sent me applications or directed me to online applications within two weeks. I also went through several search engines on the internet to find even more companies to shop for. This took several hours, but within the month, I was assigned several shopping assignments from a lot of companies. It was then I started making a small income as a mystery shopper to supplement my family's other income.

Mystery shopping is in great demand and many companies are looking for both experienced and inexperienced shoppers. The clients of the companies pay for mystery shopping services for reasons such as improving products/services and training, just to name a couple. The only real requirements of becoming a shopper are to have reliable transportation and a typewriter and/or computer (some companies do require you to have a computer for correspondence through email and through their websites). After being accepted as a shopper for a company, you will be assigned shops for a peticular place and time frame. After your shop is complete, the company with have you to fill out very detailed reports either on your computer or on paper forms to mail in. If you need to bring your kids along, NO PROBLEM! You will be going to the business like a regular customer, and the employees will not know what your purpose is visiting the business. Depending on the company, you will be reimbursed for your expenses anywhere from two weeks to six weeks after the shop is completed.

I have been told that mystery shoppers can make $100,000 a year, but let me tell you from my experience, the average amount is closer to $50-$500 per month, depending on the type of shop and the number you perform each month. Some companies only reimburse you for your expenses and others pay you a "fee" on top of your expenses. Before you complete a shop, you will be informed of the specific policy for reimbursement. Even if you are not paid a "fee", you will still have the treat of eating at a fine restaurant or spending a night in a nice hotel free-of-charge.

There are so many aspects of getting started mystery shopping. I spent hours searching the web, reading books, and talking to experienced mystery shoppers. There are basically no start-up costs, but you will need to find companies that are accepting new shoppers. I have written a free Mystery Shopping Tutorial to help anyone interested in this "business adventure" get started. Please feel free to email me at homeiswherethemomis@yahoo.com with any questions you might have.

Good Luck and Have Fun Shopping!!

Stacey Posey

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A MYSTERY SHOPPER
By Alyice Edrich

Mystery Shoppers don’t wear funny glasses and toursity clothes, they don’t have walkie talkies and ear pieces, and they don’t sneak around hoping no one will see them. On the contrary mystery shoppers are everyday customers who do a little shopping while taking mental notes of all that transpired.

Since customer service is what keeps a customer returning to the same store or restaurant, it only seems natural that a customer evaluates the employees. The owners want to make sure that each employee is respectful and helpful to their customers, but they also want to make sure that their policies and procedures are being followed.

Mystery Shoppers are asked to fill out reports that detail their latest shopping experience. It may be something as simple as a yes and no form, or something that requires more detailed paragraph answers. The forms usually ask questions such as:

"Was the food hot and did it appear appetizing?"

"Was the following ad placed behind the check out counter, in plain view?"

"When you handed the employee exact change, what did he do with the money?"

"When you asked for an out of stock item, how did the employee help you?"

"How many employees were there in the store and what were they doing?"

"How many customers did you count in the store and were they being helped?"

"Did you find such and such and where was it located in the store?"

Mystery Shopping can be a hobby or a low-paying full time business. The cool thing about making it a full time business is the home business deductions, such as internet service and that extra phone line. One can also deduct mileage expenses for wear and tear on the car.

Most jobs, or "shops" as they are called average $5 to $20 per shop. There are continuous shops, or "ongoing" shops that require eight to ten hours a month shopping the same local department store. These shops earn anywhere from $180 to $200 per month.

The fringe benefits are what really make this experience worth the effort. Fringe benefits such as free meals, free movie tickets, free concert tickets, free tire rotations or oil changes, and the list can go on. But not every shop offers these frills.

Some shops require that you enter a store to try on some pieces of clothing while others ask that you purchase an item only to return the next day.

When we first started mystery shopping, my husband thought it was a waste of our time and resources. He felt the pay was too little for all that we had to do. Keep in mind that my first shops required two trips to the same store. I had to make up a story, ask for certain items, purchase them and then mail them back to the company’s head office. I even had a shop where I had to purchase something and return it within a week.

One day, we got a job to go to a Pizza Shop and have a large pizza with a pitcher of soda. The company reimbursed for the food, but did not offer pay for the time to do the job. A few weeks later, we got our oil changed on the car as well as a much needed alignment.

Finally, the light bulb went off in my husband’s head. He said, "You had to take the other jobs to get into the company so we could get these jobs. If we only did these types of shops, it would be worth it."

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