Friday, January 7, 2011

Secret Shopping in 7 Steps

I thought I'd give a general overview of the secret shopping thing, because I always get so many questions about it.  I'll do it step-by-step.

Step 1: Sign up as a secret shopper.  It's free, just a tiny bit more involved than signing up for an email.  There are a lot of companies that do this (google "secret shopper" or "mystery shopper" to find them).  Don't ever pay a website for any kind of subscription.  This is something that, at least signup-wise, is completely free.  They may ask for a lot of information, like your gender, if you own a car, if you travel, which is simply so they can target you for different shops, like at a lingerie store, auto shop, or an airport.  Most secret shopping places will give you access to a current list of shops in your area, but it's easier just to have them emailed to you.

Sign up at several websites, since any one of them may send you only one or two emails a week, depending on where you live.  Since it's free, even if you sign up for fifteen, $0.00 x 15 = $0.00, which is a bargain.

Step 2: Watch your email.  If you signed up for a few of the services, you'll be getting potential assignments daily, and you may pick and choose which one looks good to you.  A typical one might say, in essence, "Secret Shopper Services: Mystery Shop, Fine Dining.  Eat at Shay Pierre restaraunt during lunch hours between the thirteenth and the seventeenth, get up to 50.00 reimbursed, and earn 15.00.  Take your sweetie out and enjoy some escargot!"  The emails are generally much longer than that.

Step 3: Request to do a shop.  Depending on whatever the rules are for that particular company, you send a message to the person in charge saying you'd like to do the shop.  Include, in your request, experience you have in mystery shopping, and if you have none, then convince them that you have great attention to detail, are reliable, etc. etc.  We all know the song and dance.

Step 4: Read the small print.  After you're approved for a shop, you'll get a link to detailed instructions on what to look for and how to behave during the shop.  The above one might say, "Arrive between one o'clock and two-thirty, and request a seat near a window.  Do not ask for a wine menu, and note if the waitress offers one.  Are the tables clean?  Are the salt and pepper shakers full?  Does she offer you dessert after you're done?  At some point, you must order a cocktail at the bar (must be 21) and count the seconds the bartender pours the liquor.  Does he over/under pour?  You must stay for one hour.  Dress in semi-formal attire."  Those are generally much much longer than that, too.

Step 5: Do your shop.  Show up on the right time, and the right day, which were both chosen for a reason.  Feel free to bring other people, or just go to that business how you would if you were a normal customer, unless it goes against something in your instructions.  Now, one really important thing, that is true, even if you don't think it's true, is

You are going to need to take notes.

I'm not going to write it again, so just read it a couple more times, and help me emphasize.  There are going to be so many things you're paying attention to, that you can't store all that junk in your head reliably.  No, you can't.  Especially all of the employee's names that you interact with.  That's crucial.  How do you take notes without being conspicuous?  (Did I mention that if you're found out by the employees, you don't get paid?)  The easiest way is a cell-phone.  Just keep texting yourself, or your twitter, or whatever.  Looks perfectly innocent.  If you aren't a part of our decade, you could take a notepad into the bathroom with you every now and then.  If anyone asks, tell them you have bladder problems.  Or, just say it anyway.  What are they going to do?

Follow the instructions, take your notes, and go home.

Step 6: Write your report.  Yeah, I said write your report.  I apologize if you suddenly lost your hard-on for this job, but this report is the whole point if all the work (eating frog legs) that you've done.  It doesn't need to be Robert Frost, but try to keep your capitals and your periods in the right places.  When you turn your notes "no tp in b-room" into a narrative of your experience "and the bathroom was lacking toilet paper" keep in mind who you're writing for.  This is going to the manager, or the owner, of the business you went to.  They want to know what was pleasant, what ran like a well-oiled machine, what relaxed you, but ever more they want to know what put you off, and where their employees are messing up.  Only give observations, do not give suggestions.  That's not your place.  Do the report right away, as soon as you get home, before your memories start to mush together the way memories tend to do.

Step 7: Question your morality.  Something that put me off about secret shopping is that I'm the kind of person who values the employees more than their tyrannical rulers, and as a secret shopper, I'm playing spy, and I don't know if my actions are getting someone fired for a slight that I didn't really give a shit about in the first place.  I'm happy if the bartender gives me a little extra alcohol, but his boss isn't.  Also, sometimes, in the middle of an assignment, you realize that you were placed in the business in such a position that one specific employee is serving you, and it's very likely that person you're getting paid to snitch on.  It's not a good feeling, especially if you really like the person.  What would they do in the movies?  They would set their jaw, puff their chest out, and say, "Belinda, I have something to say.  I was sent here to watch you.  To... spy on you.  I'm not proud of it, but it's what happened, so I'm telling you."

Belinda throws her hands up, "No!  No!  You can't just tell me that!  Take it back!  You won't get reimbursed, you won't get paid at all!"

"I don't care.  I just don't care anymore.  I would rather buy these tires at full price than hurt you.  I have to go."

"No, don't..."

"I'm going."  And then he walks into the sunset, depending on the time of day the shop was scheduled for.

But we don't do that in real life, because in real life we do bad things to people, and then make up for it by feeling a little bit upset for a second, which is as it should be.

Now you know the seven steps, which will vary slightly depending on the company and the shop, but not a lot.  And knowing, as cartoon characters used to say, is half the battle.  The other half is doing, which is where most people get hung up.  That's your issue, though.

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