Mary Davis Nowell

The Basics of Mystery Shopping.

So, you want to be a mystery shopper but you’re afraid something will go wrong. Of course it will. Now that we’ve clarified that, let’s start.

We’re going to hit some highlights on starting out with basic shops, which is where all of us should start. Basic shops include those such as fast food, convenience stores, banks, and retail stores. We aren’t going to explore fine dining, hotels, time shares, and cruises. Those are for later, and you’ll know when you’re ready.

You need some basic skills, such as the ability to time an event to the second, the ability to take clearly focused pictures in 640 x 480 size and upload them inside a report, and the ability to express yourself clearly and correctly in a narrative description. You need to organize your own work schedule, execute and report on time as agreed, and keep records of shops performed and payment received. You need to record all mileage driven and keep up with receipts on all expenses, as taking advantage of all legal deductions is what makes this work.

Most of us probably started with ordinary fast food or gas shops. Because the gas shop (think convenience store) is more plentiful and lucrative than fast food, we’ll talk about your first gas shop. Normally you will book this shop with a major company because the major companies have most of the gas shops. Keep signing up with companies until you find the sources of the shops you want to do.

Each convenience store brand will have different shopping requirements and will have a different report. Learning to do an Exxon is not learning to do a Shell, although there will be many similarities. Just as there are differences from brand to brand, you will discover differences between the mystery shopping companies who have these clients. Learning to work well with each mystery shopping company and learning to shop each brand are equally crucial skills.

The typical convenience store shop will require the gathering of information, taking required pictures, and taking pictures of all infractions. A problem area for many new shoppers is not understanding that a picture is required of the infraction even if there is nothing to photograph. For example, if the pump did not print out a receipt, that is an infraction on some brands and it is necessary to take a picture supporting the reported infraction. In this case, you would take a picture of the area where the receipt is printed out. Essentially, you are taking a picture of nothing, but you must submit it to support the reported infraction. Yes, you are taking a picture of something “not there”.

At the convenience store, the way you reveal yourself as the auditor sets up your work environment for the job. I recommend not getting in line to reveal yourself, but instead wait until the lines clears to introduce yourself and present your letter of authorization to the cashier. I say something like “Hello, I’m here to do your audit. I need to gather some information and take some pictures. Will that be all right?” Almost without exception the store will accept the audit. Be sure you know what to do if they do not accept the audit or if you hit a closed location.

Each job has specific guidelines and your goal should be to execute those guidelines flawlessly. Do not get creative and attempt to improve or enhance the guidelines. The client and the company want a specific procedure and they want specific information along with required pictures and pictures of all infractions reported. Remember, if you don’t have a picture you don’t have an infraction.

I recommend starting with only one station of one brand and mastering that brand before moving on to others. There are limitations on the length of pieces submitted to the magazine, but this is enough to get you started. In future articles, I’ll go into more detail which I hope will be helpful to you.

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