Featured Shopper: StormCloud

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How long have you been mystery shopping?

Currently, since October 2010.  I previously did some mystery shopping in 1997-99.

Where are you shopping?

Northwest Oregon, centered from the Wilamette Valley area.

What got you started?

Back in ‘97-98, my sister came across a couple of mystery shopping companies (don’t know/remember how, but it wasn’t online!) and did a couple shops.  She eventually decided it wasn’t for her, because she was uncomfortable with the role-playing, and nervous remembering her roles.

But one company (Courtesy Counts, do they still exist?) needed someone with a dog, to shop a national pet supply chain — specifically, to shop their in-store grooming service.  I used to show and breed Shelties, so had a good supply of very furry dogs.

I ended up regularly having one of my dogs groomed at this store  — like every other month at least — for well over a year.  It reimbursed for the full grooming service, plus a small purchase in the store, plus a few bucks on top of that.  Plus, they always did a good job and took good care of my sweet Sheltie.

From there, Courtesy Counts contacted me about some other shops — the main ones I remember is some national office supply stores.  There were a few other retail locations but I don’t remember what types anymore.  Then my sister found another company, I think called T.I.P.S.?  Or T.O.P.S.  Some such thing, and I don’t remember how she found them, either.  Anyways we did a few casual dining restaurants that were fun.

Back then, mystery shopping was my fourth job, and I ended up giving it up for my other three more-lucrative ones that were taking up all my time — plus a new litter of puppies.  That was also the day of hand-written and then faxed-in reports.

Much later in time, between jobs and having a hard time finding one (like everyone else at the time with the sucky economy) I thought about MS’ing again, but didn’t do good enough research — I wasn’t sure what to search for.  What I did find, sounded totally not legit.  Plus, I was silly enough to think I’d find MS “jobs” by checking traditional job boards. But finally in 2010, seriously desperate to make *some* money; I did some way-better and more-serious research.

I started with simply Googling “Legitimate Mystery Shopping”, which yielded some listing sites, blogs and general information stuff.  Also the “other” forum, then Mystery Shop Forum in spring of 2011 (yay!).  Even though I never went for paying “Shadow Shopper”, I found some legit MSC’s there.  I also found JobSlinger and whatever the other sites like that are.  I forget the names because I rarely use these sites to find shops — however, they’re fantastic for finding what MSC’s have shops in your area.  One thing just kept leading to another.

So for the current era, I did my first MS in late October of 2010.

What was your first assignment and how did it go?

You know, my first was either Five Guys, or Winco (a regional grocery chain).  I suppose I could go into my enormous spreadsheet and find out, but whatever.

And yeah, the way my mind works, I set up a fairly elaborate spreadsheet and file system on the computer way before I ever read any advice to do so.  Adding my own little tweaks as I went along, but always including a way to track shop dates/times and locations, money owed and paid, and all expenses and reimbursements.  Mileage, drive-time, and printing expense calculations came later.  Everything is continuously tabulated at the bottom making tax-time fairly easy.

Later, when I read on this forum about setting up your MS spreadsheet?  I thought, “Hey, I thought of all of that all on my own.  And mine’s better than this one, anyways.” )  hahaha!  But I’ve always preferred setting up my own custom stuff on the computer, and almost never use pre-made stuff.

So anyway, let’s say the first shop was Five Guys.  That one and the Winco were really close together anyways.  And, actually… it was a breeze and fun.  I‘ve always naturally noticed all kinds of oddities, anyways, that a lot of people don’t even see; and I sure as hell can write about food.  A lot of people complain about having to write a blurb about their bun?  Why?  It’s fun.

Also, I have this thing where I can play back events like a movie in my head.  An MSC once contacted me six or seven weeks after a shop to ask some oddly specific questions about an unattended shopping cart I’d reported in an aisle.  Once they gave me the location and the main associate’s name I was like, “Oh, yeah — that shop!” and closed my eyes and could see the whole thing — and gave them every last tiniest detail about that errant cart.

Anyways, that first Five Guys.  The only weird thing was waiting for the clerk to offer fries and/or drink, “even if you have to wait in silence”, I think the guidelines say?  And sure enough, the clerk didn’t say a thing for a couple beats after I finished ordering the burger.  But then he did, so all was well.  And I’m good at playing an idiot and just standing there, even though I’m really a genius.

A later shop at the same location?  I got the same clerk.  This time he waited, and waited, and waited, and waited for what seemed like an eternity.  In silence.  So did I.  It became like a game to see who would break first.  I *know* he knew what was going on.  Eventually he cracked and smiled a little, and I just did a dumb smile back and shrugged slightly.  F-i-n-a-l-l-y the dude asked if I’d like fries.  Sheesh!

What is your favorite type of assignment?

One that pays really crazy-super well.

There was this one set of crazy-bonused (for what they were) shops a year or so ago… enough that it was four or five (six?) full-day routes, but spread out over a couple of weeks.  On one hand, I hated those shops, because they bored the crap outta me… but on the other hand I loved them, because boy, did they pay well.  Neither the shops nor the reports were difficult at all.  And after you’ve done the first four or five — hey, you can almost do them in your sleep.

Same with another particular set of heavily-bonused shops that seem to come out twice a year.  It’s a special in-depth shop that’s different from the other shops at the same locations throughout the rest of the year.  But geesh — in these little teeny-weeny stores in little teeny-weeny towns?  It can take a lot of creativity to get the required seven or eight interactions in each of the different “departments” — especially when the “department” is just a little rack about two feet square and six feet tall.

What kind of assignment haven’t you tried out yet?

Phone shops.  I hate talking on the phone (at least to strangers and customer service people) and part of that is because of a stuttering problem that only happens when I get nervous.  I get nervous by the idea of being recorded.  And I just don’t like talking on the phone with people I don’t know.

I don’t think I could ever do a funeral shop unless it was about pre-planning for yourself, and even that’s creepy-ish.  Although I have gone out and laid on my future burial plot to check out the view.  🙂

What’s your #1 tip for other shoppers?

Learn how to route — or group — shops.  Learn all the little towns within what you consider a reasonable driving distance.  Put formulas in your spreadsheet to quickly calculate how much it will cost to go from your house to point B so you can make a call on jobs FAST… it aggravates the hell outta me the few times I’ve missed a shop by under an hour (and sometimes mere minutes!) while figuring stuff out!  And I can still recall each individual circumstance!

Figure out what kind of MS’ing is your forte.  Do you love or hate cell phone shops?  (Hate!)

Practice memory techniques if you weren’t blessed with a naturally excellent memory like mine. )  Even I have to remind myself to take note of glasses and beards.  For some reason, those features just blend in with who someone is, and don’t stand out to me unless it’s someone I know who suddenly got glasses or grew a beard.  🙂

That’s three, isn’t it?  Whatever.  🙂

What’s your biggest pet peeve with mystery shopping?

Repetitive, redundant reports!!!  OMG, I hate hate hate that.  I hate describing landscaping four different times in four different ways in four different places; and I hate giving a narrative about each and every individual part of a shop and THEN an overall narrative at the end.  Everything’s already there, for crying out loud!!  And then they have the nerve to say “Don’t just copy and paste”.  Sheesh.  Good thing I have a fairly large vocabulary to switch up telling the same story over.  🙂

Oh — that and stuff like having to write a paragraph each about (1) what the associate said, (2) how they said it, (3) were they smiling when they said it? (4) their tone of voice while they said it, (5) their eye contact while they said it, and on and on and on.  Sheesh.  How about one succinct paragraph about the overall encounter?  🙂

I also hate poorly-written guidelines.  Especially when *those* are redundant, too!  OMG.  There’ll be 27 pages, but only about nine with unique information — and not nine consecutive, either.  Stuff is repeated every few pages.  Geeze.

What’s your favorite MSC?

Don’t really have one single one, and my top few has changed.  Used to really like CORI and Market Force, because they often used to have nicely-bonused shops in this area — if you waited them out, that is.  But of course CORI went down the toilet as they became whatever the heck it is they are now.  And Market Force must have gone super-crazy cheap.  So lately I’ve really enjoyed JMRidgway.  Also Bare Int’l.  Reality Check has always been a stand-by, even though they lost one of my favorite shops recently.

MSPA Certification

Bah.  Who needs it.  I’ve thought about getting Silver?  But so far I seem to be getting enough jobs, most of the time, to make what I want (or close to it).  And I’m super-cheap.  And it seems several people don’t notice a huge difference in the availability or selection of jobs anyways.  Plus, after four years, I hope I’ve a half-ways decent rep.  🙂

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