Hidden Cameras for Mystery Shoppers

Doing a mystery shop feels even more secretive to me when I am recording it. Considering that hidden cameras come in many forms these days, including buttons, eyeglasses, pens, cell phones and other modes, a shopper can be very discreet and effective.

Before even considering which camera mode to use, however, shoppers need to first know if the mystery shopping company (MSC) wants them to use their own camera or the company’s camera. Many MSCs prefer that their shoppers own their own cameras. This could be for a number of reasons: less inventory to worry about, more shopper ease with his/her own equipment, etc. However, some MSCs want shoppers to use the companies’ cameras. One rep explained to me that her company’s cameras were all insured, so any malfunctions would be covered. In situations like this, shoppers need to allow at least a couple of hours for practice time before the shoot to learn how to use the equipment, to get used to wearing the camera and to make sure that the equipment is working well.

Should the shopper need to buy his/her own equipment, then the fun begins. For myself, I thought this would mean choosing a cool-looking pen with an embedded camera and sticking it in shirt pocket. All I would have to do then is walk in, sit down, put on a smile and keep recording. How cool! How easy! Actually, there is more to it than that.

Some MSCs already know which camera mode they want you to use. They know which cameras work well with their shop scenarios and which won’t, so make sure you know which camera modes are acceptable to the company. One scheduler recommended the eyeglass camera for drive-thru situations at banks and fast-food restaurants because it records curves well. An experienced videographer recommended the eyeglass camera for its good sound quality and said it worked well in situations where the subject was mainly positioned in front of the shopper. However, she added that shops requiring the shopper to look up and down, such as mattress or computer retail stores, do not do well with this camera, as the head motion results in shaky video. Even when the shopper is looking at the subject, he or she needs to be careful, as nodding one’s head up and down in response to a salesperson’s pitch can also result in wildly weaving film.

Cameras disguised as buttons on a shirt are the most acceptable, probably because they have been the most reliable and are easy to conceal, according to the videographer. They provide good aim and have proven to work well in a number of situations, including retail, new home and apartment shops. Cameras hidden in cell phones, pagers, purses and briefcases still need to be deliberately positioned to capture the subject, and might end up looking suspicious in the process.

Another factor to consider is the amount of recording time the camera offers. Pen cameras might offer an hour of video for 4 GB of storage. Eyeglass cameras can hold up about an hour-and-a-half to two hours of video for every 4 GB of storage – not practical if a shop requires more time or for a route that requires several shops, although some eyeglass recorders offer an additional 8 GB SD card.

In closing, it is advisable to get familiar with the MSCs who offer video shops and what their expectations are. (This information will be covered in a future article in this column.)  Knowing what type of cameras are acceptable to the MSCs and the type of shops they generally do will help you determine the type of camera that would be best for you.

Next month’s column will provide information on whether it is better to go with a body-worn, wired DVR and camera or with the wireless camera and recording device in one.

Your Comments:

  1. Teresa Shedlock says:

    Thank you

  2. Karen says:

    This is great information. I wish there was a list of companies and what video equipment they accept. I have several types of glasses that have great video and audio. The button camera has many different variables that could get your shop rejected. The glasses for me are more natural. I have asked a couple of companies if they would accept my glasses but have not heard a response from them.