By Diane Snyder
As I celebrate 10 years of mystery shopping, I can count 5,000 shops successfully completed. Of the over 5,000 shops I’ve done over this time, I’ve been ‘outed’ as a shopper twice, flaked once and had ‘technical difficulties’ that prevented me from a successful completion three times.
5,000 shops is not too many when you do the math. That was over a ten-year period, so averaged 500 shops per year. Nine or ten shops average per week. Some weeks more, some weeks less. Here’s how I did it…
When I first started to shop, professionally, I was unorganized and did my shops haphazardly. I dabbled. I’d pick and choose only those shops that were near where I thought I might go on an particular day. I might do 2-3 per day, 5 days/week or just one shop another week, but it was not consistent. It took me a while, but I found a routine that worked well for me.
Mondays, I would set up my week’s plan. I used Google calendar and blocked out each shop for the ‘location’ work. Tuesday through Thursday, I would usually work (shop). Then I could relax and have the weekends ‘off.’ Or, and sometimes it happened, that I bit off more than I could chew and had to make up a shop so I had Friday to finish.
I assigned colors to help me manage my time. At that time, I was also taking care of my disabled husband, so I blocked his doctor’s appointments off in blue, personal time/appointments for me in pink, self-assigned shops in dark green (money!) and those shops for which I had applied but was awaiting assignment were color-coded light green. Other colors were used as well, but those were the important ones. I liked Google Calendar because I had it on my husband’s computer at home, my phone and on my computer. No matter where I was or who made an appointment, we knew what the plan was.
I was not focused on a particular number of shops to do, rather on how much money I wanted to earn. My primary responsibility was to take care of my husband, he had many doctor appointments and I needed flexibility in my schedule which was what led me to mystery shopping in the first place. It was a “part-time” job where I was in charge of the hours I worked. My husband and I agreed how much I needed to make per month. Divided it by weeks and divided the weeks into days/shops. Voila!
A few key points there…mystery shopping is work. It isn’t just fun. I did not particularly like to shop for pleasure before, but after becoming a mystery shopper, I now hate shopping unless I’m getting paid to do it!
Organization, focus and mind-set is what it took to make it work.
Soon after I embarked on my professional shopping career, I met another shopper and asked her if it was possible to make any money shopping. She told me that she did not leave her house for less than $100/day. That became my goal. I looked for those shops that paid $15 or more and negotiated with the schedulers whenever possible.
I found that if I were willing to take on multiple locations it was much more productive and efficient, plus I could make the scheduler’s job easier and therefore it was often possible to negotiate a higher fee. I’ve read in the Forum and know from my own first-hand experience, that multiple shops are the way to go. The same survey and guidelines apply for all the shops, so you only need become familiar with them once.
On Mondays, when I was lining up the week, I would also start to review the guidelines, scenario and survey to know if any additional prep work was required, such as reviewing a web site or making a phone call. Prep work was also blocked off on my calendar.
I chose to do shops that did not require a purchase unless it was going to stretch my budget. For a while, I was doing grocery shops and carried a small spiral notebook. I did so many of the shops that I was familiar with knowing what information I was going to need and wrote a cheat sheet on one page and on the next my grocery list. It was natural to shop with a list and not unusual to cross things off (or make notes).
I would generally pick a direction for my shops when I started and was doing what I call ‘paper’ shops (meaning that I would take a printed survey with me and complete much of the survey in the car as soon after completing the shop as possible). Doing multiple shops/day meant there were many details to be recorded while they were still fresh. After doing three Staples shops in the same day, for example, it was hard to remember the names of each employee or the questions that were asked, unless I made my notes as soon after as possible.
Consistency was necessary for me because we were counting on my income and all shoppers know that in order to have that income, we have to keep the pipeline filled. Happy pipeline filling!