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AirBnb for Mystery Shoppers

This column is aimed primarily at video route shoppers, although all shoppers can take something away from this, as it could provide a different aspect for the family vacation. As you are no doubt aware, hotel advertising that refers to “high speed” internet almost always refers to download speed, leaving you to guess how much slower the upload speed will be.

As a result, video route shoppers are faced with working with the MSC(s) on a route to have extensions given on the deadlines for getting their shops uploaded. But is there a better way?

With over 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries, Airbnb was founded in 2008 in California. The basic idea is that people who have a spare room in their house or apartment can rent it out to travelers for a day/week/etc. It has a two part feedback system: written feedback where you can read about both the host and guest. Each party has 14 days to leave feedback and they cannot see what the other party says about them until they leave their own feedback. The second part is a five star rating on specific aspects. The host cannot see how an individual guest rates them on stars, as that only shows up as an overall combined rating.

Personal Experience: I recently had a route of 27 shops over 3.5 days; 17 were a video route, and I picked up 10 traditional bank shops for the trip home. Why not pick up $15 each when you’re going right by there? I decided to give Airbnb a try. Registration was easy at www.airbnb.com. The site is easy to navigate and facilitates communication between guests and hosts. This makes it easy to ask questions, such as, “What is your Wi-Fi upload speed?” I was able to find three loacations along my route with upload speeds ranging from 4-6 MBPS. Suffice to say I returned home with only reports to complete, having uploaded my videos each night.

Expenses: For the three nights on the road, two of the rooms were $50 and one was $45, for a total of $145. Normally I stay in mid-range hotels, so I would have been looking at about $75 per night or $225 for the trip. I saved about $85 staying with Airbnb hosts. I had the added benefit of meeting some wonderful people and spending time with them. I don’t know if I would use Airbnb on a route of conventional shops because trying to be social while working on reports almost defies the purpose of Airbnb. It’s easy to start a video upload, and excuse yourself to check on it occasionally, and return to the conversation with your host and [potentially] other guests, as opposed to secluding yourself in your room to work in what is a social situation.

Experiences: This was my first series of stays with Airbnb hosts and the three experiences couldn’t have been more different.

My first host was in Raleigh, NC. He had been on a trip to Chicago and his Sunday night return flight had been cancelled. I had to be at his apartment by 5PM so he could let me in via remote entry—this building has key fob entry into the lobby. I arrived and called him. He buzzed me in and we chatted briefly before he had to board his flight back to Raleigh. Long story short: severe thunderstorms developed around Raleigh, his flight got diverted to Greenville, SC, and I never got to meet him. The need to be at the apartment by 5PM exposed the one flaw for using Airbnb—a lack of flexibility. In my case, one shop ran long, so I had to skip a shop to get back on schedule to be at the apartment on time. Fortunately, I had the ability to reschedule the missed shop for the following week.

Night two was spent with a post-grad student in Spartanburg, SC. As I didn’t have any Airbnb feedback, she asked what I did for a living. I told her that I did customer satisfaction surveys. When I arrived at her home, I was greeted with, “So you’re the mystery shopper!” It turned out that, when she was an undergrad, she did mystery shopping, confining herself mostly to food shops…trading pizzas for reports. There was also the owner of a telephone directory company staying with her, so we spent the night in enjoyable conversation. I just disappeared occasionally to check on the video uploads.

The third night was in my old stomping grounds of Columbia, SC. I spent the night west of town in a neighborhood that was built in the mid-60’s. I had lived in an adjoining neighborhood and remembered the area well. My host was pleasant enough but he was, shall we say, “thrifty.” It was a humid 95 degrees and he was running individual room air conditioners instead of the central air because three of the bedrooms were unoccupied. Being tired helped me to sleep, but that wasn’t the biggest problem. My computer picked up a couple of viruses off his system, so when I got home, I was running a full antivirus scan in addition to trying to complete and upload 27 reports. This is where it pays to pay attention to both the written reviews and the stars. Had I looked closer at the stars, I would have noticed a discrepancy with what was written and would have likely chosen a different host.

The Verdict: I would suggest that video route shoppers give Airbnb a try, or at the very least look into it. While you’re not getting hotel points, if you use your hotel-branded credit card to make the reservation, you can get points that way. I also did not encounter any problems when I asked about their Wi-Fi upload speeds, probably because I just mentioned having some lengthy reports to upload when I asked the question. I don’t think it’s really that feasible for conventional routes though, simply because doing the reporting doesn’t really mix with a social situation. Or, perhaps my Raleigh host said it best in a message to me after I had left, “I wish I could have been there to meet you. Not being there sort of defies the social aspect of Airbnb.”

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