Mary Davis Nowell

Stay Organized Mystery Shopping

Last month, Mary gave a basic primer into the preparations required to shop a route of gas stations/convenience stores. This month, she takes us into how she organizes her paperwork and keeps the shops flowing in the correct order.

We talked about your camera in the initial column, but just to review, your camera should be capable of being preset to 640 x 480 for pictures and you should be familiar with the camera. For some shops you will need the time and date stamp so learn how to set this and turn it on and off. If you don’t know how to download your pictures from your camera to your computer and get them into a report, the day of the shop is NOT the day to learn. Using the camera and processing the pictures is a necessary skill and you will not be successful without that skill. You can learn what you need to know following the tutorials for your camera and you can also research problems online.

Be sure your camera battery is charged, or if you are using AA camera batteries take some extras along with you. I carry my extra AA camera batteries in plastic medication vials, two to the vial, one up and one down, and it works great. If you don’t have extra vials around the house, you can pick them up for not much at a pharmacy.

Every shopper has a different paperwork system. I’ll tell you how I handle the paper and you can take what you like and leave the rest. I make a manila folder for each job I do and label it with the name of the job, the town, and the date using a Sharpie marker so I can read the front of the folder easily when I’m driving and need to refer to it. I print out the first page of the job information, but this is optional and you can skip that step by making whatever notes you need. I put my cheat sheet on top of the job information and staple it down in the folder with two staples, one at each corner at the top. If I have a letter of introduction for the convenience store I fold that and slip it under and over the cheat sheet/info sheet on the side. If it’s a first time station for me, I’ll draw a rough map on the front of the folder, big so I can see it quickly driving.

On the job, I make all my notes on the cheat sheet and directly on the folder. The pictures inside my camera and the notes in and on the folder are the source material for the report that goes in that night. After I’ve completed the report, the folder goes in my pending file until the job is paid.

I carry my job folders, any guidelines I need, my cameras and batteries and other miscellaneous supplies in a hard bottom open top tool tote with a substantial handle. Home Depot and Lowes both sell suitable totes. Mine is a Husky brand but others appear to be just as good. This tote goes back and forth from the car to the house. After I finish up a day’s reports, I change out the batteries in the camera and return the camera to the tool tote. I put in tomorrow’s folders and the tote is ready to pick up and go the next morning. The best thing about the open top tote is being able to see everything at a glance.

Again, I suggest you start with one station and build from there with additional stations of the same brand until you know that brand. Then add one station with a new brand and follow the same procedure. I now shop several brands, and each time I add a new brand I bump up against a learning curve just like any other new shopper. The most important advice I can give you is to be kind to yourself and realize you will not be perfect, but in time you will get better and better.

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