Friday, May 16, 2008

The Basics of Mystery Shopping: The best of shops, the worst of shops

What are my shops like? I'll take you with me on a shop in a future entry, but here's a snapshot of my favorite and least favorite assignments.

My favorite shop is a fast food shop. I may only choose from a limited menu of items, and only the least expensive options will be covered 100% by the reimbursement. Ah, but I get to eat in my car! The survey is five pages printed out, and has three "narratives." Narratives are written stories of what happened. So, for example, on the survey you check off no, the employee wasn't in uniform and in the narrative you tell exactly what the employee was wearing—or wasn't wearing—that constitutes being out of uniform. Industry-wide expectations for narratives include complete sentences, correct grammar and perfect spelling. Back to the shop. There are only two "timings," but because I'm in my car the stopwatch is easy to conceal. The shop fee is relatively low at $5-7, but there are a lot of these shops available. I accept three or four of these 30 minute assignments a week. They might require a 7AM breakfast or a 10PM dinner, but I have turned them into "kid dates." Once I examine and taste the food, my date for the shop gets to eat it (saving me the calories, thank you.) It's a one-on-one time with Mom that is hard to come by in my large family.

My least favorite shop takes place in an electronics retailer. I must provide four timings, visit two departments, ask three specific questions and quote the exact responses, plus provide exact quotes and names of three other employees I encounter and evaluate the restroom. I can't take kids with me, and although the pay is slightly higher at $10, it can take an hour to perform the shop. The survey form is a grueling six pages, with at least two 200-word narratives on each page. I can't take the form with me into the shop because the shop uses electronic surveillance (cameras on the ceiling) and I might be spotted as the shopper.

Some would say a photographic and audiographic memory is a plus in mystery shopping. I'd say it's a requirement.

Next week, things that might surprise you about mystery shopping.

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