Friday, May 23, 2008

The Basics of Mystery Shopping: FREE stuff!

If you've ever seen an ad for mystery shopping, it probably reads something like this:

Love to shop? Shop at your favorite stores and keep what you buy for FREE!

The reality is slightly different.

Being a mystery shopper is only one-third shopping. In my shopping business, I spend about three hours a day researching assignments, filling out applications with new companies, completing online survey forms for shops I've done and managing the recordkeeping associated with my business. So, love to shop? Good! Love paperwork? Better!

At my current count, there are just over 400 mystery shopping companies. Each company has their own corral of clients and the client list is just as proprietary and closely guarded as any private detective or law firm. (In some states, a private investigator's license is a legal requirement for mystery shoppers.) A reputable company (and a trustworthy shopper) will never, ever reveal what company provides shops for which retailer. As a matter of fact, part of the contract we sign with mystery shopping companies is that we will not divulge where we shop for whom. So, if you want to "shop at your favorite stores," your best bet is to sign up with all 400+ companies, check their websites daily for new job listings and be the first to sign up for them! In reality, however, you will probably end up shopping locations you don't mind shopping more often than at your favorite stores.

"Keep what you buy for free" is misleading as well. Remember my part one example? Superstore, Inc. has already set their prices and shop requirements with Mystery Shopping Company long before the job is available to accept by Sally Shopper. Superstore, Inc. is paying for the services of Mystery Shopping Company and might want to limit their additional expenses, so they might say a purchase is required but only $5 of whatever you choose to buy will be reimbursed. So, they might have you shop for an iPod, but all they will reimburse is a can of soda or pack of gum. Sure, you can buy the iPod, but you'll be paying for all but $5 of it yourself. Never once have I been sent to a dress shop that sells $300 dresses and been reimbursed for the cost of such a delectable frock. In this case, they would reimburse me for a pair of socks, say $10 or so. Often, Superstore will dictate what must be purchased: a cherry vanilla yogurt freeze at their snack bar, for example. Wow, I'd rather have chocolate, but cherry vanilla is the assignment. Yes, I got to keep what I bought for FREE!

So, if you have dreams of buying multiple pairs of Manolos until your closet resembles Imelda Marcos', play the lottery. If you don't mind taking what is offered or getting a discount on pricier merchandise, read on!

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