Friday, October 31, 2008

A Scary Halloween Post (Fast Food Shops)

The more often you eat at a fast food outlet, the greater your odds of running into something truly disgusting. Mystery shopping a fast food place is only different in that you are required to taste the food before making a face and throwing it out. Most companies do not allow you to return incorrect orders or food that clearly has something wrong with it. It comes with the territory.

In observance of Halloween, I offer you these True Tales from the Gross Side of Fast Food Mystery Shopping, each experienced by yours truly:

"Recycled" food wrappers You know, the kind that clearly were used before, and not for the same thing you are eating. The tip-off is how badly wrinkled they are and the greasy fingerprints on the outside. There's usually another hint like melted cheese stuck to the inside of wrapper when what you have ordered is a cold wrap.

Unidentified Fried Objects Yes, I've had a deep-fried UFO stuffed amongst my french fries. I suspect it was just a piece of lemon that fell into the deep fryer, but...ew.

Undercooked Meat Probably my scariest mystery shop of all was the one on which I encountered a lukewarm beef patty. It was seared crisp on the outside and deep, cold red on the inside.

I won't even bore you with the stray hair stories, those are too dull and boring and you've probably encountered them yourself during a quick trip to the drive-thru.

If you go the fast food route, you might want to bring along a digital camera to discreetly document evidence. When I run into something I feel could be a safety issue and not just a nauseator, I'll drop a line to my scheduler and offer my time-and-date-stamped evidence. I've been taken up on my offer more than once, although I'm not privy to the results of my efforts.

My point is that if you are squeamish, perhaps consuming food for a living probably isn't your best option.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Let's Be Careful Out There

Scam uses 'mystery shopper' hook to lure victims

05:36 PM PDT on Friday, October 17, 2008

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Surviving in our troubled economy is growing more challenging by the day and con artists are taking advantage of the situation.

One of the latest scams hitting Oregonians uses mystery shopping to rip off victims.

Legitimate mystery shoppers really do exist, stores sometimes hire them to survey how clerks treat customers.

Nicole Benson from Salem thought that’s what she was signing up for when she discovered a mystery shopping application on line.

Two weeks ago she got a letter in the mail saying she'd been hired and it included a $3,800 check.

She was instructed to deposit the check into her personal account, then test Walmart's moneygram service by wiring $3,400 back to the secret shopping company. She was allowed to keep 4 hundred dollars for her mystery shopping salary.

Benson said, “I felt really stupid at first, oh my god I can't believe I did this because my Mom said are you sure it's not a scam and I said well the check seems to be good?”

Four days later her bank learned the check was a phony. Benson’s personal bank account was frozen and now she is out $3,400. She says she can’t afford to pay her mortgage payment this month.

She's one of two victims in Marion county in the past two weeks.

In this case the crooks are hiding behind international lines in Canada so there is little local law enforcement can do.

Remember, anytime someone asks you to return money though a wire or moneygram, it should be a huge red flag that something is wrong.

Friday, October 17, 2008

If only they could all be like this

I had a peach of an assignment this week. Walk into a store, look for a certain display. If it's there, mark off on the form where I found it and leave. If it's not there, ask the manager for it, put it up and leave.

Store #1: No display. Got display from manager, put it together in one step, stocked with product, applied price sticker, put on register counter, write down manager's name. Time: 10 minutes

Store #2: Found display. It's stocked, labelled and on the register counter already. Time: 2 minutes

I only traveled 15 miles round trip for both stores and no purchase was required. I figure including gas, the travel time, paper and ink to print the forms, and the amount of time I spent online and offline for this job comes to $5 and about 1 hour.

I was paid a most generous $16 ($8 per store) for this assignment. Now that's the kind of compensation that makes mystery shopping worth doing. $11 an hour isn't CEO pay by any means, but the requirements were so easy and the shop was so quick that it was a real joy to perform.

Friday, October 10, 2008

You'll get a thicker skin

I work very hard to earn good scores on my mystery shopping reports. Toward that end I am truthful. The great majority of stores capture you on film from the moment you park your car until you leave the parking lot and can dispute any untruths or exaggerations you report.

Being an independent contractor, my income depends on my scores. It's not a bonus, and I don't have a salary. There are no sick days, no paid vacation and no insurance. I don't get paid extra for finding things wrong with shops, nor for "perfect" shops. I have no incentive for slanting reports in any way. The best shot I have at a great score is to fulfill the shop's requirements, report exactly what happened, quote exactly what was said and get my reports in on time.

If you are a mystery shopper for very long, you will encounter an angry employee who was "burned" by a mystery shopper. Their frustration can stem from what they consider an unfair evaluation, or be directed more at the corporate response to the evaluation. Managers getting bonused without the employees receiving recognition is often a sore spot. Some employees see mystery shoppers as spies, sent by the corporate office to "catch" them being bad.

There has been much discussion among mystery shoppers about a post that was made to a Starbucks message board almost four years ago. I do not post the link here to encourage badmouthing of mystery shoppers, but to warn you: Do this job long enough and you will be outed as the shopper at least once. You will be maligned and slandered, called names, misunderstood and called a liar. It's as much a part of the job as making a mistake big enough to cost you a shop fee. It happens, you learn and move on.

Friday, October 3, 2008

When the Manager gets shopped

I performed a "reveal and reward" mystery shop this week at a local restaurant. It was an easy shop and a restaurant I enjoy but rarely go to. It was a "reveal" shop, which means at the end of the shop I tell the manager that I have mystery shopped his location and give him the results. This particular shop included a reward if all the requirements for a successful shop were met, and it was a nice little reward: American Express Gift Cards for everyone on shift during my shop! Nice.

It was an easy requirement, too. There was just one "catch phrase" that had to be said when I placed my order. And to be honest, if he had used the "catch phrase," my lunch would have been more enjoyable for me, because it was something I wanted anyway! The person who took my order was the manager himself.

Sadly, the requirement wasn't met. When I gave the manager the forms to sign showing that he had an unsuccessful shop, he was embarrassed. He wanted to rush me through the process of completing the paperwork and get me out of the store as quickly as possible. He knew that because of his mistake his team wouldn't get a bonus and realized they might get upset if they knew he had been the one who "blew it." I was discreet, and didn't let on what was going on, and made a hasty exit as soon as his part of the paperwork was done.

I felt bad for the team. In these days of economic turmoil, every little bit helps. But I felt worse for the manager.