Friday, November 28, 2008

Recording Information: The Tip Sheet part two

Whoa! I didn't get that whole thing about folding the tip sheet in fourths. Do you have a picture of that?

Sure, I have a couple! First, I made a tip sheet listing the departments and what data I need to gather for the report. I listed it down the left-hand side of a sheet of paper turned landscape.

Now I fold it this way:
And that:

And write my list on the blank top when it's all shut:
Now as I walk through the aisles, all a passerby can see is my handwritten list. But if I flip the top open, I have access to all my notes.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Recording Information: The Tip Sheet

Tip sheets are very valuable tools in the mystery shopping arsenal. When you receive an assignment, your report form could run from two to twenty pages or more. Since you are not permitted to bring the forms with you into the store, how will you remember all the data you need to collect? And once you know what you need to know, how will you remember it all?

I like using my home computer to cut and paste single words or phrases from a downloaded reporting form into a second document. I try to get it down to one single-sided page with just enough room to write some sketchy notes. By making it one-sided, I can fold the sheet in fourths and always have it blank on the outside. This leaves room for a for-show list on the front. If someone spots the paper in my hand, all they will see is the list of things appropriate for that store. Paper clips, Bic pens, Post-It notes; or brown sweater, white pumps, half slip. Hidden inside are the clues that keep me on track.

I try to write my tip sheet in the order the observations will be made. Time in, parking lot observations, enter store, cash wrap observations, greeted by employees on the sales floor, clothing displays, price check, name of employee at dressing room. I can jot down information while I'm in the dressing room and refold my paper so the next set of items is easy to see. Many times the reporting form doesn't use the same order and I'd rather my tip sheet be easy to use on the spot. I can reformat my answers later as long as I have the data I need.

I'll often use "native paper" for my tip sheet. If I have a grocery shop, I'll make some coded notes in the margins of the sale paper. If I need to get the name of the employee at the meat department, I'll write "Angus" in the meat section. Then when I see his name, I'll put that on my paper next to Angus, with a coded physical description 6 pounds 2 ounces for chili, 24 ounces for burgers (6'2" tall, age between 20 and 25.) White chili would mean blonde or gray hair, BBQ burgers is red hair (BBQ sauce is red), burgers with gravy is brown hair, that sort of hint. If the store is very crowded, I'll make an anagram of a person's name rather than writing the whole name. Beans, Rice, Ice cream, Angel food cake, Nestles morsels. B-R-I-A-N.

Writing and using a tip sheet will assist your memory, especially on complicated shops. I love thinking up ways to use tip sheets to stay anonymous and still gather all the information I need. For me, it's an artistic pursuit.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Recording information: Discretion

These days, there are recording devices everywhere, especially in retail outlets. See those clear black plastic "balls" hanging from the ceiling at the department store, discount store, drug store, grocery store, and just about everywhere else? They contain cameras and your actions are being recorded. Don't get paranoid, those cameras are there for the protection of the store and their customers.

So, you've done part of your shop and you need to write down some information before you get your next set of data to report. Most shopping assignments will specify that you may not leave the store and return to complete a shop. So, how will you get your notes on paper without being discovered?

Tip Sheet Next week's post will deal specifically with the tip sheet. In short, it is a piece of paper you've prepared with brief notes on the information you need to collect. You can jot information on your tip sheet discreetly if you are careful, but with all those cameras, you still could be discovered.

Cell Phone Of course, during a shop your cell phone will be set to "silent" so you don't get a call during an important interaction. But you can still use your phone to send yourself a text message or email about the data you've collected so far. You can leave coded messages on your home voicemail as well. You can also use your cell phone as a prop to pretend to phone home for the shopping list you "forgot" or directions on how to get to your next stop all the while writing down the info you need to remember.

This is a trick I have fun with. I'll say, "Hey, did B-Bruce call? Well, tell him we need 62 cases of model 35, the dark brown short ones." The B-b stammer tells me the first name starts with B. If I'm nowhere near the person I'm describing, just I'll use their name. If not, I'll stammer and that "b" clue is enough to remind me of their name. 62 cases is 6'2" tall and model 35 means he's about 35 years old. Dark, short, brown all refer to his hair. Please do not use this trick during an interaction or during a timed event.

Bathroom Stall Inside the stall with the door shut you have a legal expectation of privacy. This is a safe place to get out your paper and pen and make notes. Once you leave the stall, you no longer have an expectation of privacy and your actions can once again be recorded.

Because I take my children with me on some shops, we have a rule: No talking about shopping except inside our own house. You don't know who is standing next to you at the ATM, who is browsing the next row over at the library or who might overhear you talking about a mystery shop. Just like being a superhero, it's just safer to never, ever admit your secret identity in public. Ever.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Guesswork of Reporting

A mystery shopper is asked to give "just the facts" when reporting shops. There are certain parts of the form, however, that require some good old-fashioned guesswork combined with intense observation and a bit of education.

Name Let's say your report requires the name of the salesperson helping you. That's an easy one if the person is wearing a nametag. But what are other ways you can determine their name other than a nametag. Did the salesperson introduce himself to you? Did another employee call to her and she turned to answer? If not, what then?

In some instances you can ask for a business card. In an electronics store, for example, or a high-end clothing store where the salespersons work on commission, asking for a business card won't give you away if you ask near the end of the shop couched in an excuse. "I'm starving. I'm going to go grab some lunch and come back to make my final decision. Can I ask for you when I come back?"

If you know the person's starting initial (from a ring, necklace or earrings) and have a pretty good description, you can leave the store and phone them. "Hi, I was there about 20 minutes ago and there was a girl in the TV section who was just a great help. I think her name started with an "S". She has short blonde hair. Can you tell me her name? I wanted to drop a line to the manager about what great service she gave me." Of course, you won't drop a line to anyone, but if you are calling to praise you're more likely to get the name than if you call with a complaint.

Height I find "estimate the height" a fun game. I know how tall I am in each of my pairs of shoes and as I enter a store or browse a certain department, I'll notice where things "hit" me. So, for example, in a clothes store, the rack hits me two inches below my shoulder. My salesperson looks about an inch taller than me, and the same rack hits three inches below her shoulder, so that is a good confirmation. At a fast food outlet, the counter hits right at my hip bone. It hits the employee right at their waist. In a restaurant, calculating height from a sitting position might be harder and I rely more on my landmarks. Where did the table hit me when I stood next to it? The top of the chair? The bottom of the frame of the painting on the wall?

Age This one can be really tough. For the most part you're going to have to rely on educated guesses. When I was studying for this area, I found training manuals for private investigators to be helpful. Here are some of the extremely general guidelines they provided: Teens generally have shinier skin than twenties, not just on their faces, but on their arms and legs as well. Their conversation tends toward school, friends and hobbies like music. Early-twenties are more likely to have more vibrantly-colored hair (magenta, blue, green, etc.) than other age groups. Friends will still dominate their conversation, but hobbies and interests will be more dominant. Mid-twenties are more likely to have tattoos and multiple piercings, men in this age group are more likely to have goatees or a "soul patch." Work and home, perhaps a pet, is the focus of the conversation at this age.

Upper-twenties to mid-thirties is the newlywed/pregnant/new dad era. In their upper thirties, men begin to soften around the middle and women usually gain one neck crease. (I avoid using facial lines as determiners as sun exposure, dry skin, allergies, smoking and makeup can alter these lines dramatically.) In their early forties, men will usually start to go gray and women might begin coloring their hair (colored hair has a more uniform color where natural hair has individual strands of color.) Women will also start showing thinning of the skin on their hands at this age, allowing the blue veins just under the surface to "pop" a little.

In their upper forties, men are more uniformly gray and the back of women's hands are more wrinkled. Often by their late forties women have gained a second or even third crease in their necks (although carrying extra weight can hide these creases). By the time most men hit their fifties, a definite "spare tire" graces their middle. The skin on the back of women's hands become thinner and more transparent. By their late fifties, women will often have liver spots on their hands that look like large freckles. At about this age, men and women both can develop horizontal lines on their teeth, although this can happen much earlier in smokers.

Again, there are so many variables that guessing age is very tricky. Fortunately, most of the reports I have completed ask for an age range, usually by decade, which is easier for me to estimate than an exact year.

In closing, please do NOT estimate measurements which need to be specific. Elapsed time, the time your shop begins and ends, the temperature or weight of an item, these measurements need to be exact. If you aren't sure, check the information provided with the assignment.