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How to Get Started in Mystery Shopping

This is the final installment in my series, “Mystery Shopping – How to save money by spending it.” If you haven’t read the first two installments, you can find them here: Part 1: How to Save Money by Spending It and Part 2: How To Be a Bad Ass Mystery Shopper.

Get Started

1. When you decide to become a secret shopper the first thing you need to do is go to Gmail or your favorite free e-mail provider and sign-up for an e-mail to use exclusively for mystery shopping. Sometimes I get upwards of 200 shop e-mails per day so I don’t want this cluttering up my regular e-mail box.  It’s best to keep it separate from your regular (and more important) e-mail.

Tip: I use a variation of my name with .ms at the end (ie: firstname.lastname.ms@gmail.com).

2. Starting in mystery shopping is going to take an initial time investment that sucks. Get ready to spend an entire day (or an hour per day for 2-weeks) filling out forms and signing up for various companies online. There are hundreds of mystery shopping companies and it’s hard to tell what companies have shops in what areas until you sign up, get accepted, and search their job boards.

Tip: In order to speed up the application process it pays to get a form filler that will automatically fill out the generic information for you (ie: Name, Address, ect). Trust. It will save you hours! I recommend using RoboForm, but there are tons of other form filling programs out there if you do a search.

3. Many of the mystery shopping companies use the same platforms in which to run their systems. Therefore many of the applications are duplicates of each other (which is where the form filler will really come in handy). When you begin filling out the application, some of which ask you to describe your most recent dining experience in essay form, write your answers in word first then copy/paste them over. This keeps you from having to write and rewrite the same scenario over and over again. Also, remember the tips I told you in, “How To Be a Bad Ass Mystery Shopper” about telling your observable facts NOT opinions.  You will not get accepted if you talk about how the waiter sucked donkey balls. The questions usually are: write about your best dining experience, write about your worst dining experience, zipcodes/area codes your willing to work in, what companies you have shopped for in the past, ect.

Tip: It is a good idea to make up a unique mystery shopping password to use for all of your mystery shopping logins. It would be difficult to remember a unique password for every mystery shopping company. There are hundreds. Make it easy on yourself.

4. Once you get accepted you will either begin to get shop assignments to your new mystery shopping e-mail address or you will have to search the job boards for assignments in your area. Some shops you must apply for and others allow you to self-assign. Some allow you to self-assign only after you have reached a certain rating.

Tip: It is best to start with a basic shop (ie: fast food/coffee shop) that has a low monetary investment to get your feet wet. That way if you make a mistake and your assignment is rejected you only are out $10 rather than $70 for a full on restaurant meal.  However, if you follow the instructions and spend time learning how to answer the questions your shop will not be rejected.

Where to find Good Companies

I could list a variety of companies that I work for, but unless your in Houston, TX it would be irrelevant. Instead I’m going to link you to Volition which lists all the reputable Mystery Shopping companies in the states.  The Mystery Shopping companies that have international assignments are here. Apply for every single one of these companies. It will take a huge time investment. Either spend a day doing it or apply to a 10 companies per day until you’ve gone through the list.

How to Get Assignments

1. When you get accepted for each mystery shopping company log onto their website and make sure your settings send you e-mails when shops become available in your area using your new mystery shopping e-mail. It would be a pain in the ass to have to check 100 various websites for shops, have them come to you instead.

2. Check your e-mail often and respond quick to shop requests. Many times schedulers assign shops based on a first come first serve basis.  There will be competition with other shoppers to claim the same assignment so it pays to have a good reputation and to respond quickly.

3. Search the job boards at Volition and find assignments you like.

4. Send in a request for the assignments you want. You will either e-mail a scheduler, click a link in the e-mail and fill out a form online, or self-assign on their website.

What to do When You Get an Assignment.

1. Review the shop guidelines, report forms, and other materials before the shop.

2. In the guidelines pay special attention to any specific observations you must make (ie: did your waiter mention the latest promo), tasks to complete, and purchases you must make.

3. Ensure you go to the right location, time, and day that you are assigned to. If you mess these up, your shop will not be reimbursed.

4. If you cannot perform your shop as assigned be sure to contact your scheduler as soon as possible. Do not leave them stranded because they have deadlines to make. Piss them off and you won’t get any more shops from them (and some schedulers work for several companies). Communication with your scheduler is key. They understand things happen and can find alternate people if needed. Should you show you are dependable, on-time, and follow instructions well you’ll continue to be assigned the shops you apply for and eventually be a preferred shopper.

5. Remain anonymous. Act like a regular customer and be careful not to do anything that would reveal you as a shopper. Do not ask for names, never bring the survey items into the business, do not write notes (this is a sure-fire way to tip them off that you’re a secret shopper), do not talk about mystery shopping inside or near the business (you never know who is nearby), ect. If you need to write notes (and I always do) either go to the bathroom, type them in on your smart phone, or write them in the car directly after the shop.

6. Allow Opportunity. If the survey asks if the server offered you an appetizer and you state, “no” the server could be deducted points. If you ordered quickly and told the server what appetizer you wanted before they had a chance to ask, the ‘No’ response would not be fair to them.

7. Your experience should remain consistent. Ensure that your comments and narratives not only answer the question correctly, but that it remains the same throughout.

8. Do the report immediately after the shop when the details are most likely to be remembered.

9. Verify that your comments are objective and not opinions.  Is the tone helpful and constructive?  You do not want to be overly critical.

10. Ensure that you wrote the report in the required manner (first person, third person, ect.)

11. Provide all necessary documentation (receipts, photos, business cards, ect.)

12. File your report before the deadline.  A late report can deduct points from your score.

Keep Records

You will need to keep very good records especially if you are doing a lot of assignments for various companies.  You should make an excel document that lists all the companies you’ve applied for, their websites, and your username/password.  On another spreadsheet you will want to keep track of all the jobs you’ve completed. You will want to input the company name, date the shop was completed, date you should be paid, reimbursement amount, pay for the assignment, contact person’s e-mail/phone number (if applicable), and a field to ask whether or not you’ve been paid (yes/no).  By keeping good records you can save yourself the time of having to track down payments or information on a job.  This document is also helpful come tax time.

Have fun. Enjoy. Be entertained. And save money for your Around the World Travels or get a luxurious break on the road!

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Jenny is rebooting her life. She is leaving everything behind to backpack the world as a digital nomad. She doesn’t know when, where, or if she’s coming home.