The Real Deal with Mystery Shopping
by Andrea Pyros
I like - no - scratch that - I love to shop. So naturally, I’ve long been curious about mystery shopping. I finally got the chance to find out about the industry when I interviewed Dan Denston, the executive director of the trade association Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) North America. If you’re wondering if you should get in on the action, read on.
No, it’s not just getting paid to shop
Mystery shopping has been around for some time, Denston says, “probably going back 25 years.” Although it does basically seem that you’re earning cash from something you already do (shopping!), it’s really not that simple. “There is confusion about what a mystery shopper does,” Denston admits. “It’s not just going to McDonald’s and getting a meal or buying a sweater at [a department store].” Mystery shoppers go to stores, banks, restaurants and other retail establishments to observe and measure customer service, the quality of goods and services and the environment of the business, and then report back.
Mystery shoppers are independent contractors hired by mystery shopping companies to visit establishments in their area. They are not paid directly by the stores or restaurants. There is no one type of person who is a mystery shopper, Denston says. They can be stay-at-home-parents looking to make a bit of extra cash, college kids, retirees or business people with down time. “Just about anybody can be a mystery shopper.” What they all have to be good at is “attention to detail” because if you cannot provide helpful feedback to the retailers, you aren’t fulfilling your end of the job—and you won’t get more assignments.
Can you make a fortune or score tons of pricey stuff?
In short: no and no. “You are not going to earn a great deal of money to pay your bills, but it will give you a cushion,” our expert explains. And though it sounds nice, he says it’s highly unlikely, for example, that your 30 minutes spent shopping at Target will get you $200. (Darn.) Through the MSP site, I saw a variety of assignments that paid in the range of $10 and up per visit, with most around $15 or $20.
Denston says he’s heard from his shoppers that many of them do about 10 to 15 mystery shops a month, so we’re not talking huge amounts of money here. That said, you get to pick and choose the jobs you want to apply for or don’t, so there’s a great deal of freedom and flexibility involved. Once you commit to a specific job, you go out and do the research, buy any items you’ve been directed to (making sure to save all receipts and invoices) and then report your findings to the company that hired you. “Almost all mystery shopping reporting is done online now,” says our expert. “Provider companies have software platforms and shoppers login and respond.”
People have fallen prey to mystery shopping scams, so you have to be careful and aware. The first sign that you’re dealing with a scammer is you get solicited out of the blue to be a mystery shopper. “Legitimate mystery shopping businesses are not going to pull your name off of CareerBuilder [or other job sites],” Denston says. Unless you’ve applied for or registered with a mystery shopping company, you are not going to be contacted.
Another warning sign? If they want to pay you upfront. Mystery shoppers get reimbursed after the fact for any specific purchases they were asked to make during their assignments. Some scams involve you receiving a check in a large amount of money upfront. You’re told to keep some, and then buy expensive equipment with the rest and ship it. The check appears to have cleared, but by the time the bank finds out it’s fake, you’ve already bought and mailed out the items — on your own credit card.
Lastly, the “too good to be true” adage applies here. If you get an offer for a big amount of money, be extremely cautious. Big dollar signs should set off even bigger warning bells.
Beyond the paycheque
If you’re reliable, follow through on tasks, are self-directed and organized, know how to use a computer, and can be clear and specific when reporting, mystery shopping may be right for you. And as you become more experienced, you’ll also learn skills that will allow you to increase the number and types of shopping opportunities you perform, says Denston.
Aside from earning money, mystery shoppers “provide a much-needed service,” Denston says. “You have a chance to improve and help people improve their job performance. You have an opportunity to have an impact.”
Interested in Becoming a Mystery Shopper?
Mystery Shopping Providers Canada can get you started. We specialize in connecting new shoppers with mystery shopping jobs throughout Canada. Sign up today and you could be getting paid to shop and dine out tomorrow! Visit the link below to learn more.
Sign up with MSP Canada.
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