Becoming A Mystery Shopper

Part time employment idea: Mystery shopping is a real job. Learn how to get started in this lucrative part or even full time home-based business.

You've seen the ads - Be a Mystery Shopper, call 1-800-something. They usually promise the opportunity to earn money while shopping, eating free dinners, recieving free merchandise, staying free at motels, hotels, resorts, and spas.

As ludicrous as it sounds to the uninitiated, the concept of mystery shoppers is a valid one. During times of economic boom, businesses want to make sure their customer

service beats out their growing competitions'. During downturns in the economy, savvy store and restaurant owners understand that good customer service is what makes the difference between a regular influx of customers, and a drought.

How can a company make sure that customer service standards are upheld? Let's face it, everybody puts on their best face when the boss is around. Managers and owners need to know how customers are dealt with when staff is not under management's watchful eye. This is where 'mystery shoppers' are useful.

Mystery shoppers are just average customers ordering an average meal, keeping track of the time between ordering and serving, looking at the presentation of the food, and its taste and temperature. Does the service make you want to come back time and again? Overall, would you recommend this place to your friends? Knowing this information, in order to use it to reward good employees and retrain struggling ones, is well worth the monthly free dinner and a fee.

The general idea behind mystery shopping is to improve customer relations, determine staff training needs, look at phone answer skills, and gain and keep business. Each business is likely to have similar but individual concerns. Some are looking to stop shoplifting or pilfering from the cash register. Some recognize that there are a dozen fast food places up and down Main Street, and want theirs to stand out in a positive way.

So now that you know it's a legitimate job, should you call that 1-800 number in the classified ads? You could call, but don't fall for anything that requires any money from you - you need no training other than what the firms who hire shoppers provide for free.

A better bet is to go for a ride on the internet. Use your favorite search engine and try different combinations of words like mystery shopping, secret shopping, secret shopper. The results of these searches will provide you with firms that hire mystery shoppers, mystery shopping mailing lists that bring job listings straight to your emaill address and websites that offer tips and advice on how to get started all the way through how to land a mystery shopping job eating, gambling and staying free at a casino, relaxing at a resort, or dining at fine restaurants without a cost to you.

Sign up online with as many firms as possible, remembering that even if a firm doesn't have a client in your area today, they may next month. Buy a notebook and dedicate it to mystery shopping. Start writing down the names and URL's of the firms you've signed with. Make notes as to whether they will call you for shops, wether you are to check back on the sites jobs available boards, or you are to call the firm on a particular day to get your assignments.

Once you get shopping, you'll want to include information on how to get paid. One firm I work for does everything online - sign up for jobs, fill in the surveys and, once the surveys are complete, automatically invoices for the job. They state clearly when they pay and the check arrives right on schedule. Other firms require you to fax a copy of your report, and any receipts, immediately after shopping. Then you must mail the originals to them with an invoice for the job. Keep track of how often they pay as well.

I have list some firms as paying the month following completion of the job. Others will send the check for each job within two weeks. Yet others take a month. Some take eight weeks. If you object to waiting eight weeks, you can refuse jobs from that firm, but once you start your mystery

shopping, either as a supplemental income or full time, you likely won't notice the lag time between jobs and pay.

Keeping track of who pays when, alerts you to the deadbeats. There are some firms that don't pay unless you remind them repeatedly. Some won't pay at all. How do you avoid them? Anything that sounds too good probably is. Another way is to sign up for the mailing lists and pay attention to the questions posted along with the jobs. Every once in a while, someone will ask "Has such and such a firm ever paid for a job?" The answers will flow in.

Sometimes a firm has trouble adjusting to a new website and loses records of invoices for a few months. Other times, the negative stories pile up. Make a note of the

negative shopping firms, if you find any. Rest assured, the vast majority really do want to hire reliable shoppers and will pay to keep them on their list of contractors.

Which brings me to reliablity. Just as you want to work for a reliable firm or firms, the firms or schedulers want reliable contractors (that's you!). Even if you can turn mystery shopping into a full time job, you will not work for one firm full time. Depending on where you live - the size and location of your nearest city - you may be inundated with offers of shopping jobs or search extensively to find six shops a month. As such, you will be considered a contractor, not an employee. You will be responsible for your own taxes, and record keeping. Not only that, you will be the sole person reliable for your schedule - finding and completing jobs.

Being reliable is the fastest way to find shopping jobs or rather to have the jobs find you. Get started by taking any and all jobs you can finish. Karen started shopping for fun; she hoped to spend very little time at it with the goal of earning $50 a month. She signed up with only one firm. Her first month she made $145 doing shops locally at the rate of $7 per hour. How did the money add up? There were bonuses attached to a number of the jobs that tripled the fee, due to the immediacy of the due date. Others were in rural areas that were only 20 minutes away for Karen, but no one else wanted the jobs. More bonuses.

Her second month she signed up for a mystery shopping mailing list online. When a job in her location showed up in her email box, she applied for it. She only got one shop out of every four she applied for, but by the third month the schedulers from the other three jobs (she didn't get) started calling. Six months later, she now looks forward to her many small checks per month. Total earnings for an average six hours a week? At least $400 per month.

Is it easy money? For some people it is. You do have to keep mental notes on the names and physical descriptions of the employees, the appearance of the establishments, and remember the list of specific questions you are to ask for each individual job and write up the shop in detail. If you look at it as a job though, it could be the easiest, most flexible job you've ever had.

For those with little children who they want to bring along on shops, it can be a tough juggling act. Children require so much attention; pick your shops where you take your family with care. Have you been hired to go to the grocery store and check that certain items are being displayed in a certain way, or to ask at the customer service desk if they have a particular item? Do you need to audit the post office by buying stamps and counting how long it took to get served? You've probably already done those things with your children, so why not take them along. Other times you may be offered a high-paying ($50 - $75) car shop where you go in and pretend you are interested in buying a car. If you've ever done that for real, you know it's no place for children. Heck, it's probably no place for rational grown-ups!

Now you've got the real information on those mystery shopping jobs and that they are real, fun and profitable. Happy Shopping!

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