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Free Mystery Shopping Information

Mystery Shopping Opportunities

How do you go about getting free mystery shopping jobs? Do you have to pay to play or is there a no fee mystery shopping opportunity worth your time?

As a leading designer of effective mystery shopping programs, Coyle Hospitality Group provides free information below so that new shoppers can judge for themselves what opportunities mystery shopping offers them.

What is mystery shopping?
Who is a mystery shopper?
What is the most important thing to know about mystery shopping?
Can you make a full-time living doing mystery shopping?
What can I realistically expect as a new mystery shopper?
What are some of the tools and equipment I need?
How do I begin getting assignments?
What are schedulers and scheduling services?
What about the web-sites that have mystery shopping listings for a fee?
What will a consulting firm expect from me?

Getting Started in Mystery Shopping

If you have decided to become a mystery shopper, let’s begin by addressing some of the questions and issues facing people who want to begin mystery shopping.

What is mystery shopping?

Businesses (herein referred to as ‘the client’) hire a consulting firm, such as Coyle, to design a research program and refer independent evaluators to conduct the research at the client’s business. Most often, this research takes the form of mystery shoppers posing as customers of the client’s business and engaging in typical customer activities. The mystery shoppers prepare a client deliverable that recounts their experience and submits it to the consulting firm. The consulting firm then compiles the data and supplies it to the client. The client uses the information for internal purposes; usually to improve customer service or check the integrity of their branded initiatives. Clients also, when appropriate, commonly solicit advice from the consulting firm on recommended strategies for improving the aspect of the business that was evaluated.

Who is a mystery shopper?

A mystery shopper is an independent contractor who seeks and accepts opportunities to perform mystery shopping engagements for clients. Once an opportunity is accepted, the mystery shopper will evaluate an establishment as a typical customer, focusing on the specific aspect of the client’s business that the client requests. After performing the evaluation, the shopper compiles a client deliverable and submits it to the consulting firm. The shopper is then paid a specified fixed fee amount for their mystery shopping project.

What is the most important thing to know about mystery shopping?

If you become a mystery shopper, understand one thing and never forget it. You are in business for yourself. You will have the same responsibilities of any CEO running a company. You will have to be organized, motivated, and an excellent marketer.

Like any other business, you will have to invest in equipment needed to perform the services you provide.

Most importantly, you will have to keep your customers very happy. There are a lot of other independent contractors who are in the same business as you. The competition, especially for the best assignments, is very stiff. Being a successful mystery shopper takes commitment, sacrifice, and resourcefulness.

Can you make a full-time living doing mystery shopping?

It is very unlikely. Here’s why: The most plentiful shopping opportunities are in retail and fast-food. These shops often pay fees in the range of $5-15 plus reimbursements, meaning you would have to do 40 or more shops a week, every week to make a meaningful income.

Shops that pay higher fees ($100 or more) are often in the financial, apartment rental, time-share, hospitality or specialty business sectors. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in many cases, a shopper can never evaluate the same location twice. If you are in a suburban or rural area, your opportunities may become limited very quickly.

Moreover, the time commitment for these shops can be extensive, making it very difficult to do more than a few per week, even if you are very organized and willing to travel.

What can I realistically expect as a new mystery shopper?

You can expect to work really hard, spending many hours registering with mystery shopping companies (there are over 400 known companies in North America alone).

We urge you to avoid any web site that charges you a fee, no matter how good it looks. The same would apply to companies selling directories for a fee.

Mystery shopping is like any other business. It takes time to break-in, and your first opportunities are likely to be the lowest paying, least desirable assignments. You may also only get a handful of assignments within the first few months or more.

What are some of the tools and equipment I need?

You will need to get to the shop, record data, upload it via the internet, and submit paperwork for billing. Many shops call for digital pictures. Learn how to take pictures at all resolution levels and learn how to get them from your camera to your PC. Dig out your cell phone manual and see if you can record notes and employ time stamps.

Must have tools:

  • Reliable Transportation
  • PC with internet connection
  • Cell phone
  • Digital Camera
  • Timepiece
  • Credit/Debit card that can accept charges of several hundred dollars
  • Access to a fax machine
  • Paypal Account (almost all companies pay via Paypal)

Good to have tools:

  • High Speed Internet Access
  • Stopwatch (with elapsed time settings)
  • Microsoft Office Software (Word, Excel)
  • Microsoft Windows Internet Explorer (most sites optimized for IE)
  • Scanner
  • Spreadsheet Software for record keeping

Administration & Legal

Nearly every company will be treating you as an independent contractor and will require that you sign Independent Contractor Agreements (ICAs). Make sure you understand you rights and responsibilities before you sign anything.

Secondly, you will be earning income. Organize yourself and learn how to keep records of your correspondences, receipts and expenses.

Volition and MSPA (see below) offer some great resource material on these topics.

How do I begin getting assignments?

Begin by signing up with every reputable mystery shopping company you can. The most popular places to locate reputable, viable mystery shopping companies are below:

MSPA www.mysteryshop.org The MSPA is the leading trade organization for the mystery shopping industry. They offer a certification program and are part of a strong marketplace for shoppers and mystery shopping companies alike.
Volition www.volition.com/mystery.html Volition has the most comprehensive list of mystery shopping companies in North America. There is also a very active forum that is a must read for new and veteran shoppers alike.

MSPA – Mystery Shopping Providers Association

The MSPA is an organization whose primary purpose is to advance the interests of mystery shopping as an industry. As a shopper you should at least be aware of what they stand for.

MSPA has a lot of great resource materials for shoppers free of charge. For a fee, you can become a certified shopper through MSPA. We urge you to do your own due diligence and make your own decision if certification is a wise business investment for you. Be advised that many companies give preference to MSPA certified shoppers.

Volition Mystery Shopping

Volition has three things going for it. First and foremost, the site is actively monitored, so information is current and it is basically spam and scam free. Secondly, it offers more information than any other website about opportunities and things you need to know as the owner of your own business, completely free of charge.

Finally, it is an excellent place to interact with other shoppers through their vast array of forums which receive a lot of traffic. The forums alone are worth a visit because shoppers and mystery shopping companies weigh in on all kinds of topics affecting how you should conduct business.

What are schedulers and scheduling services?

Mystery shopping companies often hire scheduling services to help them locate shoppers. There are several scheduling services, and it is a good idea to be in their database because one scheduling company may serve dozens of mystery shopping companies. You can find out about scheduling services by doing a search on MSPA or by reading the forums and job postings on Volition.

What about the web-sites that have mystery shopping listings for a fee?

We have yet to encounter a single web site offering ‘pay to play’ services that is useful. Any company or web site that charges a fee to register, sign-up, or get access to materials should categorically be avoided.

What will a consulting firm expect from me?

Mystery shopping is a business. If you treat this as a hobby, something fun to do, or as a means to a free meal, the results will be unsatisfactory for all involved. Certainly, you can have fun, but never forget that when you begin an evaluation, you are at work in your business, you are , on the job and professionalism is a requirement.

The main things that mystery shopping companies look for in shoppers are:

Reliability If you accept an evaluation, do whatever you can to see it through. Businesses make commitments to other businesses and excuses for not honoring your end of the arrangement are unacceptable.
Presentation When performing shops, you are at work, so dress like you are; part of your obligation as a mystery shopper is to blend in with the clientele at the venue. This goes for your guests as well.
Thoroughness Make sure you are 100% clear on what you are to do before you commit. Failure to fully perform an evaluation can lead to your project deliverable being rejected and to you not being entitled to any fee for the project – because you failed to complete it.
Professionalism Proofread your work and make sure all your correspondences are professional. Emoticons, anagrams, slang, misspellings and poorly constructed text attract the wrong kind of attention.

Consistent execution of the above will separate you from the crowd over time, positioning your business where you want it to be.

Become a Mystery Shopper and strive to be one of the best, so you can be eligible to perform evaluations for the sought-after clients of Coyle Hospitality Group!

If you like the way we approach the business of mystery shopping,
please contact us to design a mystery shopping program for your business.

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15,000 professional evaluators, with coverage on every continent.