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After reading some great Grassroots reviews on this site, I thought I'd join up. So easily led, heh?
How do you imagine Mystery Shopping if you've never done it? In my mind, I flounced through the streets of the West End in a fur coat, a little light snow drifting down. Brightly lit shop windows glistened with goodies and I was carrying several sturdy bags (the kind you get from expensive shops) and probably even a hat box. The doorman at Harrods held the door and assistants rushed to greet me, bringing all I could ever want. Everyone fell at my feet in the attempt to gain my affection and to avoid the eternal damnation I could wreak on their business with a click of my fingers….and all the time I was earning money.
Back in the real world it goes a little something like this….
Well, things have been a little tight lately. The Boyfriend is winding down his business; after 10 years of being self employed he has a job where he can come home and not sweat coffee and cigarette ash over his tax returns. He started his new job at the end of January and he won't be paid until the end of February. In the meantime, I have my new job complete with 3 hour round commute and have been scrabbling around to pay off the monster phone bills from our summer of globetrotting. January's pay went on Christmas, so The Boyfriend is not the only one praying for this month to finish!
I joined Grassroots a few months ago while still unemployed and (lucky me!) managed to get offered an assignment fairly swiftly. Unfortunately this assignment was not everso near my house. My enthusiasm on the phone carried me into a quick yes. After hanging up, I realised that my travel expenditure (2 buses, 1 train) was going to cost more than the £10 on offer. I phoned back to explain and they were very understanding. Obviously they have to deal with half-baked money grabbers on a regular basis. They kindly offered £12.00 to cover my travel costs, but this time I'd thought it through. £12.00 wasn't enough to cover the travel costs, let alone the time and the adverse weather conditions. And so, my first assignment fell through.
Mysteriously, they phoned up and offered the same job a few more times until I started to get borderline irritable about it. I explained that not only did I have a job that meant I couldn't just swan out for the required 40 minutes on a wet Wednesday morning, but that my workplace was even further from the mystery shopping destination and I just didn't feel inclined.
I heard nothing for a while (served me right), then last week on a windswept platform 2, I got the phone call. We'd had a rather drab and penniless Valentines day in a 'at least we've got each other' kind of way. I felt sad that money wasn't permitting us to celebrate something as great as 'being happy together' on a sun drenched mini-break. Money's certainly not everything, but after a lot of upheaval with the business, The Boyfriend deserved more than a cup of tea and half an hour of telly. I had resolved to save up my pennies….
This assignment was for a well known mobile service provider with a chain of shops. I wasn't going to get to buy anything (a shame, I find spending money deeply therapeutic) but I was going to get to review the service. Sounded okay to me. What Mystery Shopping programmes are looking for is someone natural, shopping naturally. Not a glamorous shopping addict covered in dead animals and snow. In other words, these shops probably deal with a whole bunch of 'I want to change my service provider… no, I don't' type time wasters on a Saturday morning. All I had to do was blend in.
They emailed the details to me and I nearly fell off my swivel chair when I saw the fifteen pages I was required to look through. I hate reading things like this on the screen (reviews are an exception) and I was going to have to print it off. Dad would not be pleased. Oh, you can refill ink cartridges et al*, but with paper, ink and the whirring noise of the printer chugging out pages, I was loath to print it at home. So, I printed it at work where it wouldn't cost me a penny. Thank you, you may applaud my thrift.
Saturday morning arrived and The Boyfriend's coating of oil and overalls meant he was too busy to accompany me. I got up and - I hate to admit it - made a little more effort than I usually would to go shopping. I arrived in town after forking out £2 on bus fare (I hadn't thought of that!) and set about my business.
The shop was reasonably quiet and I looked around, taking note of the posters I was meant to spot, asking the questions I was meant to ask. All pretty straightforward. They provide you with the answers they'd like you to give during conversation and a list of points to note. There are also a few common sense type rules; If you already know the staff in the shop, then you can't accept the assignment: they're going to be a lot quicker to serve you / chat to you if they're seeing you in the pub at lunch. They might have seen you shouting at traffic and have you pegged as the local nutter, in which case they'll avoid eye contact.
So, characteristics so far are natural and anonymous.
You don't get to snarl at bad service either, imagine it - you vault over the counter 'Mystery Shopper' badge in hand and spit in the eye of the assistant. "I demand to see the manager., I'll have you all fired and picking chewing gum off the pavements." No, you are not the Mystery Shopping superhero. The words used in the instructions are 'you must not reveal yourself' [as a mystery shopper]. Interesting wording, I think we can see why 'revealing yourself' might affect the service….or make them call the police.
It doesn't stop there. They ask you to key in your results immediately / as soon as possible. I'd forked out the bus fare and I needed some new skincare and possibly a handbag, I wasn't quite ready to head back. After finishing my shop I was concerned I might forget the all important details and dashed into the nearest pub, pen in hand. Armed with a big glass of juice, I sat at a wobbly and sticky table and ran through the questionnaire. The Boyfriend arrived to meet me and was surprised at my dedication. He finally realises that shopping is a serious business.
You couldn't make a living out of this, not only is the money not great, but you would no longer be the target demographic of the mystery shopper - a normal person going about their everyday business. This is ideal if you're going into town for another reason or have a bit of spare time, I probably wouldn't make a special trip.
On Saturday evening, I set about filling in the online survey about my shop. This is more than multiple choice, you need to go into almost review-like depth about staff eye contact and suchlike. The Boyfriend, Dad and my Little Brother watched me flick through the questions at a rate of knots. "There's an awful lot to do…" said The Boyfriend, dubiously leafing the pile of paperwork from my handbag. "And I'm not sure that it's worth it."
Looking at this from an altruistic point of view, you're improving the service for other customers. From a cynical point of view, you're helping large companies control their staff through underhand tactics and along the path to world domination.
I agree that service is important, that standards need to be high. I feel that people should do the job that they are paid for and do it well. There is no doubt in my mind that mystery shopping is a highly effective way to monitor stores and staff.
However, I'm not sure how comfortable I feel as a sneaky double agent in my beloved world of shopping. Is this a fair way to measure customer service? Should staff have to stick exactly to a rehearsed speech of a few lines with each customer, or should they retain the autonomy to help the customer as they see fit? Am I rating someone who might have been having an off day? It's hardly a general comment on the staff in the shop when you have to note the name of your server and their description.
Writing this review has raised a few questions for me.
If you want to follow in my footsteps and experience the joys of mystery shopping for yourself, you can always sign up. To find out more, check out https://www.grgresearch.com/default.htm and to join up now, https://www.grgresearch.com/np.htm. Remember to factor in your costs before accepting any assignments and this is a great way to pick up a bit of extra money around other commitments.
*The Boyfriend informs me that printer ink costs more per millilitre than Moet.
Funny!! I work for grass roots and I know the survey your talking about, done this one now 3 times over the year!!!. yes these can be boring and low paid compaired to other sites but still easy money. good luck
shelleyone 29.04.2007 01:23
Great review. I too found it was costing me to do the assignments, you do need to think before you say yes.