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Mystery Shopping, beware as there are many online offers saying you can earn money by joining them. Most only mention there is a fee to pay when you have almost completed the sign-up process. I would like to give you some advice before you get started.
Look for the Mystery Shopping companies that list who they are working with, like big well known brand companies; Microsoft, Adidas, Nokia, Audi, Tesco, Sony, VW, HP, Intel, BMW, Asda etc This way you know you are dealing with a professional outfit. All the big companies who use Mystery Shopping will only work with the most professional well established Mystery Shopping service providers.
The sign-up process takes quite a long time and will require you to give information which you may feel reluctant to; again this is why it is important to only use the big reputable companies.
You must give good valid and accurate details or you will not be selected for Mystery Shopping visits. The better Mystery Shopping providers will also require you to take a short test; this is to score your awareness. The tests are not that difficult and just require you to pay attention, so I recommend you sign-up when you have time with no distractions around you.
Once signed up you will get an email with your login id and password. This will allow you to view the job board for Mystery Shopping shops in your area where you live. If you apply for a shop you only get selected if you are the best person available for it. If there is someone with more Mystery Shopping experience, they will normally be assigned the shop. You have to build up your score by doing more shops and doing them well. Many types of shops can only be done once in a time period so that you are not discovered as a Mystery Shopper.
There are many different types of shops, some examples; Retail shops covering clothes stores, looking at store tidiness, staff attentiveness, product availability, changing rooms even purchasing something and then returning it. Everything will be scored so the retailer can then asses their performance. Restaurants, you will be asked to make a reservation, how you are greeted and speed of being seated upon arrival, cleanliness, bathrooms, food etc. You may be asked to order food and drink and then scan or send the receipts for verification. Car shops, this could be for a test drive or competitor price checks. Calling the dealership, how long before they answer the phones (car dealers answer the phones regularly within 4 to 6 rings) it would be nice if other companies tried to achieve this (Sky or British Gas for example are terrible). Then you may be required to visit the dealer take a test drive and try and get the best price possible. Price checking, this is where you will visit several retailers comparing prices for similar products. As mentioned for car shops, similar car models for different brands will be checked to see which brand or dealer has the best prices. Or for big supermarket chains to compare essential product prices in different parts of the country. Hotel shops are very long and quite complicated and you need to stay overnight and monitor many different things. Check-in, room cleanliness, room service, hotel restaurant, hotel bar, check out etc.
There are many more types of shops this is just a snapshot of some of them. Some shops are more difficult and less interesting than others. You could be asked to play bingo to assess the bingo hall staff and the facilities, it may be a flight to India, New York or just from Newcastle to London to asses the in flight food or cabin crew.
But beware some of the more glamorous Mystery Shopping you are expected to do it for free. Normally if you are Mystery Shopping an airline flight or restaurant then you would not get a fee. You get the meal or flight paid for but nothing else.
Most Mystery Shoppers are working for some extra cash and for the experience of doing something different. For each shop you will be scored on your performance and as long as you have done a good shop you will continue to get allocated shops. When you complete your shop you have to input the answers online. The questions that you have to answer are setup in such a way that it will trigger an error if answered incorrectly. Also spelling and time accuracies are checked, the more work the Mystery Shopping service provider has to do to correct your answers the poorer your score. If you complete the shop and online questions within the time frame with no mistakes then you will get a maximum score. It is important for the Mystery Shopping service providers to have all the online data provided on time and with little or no errors. Often the Mystery Shop is covering many shops across the country or even all over the world, so it is a big task to check all the online reports for consistencies and filter out any errors.
I have been Mystery Shopping for many years for different service providers. There are many that have not bothered to communicate with me even though I have signed-up and sent reminder emails. I currently do shops for Bare International, GAPbuster, TNS, Retail Eyes and Grass Roots. TNS is one of the lowest payers, surprising as they have some really big names as clients, not sure how Pret A Manger or Tesco would feel knowing that the Mystery Shoppers get such a low fee, often I do not bother applying for shops on their job boards as it would cost me more to do the shop then what I would get paid! GAPbuster do not often assign me a shop even though I apply for it, they do not send me an email to explain why even when I ask. I would recommend looking at Bare International: http://www.mysteryshop.be/english/faq.htm they have some more interesting Mystery Shops than other service providers I work with. Also more importantly I have found Bare International pay more for shops, especially for the big name companies where obviously the shop is very important to them.
Finally do not think you can make a living out of this. For me it works well while all my children are in full time school. I have a car and time to allow me to do Mystery Shops while I would normally be out and about shopping anyway, so the extra cash goes towards our Holiday money.