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"Are you sure you're not a mystery shopper?" asked the mechanic fitting my flash new in-car stereo system.
"No," I replied, "not today. Today I'm myself."
The above is an actual piece of conversation I had with the guy at a large national car, bike, etc. superstore when I took a keen interest in what he was doing - mainly because I was in a hurry and had to get to an appointment 5 miles away and needed him to finish. My car proved a bit of a challenge but we got there in the end.
But it shows that all sorts of companies use mystery shoppers to test their staff and they are aware of it, aware of being tested and anyone walking through their doors could be 'the one'.
I'm not keen on shopping. A lot has to do with customer service. I expect a lot from a shop, bank or other services. I'm often told I'm too critical but why should I suffer at the hands of bad customer service when things could be so much better. If I pay dear for a service or product I expect good customer service. I want people to listen to what I say and recommend based on what I told them I needed not what they think I should buy so they get the biggest bonus.
This is where Mystery Shopping comes in. It helps companies to see where there's a problem, lack in training and customer service and where improvements can be made.
I see mystery shopping as a hobby and only do it when I feel like it. There are months when I don't accept any assignments, other times I do three or four a week.
What is Mystery Shopping?
Mystery Shopping is when a company employs everyday people, people off the street to check how well or badly their staff are doing and report back so that changes can be made, training can be adjusted and staff that excel can be rewarded.
By using people from all walks of life means they will get a broad picture of what people see, hear and think about products and services.
Mystery shopping is used in all sorts of companies, banks, supermarkets, various high street stores, fast food outlets, opticians, pubs, restaurants, hotels, museums and much more.
I am signed up with a couple of mystery shopping companies but my favourite is Retail Eyes. They may not be best paying company but, depending on where you live, it almost guarantees you a variety of assignments on a daily or weekly basis.
Who are Retail Eyes UK?
Retail Eyes UK are the British arm of an American company by the same name. They are based in Milton Keynes. The company has outgrown its current offices and is moving into new offices in early May. They can be contacted by email, via their website and phone. The phone number is a landline number, not an expensive number of any kind.
There's a central number for the company and each agent handling assignments will supply you with both an email address to contact them directly and a direct phone number. If you have any queries you can call them and they will sort out the questions you may have.
How to become a Retail Eyes Mystery Shopper?
First of all, you have to be at least 18 years old.
Then, to become a mystery shopper you can sign up by answering a number of simple questions about your person, fill in a questionnaire so the right kind of jobs can be allocated to you and submit a short essay explaining why you think mystery shopping is important. I guess they want to see you writing style, see if you can write in a professional manner without mistakes and using proper grammar.
You will be sent a confirmation email a few days later that includes your shopper ID (usually your email address - it cannot be changed even if you change email addresses) and a password. The password is usually computer generated and complicated so either keep the confirmation email or go to your detail page online and change it to a password you can remember.
You should set a radius (amount of miles you're prepared to travel) from your home so you only get the assignments in your area. You're not getting travel money so only accept assignments either close to where you live or work - or spend a holiday.
It is now up to you to check the available jobs by logging onto the website as little or often and assignments are allocated on a first come first serve basis. Some assignments disappear right in front of your eyes even before you had a chance to download the notes or when you finished reading it. Then there are jobs that are around for ages because there aren't enough people to cover it, not all assignments are for everyone, sometimes they need people of a certain age of sex and it will exclude you even though you live right next door.
How to accept an assignment:
Assignments are available via the Retail Eyes website. I normally log in at least once a day to see if and what is available. Assignments are posted at various times during the day and I have come across new postings later in the afternoon so it's always a good idea to check again so you cover all your bases.
If you find an assignment that interests you click on the description, see how much is paid, if you have to lay out money to buy something and download the assignment notes. It will explain everything you need to know. Then go on to either download/print the questionnaire you will have to answer and see if it still floats your boat. Then you simply click on the accept assignment button and pick the date you want to do the assignment. You can change your mind and pick a different date but it will adversely affect your 'grade' (more about that later).
I always print both assignment notes and questionnaire because it contains information on what questions you need to ask, what you have to do before, during and after the purchase and if you have to return the goods to the shop.
Remember that each assignment carries an upper spending limit. If you spend more than allowed you will only receive the maximum advertised.
NB: You are not allowed to accept assignments where you, a family member or close friend is employed with the company you are visiting. Before you are accepted for the assignment you have to confirm this as well as other points you will only know when you read the assignment notes properly. They are trying to catch you out in case you clicked on the assignment without actually reading what you have to do.
Retail Eyes also assign people to test call centres. These assignments are not in your list but come under 'assignments in other areas'. I don't really like to spend time calling call centres, I have an aversion to them but that particular area also contains international assignments in a number of European countries (France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Italy) a good opportunity to earn a few pounds when you are travelling to that particular town anyway. You will also find hotel assignments here, after all, there are plenty of people continually travelling.
Make sure you read ALL the instructions carefully and know what is expected from you before you arrive at the destination. Don't behave in any other way you would normally behave (dark sunglasses and trench-coat with raised collar is really not the best disguise) but make sure you stick to the script, ask the questions you have to ask and make a mental note of the answer. Check if the uniform staff are wearing is correct, down to belts and shoes and colour of trousers, check if they wear name badges (and remember the name of the person serving you). Try and act as normal as possible.
Even if you feel you've been rumbled don't ever let on that you are the mystery shopper. You will not get paid if you get found out.
After the assignment it's always a good idea to find a quiet spot and make notes while things are still fresh in your mind. I normally have the questionnaire stacked away in a zipped up compartment in my handbag so I can retrieve it and fill in the most important things like names and job titles and actual words said - in a lot of cases you have to repeat what was said by the staff member by form of greeting, goodbye or question you had to ask specifically.
Sometimes you have to call the shop you're going to visit beforehand to either make an appointment or get some information. Make sure you have the exact questions in front of you, listen to everything that's said and write it down straight away.
Once you've completed your mystery shopping trip (if you are lucky you can combine a few and do them on the same day) you have to submit your report, upload your receipt (or email, fax or send a copy by mail) so you can get paid. Reports must be submitted either before midnight on the same day of the visit or within 24 hours of completion. Failure to do so will result in punishment by penalty points awarded in your grade/overall score.
As I said before, you have to remember names and what was said to the exact words. You have to add all that information online as well as answer all questions truthfully, if possible with comments. Make sure you spell check your answers. The website has a spell check but it will not pick up on common mistakes such as 'there and their', 'whether and weather' and similar.
When you enter the report online you have the option to save your work at any stage. It's always good to save as you go along in case your computer freezes, crashes or internet slows down and you can't finish the report.
Before you can close the assignment you have to upload your receipt (if you had to buy a product). If you have a scanner you can scan it in and upload it to the site. If you don't have a scanner or can't upload it you can attach it to an email, fax it to the office or send a copy to their postal address in Milton Keynes. You have to make sure you send the receipt within 48 hours in order to get paid. Then you best file your receipt in a folder where you can find it in case it's needed. All receipts need to be kept for at least 3 months.
Once the report is closed it will disappear from your open assignments and shows up on the payment page in the 'pending' pile. For the first 24 to 48 hours it might say 'pending proofreading'. All reports are checked for accuracy before you will be awarded a completion score and your money. Once it's been proofread and there are no questions payment will be added to your account and depending on how you selected to pay, money will be sent to you in accordance with your preference and their payment schedule.
Something I noticed appear in April 07 is a new area called 'Account Score'. I'd never seen it before but it is a running total on how you're doing as a mystery shopper. Retail Eyes will award you points for every job you complete (+10), every job you do on the day you said you would without changing it (+2), complete surveys that occasionally pop up on the welcome page (+1) or deduct points for mistakes you made and Retail Eyes have to either contact you or check with the company.
You can lose between 1 and 10 points (-1 for mistakes you made or when you release a job, -2 for late reports or they have to release the job from your account, -10 when they have to send someone else because you messed up completely e.g. you got found out) Your score will be a running total and you can click on the number to see how you're doing.
The maximum number of points you can get per job is 12 (+10 for completion, +2 for doing it on time and no queries were raised).
You will only get paid for completed jobs that are in line with their specifications, is written professionally and most of all, you were not discovered. You get found out as the mystery shopper and you get nothing. The same applies when there are more than one store in a town and you visit the wrong one.
There are two ways to get paid. You either pick payment via transfer directly into your bank account (BACS) or cheque.
1. April the rules for payment have changed slightly. Until then you were paid on 15th of the month after completion of your assignment. This could mean that if you completed an assignment at the beginning of a month you had to wait up to 6 weeks for your payment.
It's changed now. If you chose payment via BACS you will get paid quicker. Jobs completed between 1st - 15th of each month are paid on the last day of that month, jobs completed between 16th and end of month will get paid on 15th of the following month.
However, if you want to be paid by cheque you now have to wait until your account shows £50.00 or more before a cheque is sent to you. If you only occasionally accept assignments and the total of your payment is less than £50.00 you have to carry it over until you have enough in your account with Retail Eyes for them to issue a cheque.
So, if you want payment regularly (up to twice a month) then you should leave them your account details and payment will be deposited on a regular basis.
I must say that I haven't had problems so far and always found the money in my account on or just after the payment date.
I have completed a number of assignments for Retail Eyes. I'm not keen on pubs so I miss out on a lot of their pub assignments but I'm not complaining. I've had my eyes tested for free, visited museums for free, have a freezer full of doughnuts and know where not to buy my next mobile phone.
Most assignments take less than an hour and payment may not be a lot but considering you are out shopping anyway and you get both paid and keep the product (unless part of the assignment requires you to return the purchase) and even at £5.00 it's still better than minimum wage. And if you're going anyway, anything is a bonus.
So, if you like shopping and good customer service, why not become one of a growing number of mystery shoppers around the country? Just remember that you have to be honest to the extreme otherwise you will be unceremoniously kicked off. Your reports will be checked and Retail Eyes AND the company you are visiting often have access to CCTV so pretending you were there doesn't count and you will get found out.
You won't get rich doing mystery shopping but it's nice to earn a few extra pounds while you're out and about spending money. The only disadvantage, though, you have to declare your earnings to the taxman and depending how much you earn you might have to pay tax on the few pounds you made.
Retail Eyes UK Ltd The Granary Stantonbury Park Wolverton Road Milton Keynes MK14 5A