What it's like to be a mystery shopper
shoppers help evaluate a company's branding and customer
service, but it's not a job for everyone.
By Pat Ferrier
When Paul sits down to dinner in a five-star restaurant,
hes not just thinking about what to eat. Hes
timing the wait staff, checking toilet paper in the
bathrooms, looking for dust on shelves as well as making
sure his steak is cooked to order and his
chardonnays chilled. Hes finicky and
persnickety, a little obsessive, perhaps, but its
all in a days work. Paul, whose last name is not
being used to protect his identity, is a professional
mystery shopper part critic, part undercover spy,
part consumer advocate.
A Fort Collins, Colorado teacher by day, he gets paid to
evaluate upscale restaurants and hotels, mostly in Denver
and Boulder. Its something he can do in the summer
or weekends when his teaching load is not so heavy. And
as a former chef, he brings a certain cache to the job.
But he does it mostly because he can eat great food, try
new restaurants, and wine and dine on someone elses
tab. Id never think of it as an income thing,
but I do get to enjoy great food, Paul said.
Mystery shoppers such as the 36-year-old Loveland
resident are generally hired by a company on behalf of a
business interested in getting an unbiased critique of
their customer service, staff and products. Other mystery
shoppers evaluate bank services, fast food, automotive
services, cell phone plans, even home shopping sites.
A quick check of mystery shopping opportunities in
Northern Colorado reveals undercover work for banks, car
dealers, auto service shops, fast food restaurants and
more, with gigs paying between $7.50 and $65.
All about the service
In a culture focused on good customer service, knowing
how your company performs can pay big dividends,
according to a 2011 American Express Survey.
The survey found that Americans are willing to pay up to
13 percent more for excellent customer service; 78
percent said they had canceled an intended purchase
because of a bad customer experience. That means
businesses who pay close attention to customer service
are better off, and thats good news for the Mystery
Shopping Providers Association yes, there is such
Mystery shopping enables businesses to measure the
extent to which they are delivering on their brand
promises though the customer experience and to identify
and correct deficiencies, MSPA President Lynn
Saladini said in a news release. Three of five consumers
say they would try a new brand or company that offered
Though it might sound fun to get paid to shop or eat out,
its not a way to make a quick buck. Business often
want a detailed report of the mystery shoppers
experience. After every restaurant evaluation, Paul says
he has about an hours worth of paperwork. In the
end, hell get reimbursed for the meal and perhaps
an additional $10 to $20.
Dan Denston, executive director of the MSPA, says even
the best mystery shopper cant live on what it pays.
Its a way to supplement income, but it would be
difficult to make it into a full-time job, he said.
The MSPA, which lists 160 members in North America is an
$800 million to $900 million industry in the United
States, Denston said. The companies are hired by other
businesses who are interested in knowing how close the
actual customer experience comes to the one they want
their consumers to have. It measures customer service but
also brand and training, Denston said. If
youre training your employees to say something
specific Do you want fries with that?
for example it gives the company the ability to
measure its workforce development.
All mystery shoppers are independent contractors who can
pick and choose their assignments, Denston said.
Potential mystery shoppers do need to be wary of scams,
which can lure people in with the promise of big rewards.
Denston recommends checking out any potential company
with MSPA or the Better Business Bureau. Legitimate
mystery shopping companies dont troll for shoppers
and will never pay before the service is provided. As
with many scams, if it looks too good to be true,
it is, he said.
The Guest Check in Golden evaluates grocery stores,
lodging, restaurants both casual and fine dining
and golf courses. When hiring someone as a mystery
shopper, they look for someone with knowledge of the
market theyre evaluating.
Checking a golf course? You dont have to be a
PGA golfer, but you need to understand the game so you
can competently give your opinion, said Derek Wood
of The Guest Check. More and more with golf
courses, as costs go up, golfers are trying to make sure
theyre getting more bang for their buck and more
than just a good round of golf, he said. That
means being catered to from the moment they drive in to
the moment they drive out. Its more than just
making sure the greens are clipped and there are hot dogs
on the golf cart.
Thats precisely what Paul loves about his second
job. Like food critics, his value lies in getting through
without being detected. He said hes never had his
cover blown, but hes stealth-like in his ability to
jot notes to himself. Some mystery shoppers text
themselves on their smart phones, a move that looks
completely normal in todays social media culture,
he said. As long as I act like a normal customer,
nothing seems weird.
Interested in becoming a secret shopper?
MysteryShoppersAmerica.com can get you started today. We
specialize in connecting new shoppers with mystery
shopping jobs throughout the country. Through our
extensive network of hundreds of mystery shopping
companies, youll have plenty of great shopping jobs
to choose from every day!
To become a secret shopper, visit our registration page.
You'll learn about our secret shopping companies, what
kind of shopping jobs are available and how much you can
make. No previous experience is required.
Click here to Become a