I was first given the idea to try out mystery shopping after meeting a random boy on a bus in Laos. Admittedly, I was unsure too. Like myself, he was on his gap year and had spent the year contributing to his travelling fund by completing paid ‘mystery shopper’ tasks. I was vaguely aware of them, having worked in retail myself, but wasn’t sure of the ins and outs – it definitely seemed too good to be true. So upon returning back to England I thought I’d give it a go, and for those of you who aren’t sure what it is or are sceptical, please read on.
What is it?
Mystery shopping is when a person anonymously enters a shop or company and carries out a task or assessment as set by the mystery shopping company they’re working for. So, for example you might be asked to go into Pret A Manger and order some food – meanwhile mentally you should be making note of the cleanliness of the store, the available products and the service delivered by the staff.
Each mystery shopping task varies and depends on the requirements of the company you’re working for. Some companies filter tasks to certain people, for example because I’m under 21 I get offered ‘ID’ tasks. These aim of these tasks is to check that staff always check ID (because they risk being shut down/big fines if they serve someone illegally) and often these tasks are the easiest because the main thing you’re checking is whether or not you’re asked for ID.
What do you get out of it?
Generally, it does not take up much time and you make some extra pounds. Personally, and most websites agree, I would not rely on this as a source of income – think of it as easy pocket money, or in some cases saving money. With most tasks you are expected to purchase something for a value which will have been specified before you take on the task and the company will later reimburse you. In cases where the purchases are a large amount, this will sometimes act as your payment. For example, you might take on a Nando’s task – your job will be to assess customer services, time taken to receive food, quality of food (e.g. hotness/flavour) etc and you will be given a budget of £20, but no fee. This is still convenient, especially for students because it means you get to eat for free and try out some new places nearby. In other cases, you will be given a reimbursement and a fee – for example you might be given £4 to spend at McDonalds and be paid £6 on top of that.
What does it involve?
To break it down simply: you sign up to a mystery shopping company/website. After being approved and having filled out your specifications (such as the locations you want to work in and industry areas from food to airports) tasks will become available that match your criteria. They will list them in date order usually (those needing completing first will be listed first) and you can apply to take on any job of your choice (how many jobs at one time you can do depends on the company and how new you are). You will be given a brief – this will tell you what they require you to do in the task, and often this will be very specific – so they will probably tell you how long to spend in the store, and what order to do things in (e.g. browse first, choose an item, pay for it, then sit at a table to eat it). Keeping this brief in mind, you will carry out your task, keeping any receipts and taking photos if necessary (sometimes they want to see what the outside of a store looks like for presentation purposes). Then when you have free time, making sure you submit it within the deadline they have specified (often the same day), you will write up your report and findings – scanning in any receipts they may have asked you to keep. Then you wait for it all to be approved (they check there’s no mistakes) and then you will be paid (not always immediately).
How can you become a Mystery Shopper?
Applying to be a mystery shopper completely depends on the company you choose, and you might want to do a bit of research on the best ones. The two I applied for were: marketforce.com and gapbuster.com. The first site seemed easier to use because all you had to do was apply to each separate job, follow the brief & then submit your report, whereas Gapbuster required you to read a load of pages on each of the brands they represent (such as KFC, McDs & Pizza Hut) and then take a test to check you had properly read it all – a bit too much effort. In some cases you may have to be approved – so because I was under 21 and they wanted to be able to use me for ID checks, my photo had to be approved to check I was actually the age I said I was.
So I will give a quick insight into what a mystery shopper task involves (baring in mind, as this was an ID mystery shopper task it was a lot easier/less effort than other tasks).
My task was to go into the Coral Betting shop and see if I was checked for ID. This involved (their specific rules not mine) entering the shop, browsing for 2 minutes, playing 2 games on the betting machines then placing a bet on anything I liked (if I won, I could keep the bet). I also had to take note of the layout of the shop, so where the machines were, rouhgly who was in there and to take note of the staff: who asked for my ID, at what time, and what did they seem like (age, appereance, service).
Baring in mind I am a 19 year old girl, and someone who doesn’t really fit the gambling stereotype, I was a bit daunted. Previously, I had never even enterer a gambling store – and making my way to the door seeing a group of middle aged men watching the screens didn’t help my nerves; I stuck out like a sore thumb.
But, swallowing my pride I went in and fulfilled the brief, placing a bet on a random horse (because I also know nothing about gambling; I didn’t win). Once I was inside it was better, yes people turned and looked for a couple of seconds but then that was about it. Luckily the brief actually said not to spend longer than 15 minutes in there, so I didn’t have to endure it for long. Also, and this is one of the good things about mystery shopping, I was paid more because no one else had taken up the job & they were getting desperate – so I was paid a fee of £20 + £3 expenses because I said it wasn’t directly in the area I had specified plus a £6 reimbursement for the money I had placed on the bet and on the machines. Overall that was £20 profit made for overall 30 minutes out of my day. But then I did have to factor in another 30 minutes – the time it took me to type up my report, but £20 an hour for a student, is seriously not bad. Especially if you know more about gambling – you could have earnt more from the free bet and machines.
Generally fees vary, from £4 to £20; but a lot of the time they’re useful jobs anyway – if you were going to buy yourself lunch at uni, why not buy it from Pret where essentially it will be paid for, plus you’ll make a couple of extra pounds.
Let me know what you think, or if you have had any experiences yourself with mystery shopping.