A Game Plan for Beginning Signing Up for Shops

Here are some hints about getting started signing up for shops:

1) Start off with the basic companies that have nationwide clients. These include:

Market Force International (MFI) – Shop ‘n Chek [www.applymarketforce.com]

Corporate Research International (CORI) - [www.mysteryshops.com]?

Service Intelligence/Experience Exchange (SI) - [www.experienceexchange.com]

The reasoning for this is that these companies are most likely to have jobs in your area, they offer job specific training with CORI and SI and usually adequate instructions with MFI. Sign up with Direct Deposit or for payment by check with CORI as they charge a fee to pay via PayPal. For all 3 of these companies I am set up for Direct Deposit, which gets me my money ASAP. CORI pays weekly, I believe; MFI pays either every two weeks or once monthly; SI pays the last day of the month the month after you complete the work. These companies pay like clockwork. These companies are set up to work with new shoppers but do not expect an individualized tutorial. If you have job specific questions that are not answered in your paperwork, most are fairly easily accessible. MFI has a “Help Desk”, CORI has a “Contact Us” and SI has a VOX message system through their “Info Center”. You also can frequently find answers through your readings of this or other forums.

The pay for these companies is relatively low to absurd, but your goal is to get some experience. Going through the training is time consuming. Make good notes that you can review again just prior to your first visit and for subsequent visits (with an awareness that from time to time the requirements change). Testing with these companies varies, SI shows you what answers you got wrong so you can immediately focus on those questions and try again, CORI just tells you that you did not get all answers correct and with Market Force it varies. If you haven’t passed after a couple of tries, make a list of your answers and send them through their assistance contact for help. The companies are pretty good about helping you get through the test.

Select one shop that is near you from each company and go and perform it. MFI usually schedules several weeks into the future while there are often shops with SI and CORI that you can do immediately or within a few days. For your first shops, limit yourself to doing ONE AT A TIME. That keeps your focus undivided so that you can make sure you get the required observations, timings, photos (if necessary), receipts (almost always necessary) etc. Even after performing thousands of shops, if I have never done a particular shop before I will either do it separately or with a group of shops I have performed so often they have become second nature.

Follow report instructions carefully, especially when it comes to uploading or sending receipts and such. MFI requires you upload their CPI, which you have printed, signed and scanned for the specific shop, plus your receipt or business card. This comes at the end of your report (though you also can upload them later), so have them scanned on your computer and ready to upload (all in JPG format). CORI has you upload materials into the report. The shops I do for SI require that I email scans or fax the materials.

Once you have performed a few shops you will know if you are comfortable and successful with the required observations and reports. Hopefully you will have managed to do enough of what is required to have your shops accepted, and these companies offer jobs that do not require that you write very much. These companies also do not require that you spend a lot of money (standardly only a few bucks to get receipts) to be reimbursed later. So if a shop is rejected, you are not out a whole lot of money.

Expect that your first shops will take a lot of your time, be enough to make you crazy and feel like a huge waste of your time for about nothing. Think of these jobs as your “interview” for a job, where you don’t get paid to get all spiffed up, freshly printed resume in hand, to go spend some time with your potential employer and convince them you are the best person for the job. Accept another few of these same jobs to assure yourself that repeating a job at a different location DOES make it easier and faster both to perform the job and do the report.

One distinct advantage to starting with companies such as these is that should you miserably mess up a job and get terminated as a shopper for them, you have lost a frequent supplier of cheap shops but can still move on to other companies. You don’t want your inexperience to cost you the opportunity to work with better paying companies.

Start a list of companies you are signed up with that has at least the following information: Company name, website to log on, your logon and password. Other useful information may be phone numbers, payment terms, date you signed up, etc. Now you are ready for . . .

2) Go to Jobslinger.com Using the free version (not the trial version of JobslingerPlus), sign up and enter your zip code and the distance you are willing to travel. Go through the jobs that are listed to sign up with the companies offering them.

There are different providers that offer job boards and job reporting software sites to shopping companies. These include SASSIE, Prophet, ShopMetrics and others. The first three companies I suggested you sign up with are large enough that they have their own software for job boards and job reporting. Other companies you sign up with, you will begin to identify the software used and this makes it easier to quickly go to the parts of the site you need.

Jobslinger pulls jobs to their job board from those companies that use SASSIE and have authorized it, as well as pulling jobs off the Volition.com job board (another mystery shopping forum that is a great place to research companies but tends not to be new shopper friendly) and the MSPA job board (Mystery Shopping Provider Association, which is an organization of some of the companies we work for, not an organization for shoppers). Do not expect that jobs you see posted on Jobslinger are still available. Shoppers watch that board closely for work as a shortcut to checking company job boards. What it will give you is an idea of what companies are shopping in your area.

Once you have signed up with the companies who have posted on Jobslinger recently, expand the radius of your search for some additional companies.

Before you get too involved in signing up, prepare several carefully worded narratives to save to your computer. Frequent topics for a writing sample are “Why I would make a good mystery shopper”, “Best shopping experience”, “Worst shopping experience”, “Your experience as a mystery shopper”. Compose these using Word or a similar program that has a spelling checker. Read them aloud to see how they ‘sound’. They should be objective (i.e. no opinions, just the facts, even for “Why I would make a good mystery shopper”), show moderate detail and specifics, and be somewhere around 100-200 words (500-1000 characters).

3) Be aware that you may not be accepted as a shopper by some companies and usually it is due to them having no work in your area or something about your registration that they felt was a problem.

Often if a company accepts your qualifications as shopper but does not activate you, they will send you an email indicating that they will keep you ‘on file’ in case they get clients in your area.

Companies are likely to discard your application if you have been cagy about the information you have given them or they just don't see you as a likely shopper for their clients. If you are selecting a company off a list from here (http://www.mysteryshopforum.com/read/6/348_) or Volition.com or the MSPA website, you can feel comfortable that the companies are legitimate and not just a pfish for personal information. Look at the URL bar and if it shows https:// (instead of just []) you are dealing with a secured website, so give them your social security number, drivers license info, etc. Make sure you follow up with any W9 or other information they want you to send them in addition to your on-line sign up. When you are filling out the on-line application, if they are asking for “household income”, realize that this is not necessarily just what you report to IRS as your Adjusted Gross Income on your tax return or on the Taxable Income line. Your household income may well include tax exempt interest, non-taxable pensions, and other items. If they ask about your interests, include both specific hobbies, but also stuff you get a kick out of that you would not normally put on a resume for an office job. Over the years I have been contacted for some odd jobs that were based on particular personal interests and knowledge bases. But most importantly is experience. If you get to an application that is asking how long you have shopped and you have shopped for less than three months, I would strongly encourage you to abandon the application and put it on your list of companies to sign up with once you can honestly say you have shopped for more than three months. With many companies, your application will be rejected if you are a new shopper and mostly you get only one opportunity to apply. If you try again later you will be informed that you are “in their data base” already. These are companies that have no time to hand hold a new shopper. They are likely to have more complicated jobs that may pay more per job but also require a lot more. Try them again later rather than take a chance on losing them forever.

4) Always sign up to accept email notifications.

Although we complain about all the ‘spam’ we get from schedulers, it is an easy matter to turn off the email with most companies at a later date. There are several that I have turned off the email and one that I am considering turning off the email because they have no shops in my area but this does not prevent them from filling my inbox with notices from all over the country.

5) From time to time, go back and update your profile with each company with whom you have signed up. Often the change I make is a small one, such as updating my “experience” narrative, or moving my weight up or down by 5#, etc.

Although it is my ‘plan’ to update every 3 months, I am signed up with enough companies that unless there is a major change, I only update every 6-9 months. When you update, you are letting the company know that you are still interested and it will spark a flurry of new email notifications.

Use your social security number. It keeps life simple. While it is possible to go on line and get a Federal Tax ID at no cost, in my area at least it causes city, county and state to come around wanting inspection fees and business taxes for 'running a business'. Life does not need to be that complicated.

Each company has their own registration, requirements, training (if any), and specific job instructions. There is an MSPA certification that supposedly is given preference with some companies on an "all other things being equal" basis. I see no particular advantage to spending the money for the certification as it does not prepare you to do shops as company specific training does, and rarely are "all other things" going to be equal. As a new shopper you will be requesting jobs that most of the time will not be awarded to you if the company has anyone in your area who has done a decent job before and is in rotation. You will luck out from time to time, and this is the moment to get your foot in the door and do a whiz bang job with the shop.

Like anything else, how much money you make is really variable. Some of the factors to consider are how many chain stores are in your area (since generally shops are done by chains or branches); how much shopper competition you have in your area; how far you are willing to go to perform jobs; how your reputation is built with the companies that you work with; what kinds of shops you are willing to perform; how much you are willing to go out of pocket for work and await reimbursement; how many companies you are signed up with, etc. etc.

There are days when I make more than $100 in fees and days when I have been unable to find any work at all, days when I 'earn' more than $200 in reimbursements but no fees and days when I have earned close to $100 just doing telephone shops in my underwear. This work changes day to day, month to month and year to year. That is the beauty of it as supplemental income and the downfall of it as a substitute for regular hourly or salaried work.

Fees vary a great deal by the types of jobs you are willing to do.

If you are willing to include reimbursements, the value of shops can go up a great deal. So, for example, I do oil changes that pay $5 but reimburse about $35 for the oil change (which I would have needed to pay for out of my pocket otherwise). For $0 fee I do some restaurant shops at places we would like to eat where the reimbursement will cover the cost of a meal and tip for two.

If you want to do video shops, they tend to pay more and have less report to write. If you own your own video equipment that meets the companies' requirements, the fees can be in the $70 range, but rotation requirements may limit how many jobs you can perform without becoming a traveling videographer.

As for 'how long', some companies you can wow with 1 great shop turned in on time. Other companies will never be impressed, no matter how many great shops you do. Since some companies will not let you self assign until you have done 12-20 good shops, my guess is that those numbers are probably a decent indicator to most companies that you are competent and reliable. Needless to say, none of them will give you 'credit' for work done for other companies, but some companies will not even accept your registration as a shopper until you have shopped for 6 months or more.

We all have different reasons to shop, but you will find that most shoppers who stay with it do so for lifestyle advantages (restaurants, hotels etc.) and supplemental income.

Learn to use the "Search" feature on this and other shopper forums to find out the experiences of others with companies or particular shops--learning from someone else's bad experience is a lot more comfortable than by personal experience.

Sometimes when taking tests for a company, there may be a computer error that causes a correct answer to appear wrong and sometimes the test is not set up correctly. If you are fairly confident your answers are correct, email them asking for help. Include the answers you believe are correct, such as 1)a; 2)b; 3)d etc. They are good about telling you which answer(s) you have wrong.

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