Tips for Successful Mystery Shopping

There are a lot of little things you learn along the way that make mystery shopping easier.

Check your watch
[] gives you correct time with only fractions of seconds inaccuracy. If your cell phone shows seconds, it will be even more accurate. Also good in case you need to make a phone call into another time zone using their local time and you are getting confused whether the time difference is 1 or 2 hours.

Plan your trips

Check an area you know well to see which one represents your area best. When you are going out of areas you know, check two to make sure they are showing your destination in the same place. If they don’t match, check it on the third. I always take the two that coincide and rarely have a problem. All of these allow you to build routes.

Building numbers
Most communities are reasonably systematic with odd number addresses on one side of the street and even numbers on the other. Note this for the various communities you visit because in one of the communities I shop the odd numbers are on the South side of the street while in the rest of the communities they are on the North side of the street. All of my communities have the odd numbers on the East side of the street because the defining roads through the area run N/S. Wherever possible I try to approach a location such that it is to my right rather than requiring crossing traffic.

Drive like UPS
Wherever possible, do your routes to maximize your right hand turns and minimize left hand turns. Left turns take longer to make (whether you are waiting for the protected green arrow or are crossing in front of oncoming traffic) and are significantly more dangerous.

Call block your phone
If you are going to make repeated phone calls to the same location over time, block your phone number from being displayed on their Caller ID by first dialing *67. I believe this service is free with all carriers but if you have a question, check your service provider.

Hands free phone shops
Whether you are making observations of phone etiquette or directly doing phone shops where you are not going through a recorded line of the MSP, put the call on speakerphone. If you have a DVR you can then record it easily but even without recording, you have your hands free to make quick notes because these calls go by very quickly and you want to be ready to record the greeting and name in addition to timing the amount of time on hold, etc.

Plan your report sequence before you go out to shop
Different companies have different time requirements for how soon after the shop you must confirm the shop or enter the shop or do any follow up such as emailing or faxing receipts etc. As I am reading the shop instructions I make notes of these requirements directly on my shop scheduling sheet. If I have done 6 shops on a trip, I want to report the ones with the quickest reporting requirements first, if possible, so if I run into a snag I can get everything reported and sent still within the deadlines.

If you run into a problem with a shop that is beyond your control, notify the company/scheduler immediately when you get home, stating clearly the problem, stating a possible solution and requesting their assistance. So for example, you get stuck behind a 3 car pileup on the road and arrive at your shop location 10 minutes after your window to do the job. If you have a cell phone you could call and ask if they want you to go ahead with the shop or reschedule. Otherwise, when you get home email them requesting a shop reschedule due to the traffic accident delaying your arrival on site. Suggest a date or dates you could return to do the shop. If you are contacting them through their website and a copy of your request is not automatically sent to your email, print out or copy and save your request and note the time and date of it.

Any time you are unable to do a shop, for any reason, you need to contact the company/scheduler as soon as possible. Hopefully this will not have to happen often so they will feel you are responsible and work with you. Along the same lines, avoid rescheduling when it is just for your convenience as much as possible. Companies may be very liberal about allowing you reschedules, but they do keep track of it and it doesn’t look good on your record with them to have a lot of reschedules compared to the number of successfully completed shops.

As you prepare to do shops, make whatever printouts you need and put them in a folder. My preference is the cheap pocket “report folders” that kids use for school reports. I sequence the shops to be done in the right pocket and once in the field, move them to the left pocket as I complete the shop and have made notes. My folder has a lot of paperclips attached, which are good for holding the receipts, business cards and such. As I am looking over materials for a trip’s shops, I will put a note in the paperclip on the outside of the folder reminding me if I have to take the camera, cash in amounts larger than I normally carry, cooler (or thermal bag) for grocery shops, thermos (for too many coffee shops), gas can, etc. I never leave for a shop without my watch, pocketbook with credit cards, wearing my microphone and carrying the DVR in my pocket, but my note reminds me of all the other stuff I may need for the outing.

No matter how safe your community is, always lock your vehicle. You are likely to have shop materials and equipment in your vehicle and you don’t want stuff stolen or even inadvertently seen that might identify you as a shopper. Out of sight and locked will save you a lot of grief. And of course the usual safety precautions apply of parking in a well lighted area, being aware of your surroundings and moving with a sense of purpose. If you accept a shop and arrive there only to discover you are fearful for your personal safety, don’t do the shop and contact your scheduler ASAP. You do enough shops, you will arrive at a location you thought was ok only to discover that it has become a hangout for groups that make you enormously uncomfortable. While you might get in and out of the location ok, you have a real concern. You are not expected to put your personal safety at risk and if a company expects that you should, you need to be working with different companies.

Stash a spare key on your vehicle
Find some way to hide a door key on your vehicle that you can get to if and when you lock yourself out. This is getting more difficult with the more sophisticated keys, but if your vehicle has a chip on a key to turn it on, a normally cut key may get you into the vehicle but not allow you to start it (my preference). With one of our vehicles the key is laser cut by the dealership and I requested that my hidden key open only the doors—not the trunk or turn the ignition. The key was around $60 but still cheaper than a locksmith. I lock myself out of a vehicle about once a year on shops because I was thinking about the shop rather than what I was doing. If I lose my keys I will still have to get assistance, but my usual goof is to just lock them inside the vehicle.

Retain Your Paperwork
Be aware that some companies require you retain paperwork, receipts etc. for 2 years. Be sure you know what those retention requirements are before you start pitching stuff. Similarly, for tax purposes, you are likely to want to retain receipts and such to back up your Schedule C. Theoretically a business can be required to retain records forever, though generally the 4 year record retention requirement works well enough as it is generally only in the case of suspected fraud that the 'lookback' period is longer.

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