10 Mystery Shopping Mistakes You’re Too Smart to Make…Right?

No one starts a mystery shopping career planning to fail, but it’s possible and isn’t hard to do. Take a look at this list of common mystery shopping mistakes to learn from others….

1.  Telling

Mystery shopping garners a lot of interest from people who want to try it themselves and from those who want the inside scoop on area businesses. As tempting as it is, keep your mystery shopping identity a closely-guarded secret.

The more people who know what you do, the more likely it is that one of them works in a business you “shop”, or they know someone who does. And once people know who you are, your ability to make an accurate report is compromised. Also keep your job a secret from your children. Children hate to share toys, but they love to share information. In this case, loose lips sink shops.

2.   Missing Assignments

Emergencies happen, and your employer or scheduler understands that…to a point. Mystery shopping assignments typically involve a firm time frame within which the shop must be carried out. Make it a priority to do just that. Your reputation and that of your company depends on your reliability. If you miss too many assignments or turn them in late, you’ll find yourself losing work and then your job.

3.   Scammed!

Mystery shopping scams abound.  Make it your business to learn about them as they appear by checking online resources such as the Consumer Protection Agency website and mystery shopping forums.

  • Never pay anyone for a list of mystery shopping opportunities. 
  • Never cash a check (even a cashier’s check) sent to you out of the blue from a purported mystery shopping company. 
  • Never send back money through Western Union or another wire service.

Work only with reputable companies, many of whom will be members of the Mystery Shopping Providers’ Association (MSPA).

4.   Sloppy Reporting

When you do take on an assignment, take it seriously. Sometimes you might not be feeling well. Sometimes you’re in a hurry or your toddler is screaming. You’ve still got to get all of the required information and write an accurate, detailed report. Watch your spelling, grammar, and sentence structure.  Your reports need to make sense to be helpful. Stay professional under pressure.  Too many rejected reports will cost you your job.

5.   Not Asking for Directions

Occasionally, the details of an assignment may be unclear. Never guess. Contact your scheduler or supervisor and ask for clarification, no matter what the reaction (which should generally be positive). You want to give the customer exactly what they’ve asked for, so make sure you know what it is.

6.   Inconsistent Availability

One of the great benefits of being a mystery shopper is the ability to set your own hours. However, that can also be one of the job’s main liabilities.

If you want to make any progress as a mystery shopper, you need to make yourself available for work on a regular basis. Don’t take a six month “vacation,” then come back expecting to pick up where you left off. You have plenty of competitors ready to take your place.

If you work consistently, you’ll find yourself becoming the “go-to” shopper for your area with increasingly more lucrative assignments.

7.   Being the “It’s Not My Problem” Shopper

Every workplace has one – the employee who never goes the extra mile. She won’t stay late for inventory. He won’t work through his lunch break. Neither of them will fill in when you’re short-staffed. After all, they reason, “it’s not my problem”.

One of the ways you can build your mystery shopping reputation is to be ready to fill in when another shopper can’t complete an assignment.  Conversely, if you always refuse those last-minute requests, you’ll become known as someone who is unhelpful. You may have legitimate reasons for not being able to help out in a pinch, but if you can, do it.  And do so cheerfully.

8.   Using it as Social Hour

When you go on a mystery shop, you need to pay attention. You have so much to observe, so much to remember (taking obvious notes is a no-no), and so much to do in a very short amount of time. It’s not a social occasion. Even though you may be going to a great new clothing store, don’t take friends along. And if you know your toddler is prone to a meltdown at that time of day, try to arrange for a babysitter. The store (or restaurant) is your workspace.  Keep it as “uncluttered” as possible so you can focus on the task at hand.

9.   Being Unrealistic about the Income Potential

Although you’ve read it before, it bears repeating.  Mystery shopping will not make you rich. Pay rates are a little on the low side and in some areas, shops are few and far between.

If you work frequently and manage your resources well, you can produce a side income which can help you reach your financial goals. If you go into mystery shopping with unrealistic expectations, you can find yourself vulnerable to discouragement, burn-out, and the “get-rich-quick” temptations of scammers. Work hard, do a good job,  have fun, and be realistic about how much you’ll earn.

10. Outing Yourself

As a mystery shopper, you’re a bit like a spy. You need to record information, yet not be figured out. You may be asked to take on a character role, and are expected to do so with a straight face. Many times, store employees are aware that you may be making an appearance, so you can bet they’ll be looking for you. Be careful not to blow your cover with garbled requests, visible note-taking, or other out-of-character behavior.

If you believe that you’re too familiar in a particular store, or you’re asked to do a shop in which the employees know you well, ask for a different assignment. Mystery shopping depends on the “mystery”.

So as you can see, mystery shopping is not as simple as it seems.  But, then again, no job really is, right?  Just like every other occupation, with effort, education, and enthusiasm, it can be profitable and rewarding.

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