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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mystery Shopping

When my friends check out my website, they don’t comment on the expertly written tomes, the witty phrases, the brilliant story concepts. No, they ask me about my side gig as a Mystery Shopper. For the uninitiated, a mystery shopper pretends to be a real customer, while secretly evaluating the company’s products and services.

Most gigs pay a nominal fee, in addition to reimbursing expenses. But you won’t get rich (or even make a living) off it – especially with the cost of gas these days. After signing up for a job, the shopper has to read a lengthy list of requirements for the shop (i.e. purchase a specific product, check out the bathroom, see if the shelves are dusty, ask certain questions) and remember everything, since you can’t take notes while you’re there. Within 12 hours, you input the information online and scan or fax in your receipts. It’s time consuming and the report writing tedious (i.e. "Describe the "doneness" of the pizza in three sentences").

With two kids at home, I’ve cut back on my list of assignments because to be frank – most mystery shopping gigs are a pain the (blank). So why do it? The only assignments I take are for places I need or want to go. For example, I get regular oil changes, visit a specialty coffee shop for drinks and beans, take my kids to amusement parks, go bowling and get my car washed - on their dime. I'm still waiting to score the assignment for the wineries.

So how to sign up? You certainly can Google “mystery shopping” though you’ll get a list in the hundreds of thousands at least. And unfortunately, few sites list their clients. So I’ll give you the name of a few places that have jobs in the Bay Area.

But first:
--Don’t EVER pay to sign up
--Open a paypal account - this is how you’ll be paid
--Payment is often 30-60 days later – track it
--When you fill out the applications, some require a writing sample. Save this to a Word document so you can reuse it on other applications
--Store all your log-in information in one place
--Yes, you have to pay taxes on the income, though you won’t get a 1099 unless your income is over $600 yearly from a company
--Once you’re signed up, you’ll get oodles of emails, and you'll need to respond quickly if you want the job. If you’re serious about mystery shopping, visit the company’s website frequently and don’t rely on the emails as your only alert.
--Start a separate folder for the mystery shopping emails or your inbox will be a mess

A few reputable companies I’ve worked with in the Bay Area:
Service Evaluations
California Marketing Specialists
Kern Scheduling

Ath Power Consulting
Secret Shopper
Service check
About Face

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