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Be a Mystery Shopper? Who me?

Mystery shoppers are not all that mysterious, but they do have a cool name. They aren't detectives trying to solve a crime, and they don't wear obscure clothing and dark glasses. They don't carry spy equipment and they don't sneak around, like someone on the prowl. Instead, they walk around like any other "ordinary" shopper and shop.

Their goal is to shop without being so conspicuous that they are observed observing the store employees or store itself. They have a set criteria that must be followed, whether it be checking out the merchandise, observing the store clerks, tasting the quality of the food, or experiencing the dreaded "return of an item."

Mystery Shoppers are often on a deadline. Their job is to enter a store, restaurant, of other facility, follow their list of criteria and be out of the store without anyone becoming suspicious of their purpose. Sometimes they have to arrive at exactly 4 p.m. Other times, they have a window frame of 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. And other times, they are given a week in which to complete their assignment.

Mystery Shoppers must fill out questionnaires such as:
"How long did it take you to get seated?"
"How long did you wait for your food?"
"Was your food hot when it arrived?"
"When you walked into the store, how were you greeted?"
"Did you find everything easily and if not, when you asked for help, how were you helped?"
"Give a detailed account of what followed when you asked for the out of stock item."
"How many customers were in the stores and how were they being helped?"
"What did the bathrooms look like? Were they properly stocked and clean?"
"After handing the money to the clerk, what did he or she do with the money?"
"Were the advertised specials displayed according to the following standards?"

With so many questions, it can often be difficult to remember everything. Some Mystery Shoppers have come up with a little system to help them along the way:

* Make extra copies of the questionnaires, so that after you have driven a few blocks away, you can fill in the information and not forget anything.

* Take a friend or spouse along, they can observe what the clerk looks like while you concentrate on the purchase and return policy. This is a great way to take a friend out to lunch, free.

* Bring a tape recorder with you, once you leave the store, hit the record button (hidden away in your purse) and commence talking: you can act like you are on the phone, or talking to your friend or child.

For the most part, nothing unusual happens when you do a mystery shop. It's simply like any other shopping day, only this time you are being paid. However, there was one experience that took a shopper by surprise. She was asked to observe an employee doing taste tests. As the shopper approached the employee, a rat jumped out from under one of the racks, onto a sample cart and began eating all the samples!

One shopper gave some words of wisdom. She said, "Some shoppers are so excited to get a free meal that they can't contain themselves and are easily overheard by waiters and waitresses. Others have wandering eyes that are unusual for a regular customer. If you don't want to be made, act like you would any other time you eat out."

The pay you ask? It's not a rags to riches job, but it can add money to that holiday savings account: it can even pay for those trips to the movie theatres with your kids. On average, the shops range from $5 to $20 per shop. Some shops pay for your time and reimburse for the meal you have eaten, while other shops simply reimburse for the meals you have eaten. I have even heard of stores paying customers a set $200 a month to shop their store once a week.

Website to help get you on your way:

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Elena Fawkner is editor of Home-Based Business Online. Best business ideas and opportunities for your home-based or online business.

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