Tall Poppy Diaries

Observations and musings on life as a happy high-achiever (or what the Aussie's call a "Tall Poppy" ). "Unless you choose to do great things with it, it makes no difference how much you are rewarded, or how much power you have." --Oprah Winfrey

Monday, February 28, 2005


  Mystery Shopping 101

It's Monday morning in Poppydom--and a busy day awaits. The third floor re-do is coming along nicely, but with hubby in NYC for board meetings I am left here to supervise the construction workers. SOOO not fun!

Before the workers get here (they are usually an hour or so late), I thought I'd talk to ya' about Mystery Shopping. I have had so many people ask for suggestions on how to get started that I thought I'd post them right here.

Right off the bat, let me make this clear--You are NOT going to get rich being a mystery shopper. However, you can make decent spending money by working on your own time if you stay organized and market your skills and experience appropriately. I started mystery shopping JUST so that I could afford an occasional outrageous splurge (like those $365 Jimmy Choo's that I left on the sale table in Florida) and not have to ask "anyone's" permission.

Being a Tall Poppy is about being confident. Part of being confident is knowing that YOU are responsible for your happiness, and that YOU can make changes in your life to make you comfortable and happy. When I see a hole, I fill it--and that is what Mystery Shopping is doing for me. My business pays for the trips that I like to take a couple of times a year. But I'm hoping that mystery shopping will pay for my fetishes. My first week, I earned $100 (pre-tax) with four jobs--plus reimbursements for two meals. Last week, I earned $205 (pre-tax) with nine jobs. And that's pretty good for mystery shopping. As long as you are realistic about what you want from Mystery Shopping, it can be a great little hobby--that pays for other hobbies. Got it?

Now, let's start with the most basic information--Applying for your jobs:

  1. DO NOT EVER PAY A FEE TO ANYONE--for "referrals", for "lists", or anything else. The only fee that I can think of that you MIGHT consider is the MSPA Certification fee. I haven't done that, but I might if I decide to stick to this. Anything that anyone offers to sell you regarding Mystery Shopping is available for free on the web--and I'm about to tell you where to find it.
  2. Don't do a Google search for "Mystery" or "Secret" shopping--that just brings up all of the unscrupulous businesses. Instead, go to the MSPA (Mystery Shopper Providers Association) or Volition.com's Mystery Shopping Forum for information and lists.
  3. Do not give out your Social Security number to any company without first checking to make absolutely, positively sure that they are legit (if they are MSPA-certified, they're ok. If you find them on the list at Volition.com, they are "shopper certified" and are probably ok.) Most of the companies do not MAKE you give them your SS#, even though it is on their questionnaire. Try leaving it blank first.
  4. When you start looking for a company to shop for, go to this page at the MSPA website. Then, just click on your country and submit. That will bring up all of their member companies who have assignments in your country. You don't want to click on your state or territory because most of the companies who will hire you will be located somewhere else. Now, begin by applying to all of the MSPA companies listed. After you apply to all of the MSPA companies, go to Volition.com and start applying to THOSE companies.

Now, about the application process....

  1. Some people think that Roboform "spyware"--but it's not. It's a godsend. If you fill in the blanks on your Roboform, then click on your "filler" every time you have to fill in a new application Roboform will save you hours and hours of time. Plus, it will also remember all of your passwords for you. This comes in handy because you have to apply with EVERY company separately, and they all have their own login information, as well. I say, "Go Robo!" I have heard bad things about Gator autofill, so I'd stick with Roboform.
  2. Some applications will be all "fill in the dot". Others will require that you write a paragraph about your best shopping experience, your worst shopping experience, why you would be a great mystery shopper, etc. Do yourself a favor--keep a word document open for Mystery Shopping writing samples. Every time you write a paragraph, copy and paste it to the Word document so that the next time you are asked to write a paragraph, you can copy, paste and edit the paragraph to their specs instead of writing the whole thing over again. I even save all of my various edited versions, because some companies want you to write 300-character explanations. Some want 300 words. So you will save yourself a lot of time if you save all of your writing samples (organized by topic) in your Word document.
  3. When you are asked to write about what makes you a great mystery shopper, play up any past experiences that might set you apart from the crowd. For instance, they are looking for people with good writing skills so you might want to mention that you have X number of people who visit your personal weblog to read what you've written every day. They are looking for people who eat, shop and go to movies a lot (consumer experience). They are looking for people who can be discreet and are good "actors". They are looking for people who have traveled extensively. And if you are non-caucasian or male, mystery shopping companies are looking for YOU! So read the introductions to mystery shopping that most of the companies have on their sites to see what they are looking for. Read the forums at Volition where many shoppers talk about what types of work specific companies do. And set yourself up to be an attractive candidate for the types of work you want.
  4. Just judging from my own experience, I think that my education, past work experience, and above average income level are working in my favor to get the higher-paying jobs. You might want to keep that in mind when you are filling out your applications. I'm just sayin'....

Testing and certification...

You may be as surprised as I was to learn that you have to "certify" for many of the better jobs. Sometimes you have to certify just to work for a particular company. And you have to certify for most jobs within the company. There is one mystery shopping company that I really wanted to work for, but they had a certification test that you HAD to pass with 100% of the answers correct. I managed to fail that test, and now I can't re-apply with that company for 30 days! Soooo...

  1. After you sign up to work with a company, go to the Shopper area of the site and make certain that you don't have to take certification tests to work with specific companies. For instance, I have had to take individual certification tests to "shop" my grocery stores and all of the finer retailers. If you aren't "certified" for those jobs, the schedulers won't schedule you.
  2. If you have to take a certification test, take it seriously. The companies do. Either print out the study materials or open up a second browser window so that you can refer to the study materials as you take the test.

Now, about the jobs themselves.... I can only speak from my two weeks of experience. However, within 48 hours of putting in my initial applications, I was receiving great opportunities to do interesting jobs that I think I'm being adequately compensated for. So don't think that you "have" to take a low-paying job just to prove yourself to the company. If they need you, they'll schedule you--even if you have no prior experience.

Now, every person's idea of "adequate compensation" is different. I wouldn't do a fast food "shop" (industry term for an MS job) where you only get paid $5 and a $5 food purchase reimbursement. When I figure the 30-45 minutes I'd have to spend "training" and reading the instructions for the job, 30 minutes in the restaurant, and another 30-45 minutes filling out the questionnaire, it's just not worth it for me. However, there are many shoppers with small children who go to fast food restaurants several times a week anyway. They like these shops. So it's all up to you.

I look for a $15-20 minimum payment for the job AND additional reimbursements for any mandatory purchases, under most circumstances. Unless it's a really fun job (like an amusement park, resort or something), I want it to be within 10 miles of my home, too. Having said that, I am doing a shop soon that is 13 miles away, has a fairly detailed questionnaire that has to be filled out, and only pays $13. However, it is on the way to another job that I REALLY wanted to do that's 15 miles away, pays $15 and gives a $10 reimbursement for a purchase in a wonderful store that I LOVE and has a fairly short questionnaire (in other words, no mandatory 1,000 word commentary on my experience in the store). So I justify taking the two lower-paying jobs that are further away because I love going to that store anyway.

There are other jobs that require you to take digital photos of a business, upload the pictures onto a website, AND fill out a questionnaire about the shopping experience. Keep in mind how much time it takes to go somewhere, take pictures, get back home, download the pictures to your computer, enhance the pictures, upload the pictures to the website, AND fill out the questionnaire. I wouldn't take ANY photo assignment for less than $30--unless you are VERY bored.

Also, there are a lot of companies that do "phone call only" shops where you call a business and then fill out a questionnaire about your experience on the phone. Some of these pay as little as .25 per call. Let me remind you--YOUR TIME IS WORTH MORE THAN .75/HOUR. 'Kay? I am doing a series of phone shops for a company that is paying me $5 per call. Don't undervalue yourself. I figure that in one hour, I can do 3-4 calls and questionnaires. $15-20/hour for sitting at home in my pj's, making four phone calls, and filling out four questionnaires? Good. $1/hour for sitting at home in my pj's, making four calls and filling out questionnaires? I'd rather be watching The Today Show, thanks.

I'm going to close for now because I've gotta get moving! However, if you have further questions, either e-mail me or comment here and I'll try to help you out. Have a great day!

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