An Introduction to Video Mystery Shopping

Video mystery shopping is a highly misunderstood and scary prospect for many mystery shoppers. The technical equipment and the covert use of such equipment to capture a customer service or sales interaction may seem like an overwhelming challenge, but I am here to ease your fears and help you understand just how fun and easy it can be! There is a growing market for this specialized type of mystery shopper. Entering into this lucrative niche is easier than ever and the shops are numerous.

Many regular mystery shoppers email me to ask about how much work there really is in this segment of the industry because they very rarely see the video jobs posted on job boards. Video Shopping is such a specialized form of shopping, these jobs are normally not going to be found on standardized job boards. Getting your proverbial foot in the door with video shopping companies is the only way to getting the work.  The majority of scheduling for video mystery shopping jobs is done behind the scenes, on a personal level. Email, phone calls and relationships with schedulers are the only ways to find out about and get the work.

Having been an Undercover Video Specialist™ for a number of years, I have seen it all. Each assignment brings a new set of challenges and interesting encounters.  I have been on missions to capture certain targets on film and hidden behind trees and peeked around corners to avoid the non-targets. I have been driven around apartment complexes by half crazed leasing professionals who believe they might just be the next Mario Andretti. My job is to capture on video what my client needs to see. Sometimes that includes some ingenuity on my part. These assignments are not always easy. It takes some special qualities to be a good video shopper.

According to Leslie Jeter, Owner of Clear Evaluations, “We look for individuals to perform video shops who have a good understanding of both the technical aspects and the specific goals of video mystery shopping. We need people who can take direction in order to thoroughly cover the requirements of a shop, as well as initiative, for when the unforeseen happens and shopper cover is at risk. Taking a Certification Workshop can give a potential contractor the skills needed for the use of covert video equipment as well as the development of complex aliases and scenarios needed to be successful.”

Melinda Brody, of Melinda Brody and Company, describes the skills needed to be a successful shopper: ”When we are recruiting for video shoppers, we are on the lookout for someone who can get good camera angles without looking like they’re dancing. One of our shoppers was spotted because he kept moving his body from side to side in an awkward way (to position the button cam) and the salesperson said it was “like a dance”. The perfect shopper is one who can flawlessly get the torso shot without being obvious and also be a good actor and have their “part” down pat. We are searching for the perfect combo of technical expertise and acting skills.”

Historically, this type of research tool has been used in the housing industry, but that is rapidly changing. Video Mystery Shopping is now being used in the automotive industry, retail establishments, restaurants, hotels, senior living accommodations, medical and dental offices, banks, office services, and amusement parks. The possibilities are endless. One day you may shop for a $5 million home and the next you may find yourself driving a high performance vehicle. The pricing and availability of good quality equipment has made this type of information gathering a cost effective way for companies to see how their front line is performing. The challenge is finding trained, available and reliable individuals to perform the assignments.

One commonly asked question about the use of video in mystery shopping is the legality of covert video.  According to The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

“Twelve states require, under most circumstances, the consent of all parties to a conversation. Those jurisdictions are California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington. Be aware that you will sometimes hear these referred to inaccurately as “two-party consent” laws. If there are more than two people involved in the conversation, all must consent to the taping….At least 24 states have laws outlawing certain uses of hidden cameras in private places, although many of the laws are specifically limited to attempts to record nudity. Also, many of the statutes concern unattended hidden cameras, not cameras hidden on a person engaged in a conversation. Journalists should be aware, however, that the audio portion of a videotape will be treated under the regular wiretapping laws in any state. And regardless of whether a state has a criminal law regarding cameras, undercover recording in a private place can prompt civil lawsuits for invasion of privacy.”**

It is legal to covertly video/audio tape in all but 12 States. In States where permission must be obtained, Mystery Shopping Companies have all employees sign a consent for taping, thereby making it legal. This information can change and therefore should not be taken as law. Please consult an attorney for any questions about personal liability you may have.

Another commonly asked question about Video Mystery Shopping is “How much money can I really make?” Leslie Jeter, of Clear Evaluations, says “a committed shopper contracting with my company, who is available and willing to work and accepts most assignments is making between $2000-$2500 per month. The occasional shopper who takes a few jobs a month will make between $500-$600 per month.”  Because these firms contract with the shopper for the assignments, it is up to the shopper to pursue work and gain relationships with several companies who perform these types of jobs. There are only about 8-10 companies who focus mainly on the video aspect of mystery shopping. As an independent contractor, shoppers can accept assignments from all of these companies and expand money making potential commensurate with a good reputation in the industry and initiative taken to obtain the work.

The final real question is “How do I break into this industry?” Lists of Mystery Shopping Companies can be obtained for free through internet resources, such as MysteryShopForum.com and Volition.com. These are websites where industry professionals network to discuss shopping companies and help each other. There are hundreds of legitimate Mystery Shopping Companies. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) is also another good resource for lists of legitimate companies. If your true desire is to go directly to the high end of this industry, there are Certifications you can achieve and learn what you need to know to quickly get in and be successful. Undercover Essentials, LLC provides nationwide Undercover Video Mystery Shopping Certification Workshops. These workshops are sponsored by the companies who need trained video specialists. They provide hands on training with equipment as well as detailed instruction on the requirements of video shops and how to make the most money in the most efficient manner. More information can be obtained at www.undercoveressentials.org or through contacting Undercover Essentials, LLC at 321-442-0402.

Carrie Porhammer is the owner of Undercover Essentials, LLC ,  providing Video Shopping Certification Workshops and Consulting for Mystery Shopping Companies. She is also a Professional Mystery Shopper. Her reputation in the industry is impeccable. Undercover Essentials, LLC is a member of the MSPA and the IASE and is a well respected member of the Market Research Industry.

* http://www.hoovers.com/industry/market-research-services/1058-1-0-1njg0x.html

**http://www.rcfp.org/taping/