Mystery shoppers often find themselves in situations that they cannot control. As a mystery shopper, your job is to fulfill your assignment requirements during the site visit and make unbiased observations. Yet when performing even the simplest of mystery shopping assignments, mystery shoppers can find themselves in hot water during their assignments. Anything can happen on a site visit, from other would-be customers like you finding your behavior suspicious to store employees who catch on that you are a mystery shopper.
When your cover as a mystery shopper is in danger of being blown, you have entered into a situation out of your control as a mystery shopper. What’s worse, you may not be able to complete the job requirements as specified in the instructions, and this means that your paycheck may be in danger of being lost. When a situation like this arises, what you need to do is think fast if you want to save your cover AND your paycheck.
Proper Planning. With each mystery shopping assignment you complete, take some time to read the requirements thoroughly well before you site visit is planned. Think about if you need to come up with a good cover story for the assignment or if you can just be yourself. For some assignments, you really need to take on the role of someone else to complete properly, and this is something that needs to be decided well in advance of your site visit.
Whether you take on the persona of someone else or not, you also need to consider a strategy for actually walking through the assignment. Consider if you have to visit multiple assignments, if the restrooms need to be checked, what food items you may need to order, and so forth. Before you go in to do your site visit, have a clear plan of how you complete all of the requirements. When you know what you need to do and how you plan to do it, you will be less likely to draw attention to yourself.
Act Confused. When you cover is about be blown, you may need to act confused or even play dumb if you want to save your paycheck and your cover as a mystery shopper. Anyone who has worked in the realm of retail or dealt with the general public in their job knows that there are a lot of unintelligent questions asked, and while these questions may stand out in the course of an employee’s day, they won’t set off a red flag to a store’s staff. And the fact is that asking a dumb question or playing the part of a confused shopper at an opportune time may just save your cover as a mystery shopper. If you think that your cover may have just been blown, throw out a quick line like, “What? I thought these items were on sale?” or “I’m sorry. My mind was somewhere else. I don’t think I heard you right.” When you time these questions right, you can essentially use them to erase your last action or statement and make it seem less suspicious to store staff and even to other customers if necessary.
Take A Break. If you time to regroup and refocus your thoughts, head to one of the safe zones in a restaurant or store. These safe zones keep you on-site and doing “normal” customer things but away from the eye’s of store staff. Consider heading to the bathroom or fitting rooms if you need to think about how you want to proceed with the rest of your site visit. These safe zones come in handy when you need a quick break.
Use these strategies to keep out of hot water on mystery shopping assignments!
I think the biggest problem is that many of the guidelines for the shops put us in situations that make it obvious we are shoppers. For example, requiring a shopper to spend at least x number of minutes in a store. Sometimes it is not natural to spend that much time in a store, especially if there are no other customers. I mean, how long can you walk around a little store looking at the same merchandise before it looks fishy? Another example is when we are required to get an associate’s name. In many cases that is completely unnatural and a dead giveaway that you are a shopper.
I agree with you, Samantha.
I was discovered twice…once when I was in a neighborhood that usually had people who lived there…Since they did not recognize me at this Starbucks…and since I asked a specific question about what was on special for Christmas….(which I am sure was asked by many other Mystery Shoppers) they caught me..they did not say anything to me..but asked the shopper company if I was the woman in the Grey hat and Grey jacket…who was a shopper…The other time, I have no idea why he suspected me at.a very upscale TV/home movie shop in Greenwich Ct..When I asked the associate to show me Home Theater Equipment..he said,:Are you a shopper?” I said, “What is a shopper? I am looking for a Home Theater.” He said,”I will get my manager.” The manager came out and escorted me in the small Home Theatre…sat me down..and walked away….They were very hostile and rude….I did get paid for the shop. Another time…the associate said, “I know you are a shopper, and I won’t tell.” When I said , “How did you know?”. she said she had read the report the last time I was in. That was six months before this shop….But, if you are discovered..just say…What is a shopper?…I am shopping…so I guess I am a shopper……Mystery shopper? What is that?…….
I agree completely with Samantha (and Carol). Some of the scenarios / guidelines make it virtually impossible to maintain my cover. How do you not loof obvious when taking a phote of a gas pump or the front of a store? How are you supposed to get (and remember) the names of all the associates without staring at name tags and trying to see if they make eye contact at the same time? How do you remember all of the products or details required (like 30+ batteries or model numbers or 6 -8 associates) without taking notes? How do you get all the down to the second timings without staring at your watch?
I’ve tried the “act confused” or “ask a stupid question” tactics. They don’t always work.
I think some of these “mystery shops” should be revealed audits. I’ve suggested it to the companies in a couple of instances and been told that the stores make up the guidelines.
I’ve had to get muc more selective with the jobs I take. This really cuts down on the ernings. But it’s better than losing payments for shops you’ve done in good faith.
For model numbers you can make notes of them, you just need a cover story. For example when doing a TV mystery shop you could say it’s for you and your partner’s first house together (if you are in your late teens/early 20s). This means you would be expected to be overwhelmed and need everything explaining, and you could say you’re writing down the model numbers so you can look them up online later with your partner. You could also make brief notes about each one as you would need to “remember it for when you talk to your partner about it later”.
These comments are all so right. The other thing I find is that companies always think in terms of cities, where repeat phone calls, or shops close together won’t be remembered. I live in a rural area, where the employees get suspicious on the second phone call or visit.
I’m new to this so I haven’t had a shop yet but, I think I can pull it off because when shopping with my husband (the engineer)he makes all kind of notes. I just won’t feel uncomfortable doing this. I can’t see anyone asking me why I am doing it. I may be fooled when I start. I hope not. I just want an opportunity to start.
For any of you who have accepted a Pet Smart shop, can hopefully tell me how you managed to stay inconspicious.
When you have to report all SKU numbers, regular price, sale price, and not be noticed is beyond me.
There are so many different items of food, snacks, etc. that the first day for cats took me 3 1/2 hours. The next day for dogs took me 4 1/2 hours. I was so uncomfortable, trying to do the job I was sent to do and not be noticed.
I was expecting the manager to come and accuse me of shop lifting. I had my purse open with my pad to write the SKU#, etc. I had to pull the item off the shelf, to see the #.
I was asked any number of times if there was anything they could help me with.
The second day, the dog trainer for Pet Smart kept walking around and finally said to me, you seem to be confused. I said yes I am. I am trying to figure out what is the best food for a puppy, the best snacks, and they all offer something different. He asked me what kind of dog I have…. whoops! I said actually right now it is “imaginary.” I quicly added that I had come to check out prices of a crate, a travel carrier and decided to check out the foods and snacks so that I would be ahead if the game, but now I was just more confused.
He decided to be helpful, and take me the aisle that he thought offered the best nutrition, etc. He gave me an application for training as well. I thanked him for his help and tried figure out where I left off in what aisle. About an hour later, he came by and said, are you still here? I said yes, I think I’ll just move in. The cashier kept looking at me when I was doing the treats and even came around the counter to stand and watch me. I moved to the foods until her shift was over and a new cashier came in. I was so uncomfortable, I know they must have many cameras around and I was expecting to be thrown out.
The report was horrible. They did not give enough room to enter the treats so I had to make my own report for those.
I would not do that shop again for $150.00. Just interested to know how others might have handled it.
Pam,I can soooo identify with you about this type of shop! I actually “attempted” this type of shop today. I was literally followed ALL over the store no matter where I went. I couldn’t even begin to collect information without blowing my cover. I could only collect information off the ad. What was I supposed to do?