If you have ever gotten that email in your inbox saying you have been identified as a mystery shopper on your last assignment, you know that sinking feeling in your stomach. Thoughts race through your head as you ask yourself what you possibly could have done to lead the store employees to thinking you were a mystery shopper. In some cases, unfortunately you as a mystery shopper did everything right, and an unfortunate set of circumstances led to you being identified. In other cases, however, you may have unknowingly left a series of clues that identified you as a mystery shopper.
The good news is that in many cases your clues, or “tells”, are fairly standard with those other mystery shoppers leave behind. If you are aware of your “tells,” You can help avoid being identified on future assignments.
The Devil’s In The Details. In many cases, you won’t be identified as a mystery shopper until after you have left the store and completed your report. How can this be? There are times when a mystery shopper connects emotionally in some way with the salesperson, to the point where the details you provide in your report make the salesperson recall your identity. For instance, if you have a conversation with a salesperson about finding that perfect gift for your great-Aunt Millie who happens to collect figurines of ballerinas and you provide the details of your ballerina-conversation in your report, the salesperson may recall such a conversation as being particularly unique. Or perhaps the figurine collection reminded them of their favorite relative and you stuck out in their minds.
Unfortunately, a salesperson may have a connection with you based on your conversation without letting you know about it. That salesperson may not have told you their great-Aunt also collected figurines. So you unknowingly turn in a report that has a “tell” all over it. The only way to avoid this “tell” is by keeping your conversation with the salesperson somewhat vague, or by keeping your report somewhat vague. Mention to the salesperson only that you are looking for a gift for your aunt. Or in your report, mention only that the salesperson attempted to help you locate a gift for a relative. Providing extra details can be a big “tell.”
Shifty Eyes and A Trench Coat. OK, you probably aren’t wearing a trench coat unless it’s particularly cold outside. But your demeanor in the store can cause you to become a suspicious person. If you are asking a lot of questions that seem out of context with your actions, or if you are walking systematically through the store from display to display and shelf to shelf, the store’s staff will almost certainly have a heightened awareness of you.
Keep your actions and your conversation low-key and off the radar. Any interactions you have with the salespeople should be casual and not seem forced in any way. If you do need to check all of the displays or shelves, walk down an aisle or two, and then hit the dressing room. Then return to check the rest of the aisles. Or ask a question that you need to about items on the other aisles that would give you a reason to actually be going down those other aisles.
What’s That For? There are quite a few assignments that require the purchase of an item. Many of these assignments allow you, or require you, to return that item. Some mystery shoppers believe that since they can, or must, return the item, it makes very little difference what small item is purchased. Remember, the key to not being identified as a mystery shopper is to keep a low profile at all times. Don’t blow a low key visit at the last moment by purchasing an off-the-wall item that will raise eyebrows. If you grab the first thing off the shelf without paying attention to it, you may just end up at the checkout counter saying a size 14 pair of jeans are going to look great with a shirt you just bought at another store, but unfortunately the salesperson may see that you are only a size 6. This will look especially odd when you return the item saying the pants didn’t fit quite right. This is sure to be a transaction the salesperson will remember.
It may be easier to say the purchase is for a friend or family member. However, even then, be sure that the pants you are purchasing for your great-Aunt Millie look appropriate for a woman old enough to be a great aunt. So be sure to pick out a purchase that makes sense for you or your scenario.
On your next assignment, objectively pay attention to how you portray yourself to the sales staff. Watch for any signs you are giving off that a keen sales person may pick up on, and make adjustments to improve your performance as a mystery shopper.
Thanks for the information. I have been a mystery shopper for over four years and absolutely love it. I have never been identified as a mystery shopper. If I have to give any advice it is; know your scenario in advance and just act natural.
I was only identified once in over two years. I knew I was taking a chance going back to the same place a second time. However, it was not the person that identified me it was the Client Company. I knew from my interactions with the sales person she did not have a clue because she gave such bad customer service. I think the Client Company did not like the report so it was a good excuse to not accept it. The shops were conducted by two different shopping companies. Oh, well I learned a lesson. That it is not necessarily not go back but if you do. Use the same company then they will not have a reason to not pay you. They should know you have been there before.
This is a particularly sensitive topic with me. Being Black, I am typically on the radar, as soon as I enter a store. Having Locs, and a grey beard adds to the “illumination!!” As far as I can determine, I haven’t been overtly identified, however there is one store in a small community, wherein my last several visits, the employees seem to fall over themselves, making sure I find everything I’m looking for, or need. In one situation, I went to a food sample display, found it empty, thought nothing of it, and continued with my shop. Moments later, the department manager flags me down, and apologizes that I found no samples, and advised me that the dome had been re~supplied! I am like (???) Being a Black male, with Locs and a grey beard, gives me a feeling of walking a high~line wire, with the eyes of the multitude upon me at my every step!! Good article, thank you.
During my two years of mystery shopping, I have never been identified. However, there was the time when I went in to do a shop which required me to ask a salesperson for advice on a pair of shoes, purchase them and then return them that same day. I personally do not like return mystery shops, as I feel the pay does not justify my return to the store. However, with that said, the company was in a crunch due to a last minute cancellation and I opted to help them out. Anyway, at the time that I performed the shop, there were only teenage male salesmen there. It would appear a little strange to me that a middle-aged woman would be asking teenagers about the purchase of a female shoe. To make a long story short, when I returned back later that night to return the shoes, the teenage manager began asking me questions and then out of the blue states, I’m sorry you didn’t like the shoes we suggested. I hope you come back again.” Then another employee stated “she could be a mystery shopper”. I immediately went into the “what is a mystery shopper routine.” After convincing them that I wasn’t a MS and didn’t know what one was, they were basically able to provide me with enough information to let me know that they knew exactly what a MS for this company was required to do when they came in. They told me that when a MS gives them a bad rating that they are then chewed out by their manager. Needless to say, they all laughed and it didn’t seem to phase them at all.
I have a question about ms’ing. Do you ask questions to keep the conversation flowing to see if the employee does what he/she is suppose to say/do? Or do you keep it simple as possible and just wait to see if that employee does what he/she is suppose to do?
I’m finding myself asking lots of questions I probable shouldn’t be doing which I think gives the “red flag” that I’m the MS. I have not been told that I was spotted as the mystery shopper, but I get that weird feeling that they “know” who I am.
I had to walk out of a big electronics store at the beginning of my shop (laptop computer and then mobile phone) because I recognized the salespeople from previous visits for the same scenario (which I can adjust), but to pretend again to be on the verge of buying a laptop computer, or a mobile phone, was just to big a stretch with the same sales associated. After this post I have to e-mail my scheduler 🙁 Big shuckydarns, as the grandkids say.
Bona– I had that same problem with the laptop, mobile phone, tv,and appliance shop. While conducting my shops, I noticed employees were looking at me while talking to each other,and then looking around the corner to see if I was still there. Then one of the employees told me that he had noticed me in different areas of the store. Yup, I’m pretty sure they know who I am.
Once when doing a shop for a second time at the same location, the SA said, “I think I know who you are. You’re the mystery shopper. I think someone else should serve you.” I played dumb, looked around to see who she was talking to, and asked, “What’s a mystery shopper?” I assumed she had been talking to someone else. She continued to serve me. I plan to visit the store again just for personal reasons, so she gets used to be being around…so no big deal.
I have been Mystery Shopping for about 8 years and love doing it.