At some point, many mystery shoppers need to do a shop with kids in tow. Whether you are a working parent who needs to do an evening shop when your children are out of school, a retired shopper who volunteered to watch the grandkids on a day you have a shop scheduled, or a stay at home mom, the time will come when you have to go into a mystery shop and “work” with the kids tagging along. It can be incredibly frustrating to keep track of all of the shop requirements, keep the kids entertained and well-behaved, and stay fairly incognito as to your mystery shopper status. But it is possible to do, and here are some tricks to help you.
Keep Them Busy! If you know ahead of time that you need to be in a store for an extended period of time, perhaps trying on clothing or shoes, or discussing the finer aspects of a toaster oven with the sales associate, it’s probably fairly easy to see that your child is going to get bored out of his mind. And a bored child will act up and distract you from the job at hand.
For older children, bring along any of their many electronic devices to keep the occupied, such as hand-held gaming devices or headphones so they can listen to music. They can’t walk around the store playing video games, but when you stop to chat for awhile or try on shoes or clothing, this will keep the whining at bay. Younger children, especially if they are still in a stroller, can be entertained by a book, coloring book, or a small toy or two.
Snack-time! OK, bringing an ice cream cone into a high-end clothing store is probably sure to get you kicked out or at least being high on the watch-radar from the sales staff. You certainly wouldn’t be low-profile and incognito if you’re getting dirty looks from all the sales staff. But in many cases, if you use some common courtesy and forethought in how you use snacks to help you and what the snacks actually are, this trick works great.
For older kids, most stores will be OK if you bring in a smoothie or a shake with a lid. If you are afraid your child may spill, you can always offer a smoothie, shake, or cookie as a reward for good behavior in the store. There’s no telling what parenting experts would say about an apparent bribe like this, but most regular parents have probably done this a time or two, and their kids have turned out just fine.
For younger kids who are still in strollers, a snack is the perfect way to keep their little hands busy and mouths quiet. Just be sure the snack you bring in cannot leave a trail of crumbs or gooey mess behind you. It’s probably a good idea to dole out just one or two crackers at a time. A sippy cup of water would also work better than milk or juice because many parents know these spill-proof cups often tend to leak a bit.
If your baby is self-feeding from a bottle, try to plan your shop strategically around feeding time, so she is entertained and quiet with her bottle while you are completing your shop.
Don’t Drag It Out! Any parent or grandparent who has taken a child anywhere knows an unhappy child can be very vocal about being bored and unhappy. So while there are things you can do like having snacks and entertainment on hand to help keep your child from getting too bored too soon, try not to press your luck by making your shop take longer than it needs to. Know the shop requirements beforehand. Before you go into the store, visualize how you will walk around the store and in what order you will complete the necessary requirements. If you are required to get certain information from the sales staff, such as their name if they aren’t wearing a name tag or the sales shpiel of the day, plan ahead how you will casually solicit this information. Once you are in the store, don’t veer too far off your plan. Get in the store, do your job, and get out.
Even if the children are behaving fairly well, keep in mind that your job isn’t over until you have walked out of the store. There are still pieces of information you need to get as you check out, and you want to ensure the children aren’t distracting you from your job requirements before you are completely done.
Sure we all go shopping with the kids when we’re not mystery shopping. But when we are mystery shopping, we first don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves by having a whining, unruly child. And second, when we are mystery shopping we have to focus on the shopping at hand and not on keeping the kids entertained. So mystery shopping with kids requires a little more forethought and planning, but it is a manageable achievement!