I have been a mystery shopper for seven years now. I get asked lots of questions about what I do, so it is really only fair to try and answer them. I have worked for a couple of companies and usually do somewhere between 1 and 4 shops a month at lots of different locations. I have also beeen on the receiving end of quite a number of mystery shops during my time in retail, so I know what it is like being on the 'other side'.
Confession 1: No, I don't have a vendetta.
Sometimes people think being a mystery shopper will allow then to 'expose' a store or company who have done the wrong thing. Of course, this doesn't work in anyone's favour, as you need to supply an unbiased response to your shopping experience that day. I often feel bad if a shop has not been successful - shops are scored according to a numbering system, and then a company decides what is a passing number - and of course, shops can fail a mystery shop. Mystery shopping is set up with a lot of closed questions, so if you don't say the right thing, you've missed out on that point.
Confession 2: The money isn't that great.
Unless you live in a remote area or you select a company who gives difficult assignments, you won't often earn much over $20. Often you'll be reimbursed a small amount, which means that buying presents and little trinkets is essentially "free" shopping. Each shop takes about an hour - 10-20 minutes in the store and then the rest in paperwork.
Confession 3: Yes, I do get sussed out.
Often shops give you a "script" or set questions to ask. I have been sussed out three times by older people. Huzzah! However, after doing about 50 assignments, 3 out of 50 ain't bad.
Confession 4: I wish I could shop for...
My favourite shops are stores I actually buy from. This makes it good and bad, especially if the staff members recognise you. This can be avoided by shopping across different sites, which I do a lot. My dream shop would be an expenses-paid-by-travel-agent assignment or JB Hi-Fi.
Confession 5: I do have ridiculously high standards. Of course.
I am kind of known for informing my friends (and poor Stephen) when a store would have failed their mystery shop visit... if it was a visit. This is somewhat due to my background in retail, but also because I have been working way too long at this.
Confession 6: If you want to pass a mystery shop, look after your store.
Empty shelves? No easy access? Unidentified queue for register? Mystery shoppers are asked questions about these things. And they are incredibly easy to fix. Sometimes we are asked about the cleanliness of staff uniform, other times we are asked if they smiled during this transactions. After slogging my way through retail, a smile and a friendly conversation isn't always what I wanted to do. But it is part of the job, and it is part of your assessment.
If your store is checked by a mystery shopper each month or quarter, start to recognise the possible days they may shop - often the company will inform you. If staff are trained appropriately - and some of my best shops have been with really young staff - passing a mystery shop is not too difficult.
If you want to be a shopper, just Google it. If you have previously worked for a company who contracts a certain mystery shopping organisation, you may be excluded from some assignments, but don't let this dissuade you - mystery shopping is great. And it is truly awesome to be paid on the other side of the counter.