5 On Your Side

Mystery shopper shares secrets of the job

Posted September 1, 2010 5:00 p.m. EDT
Updated September 3, 2010 8:09 a.m. EDT

— In this economy, it's all about customer service.

“Can you find someone to check you out? And then, how quick does that process go?” said Elaine Buxton, who runs Confero, a firm that uses mystery or secret shoppers to check out everything from mechanics to retailers to restaurants.

“A restaurant may want to know how they're doing on a Friday night when it's busy. They might want to know the timing of entrees, greeting, hostess, server, experience, ambiance, cleanliness - all the factors that go into that customer's experience,” she said.

Jennifer, whose full name was withheld to maintain her identity as a mystery shopper, works for Confero.

“We're given a specific list of instructions, or we're given a specific scenario,” Jennifer said.

She shops for about six different companies, but not for the money.

“The shopping itself doesn't give you enough work to keep you occupied 40 hours a week,” Jennifer said.

The pay depends on the amount of time involved in the shop. Often, the payment is the free stuff Jennifer gets for doing the shop, such as car maintenance when she shops a mechanic and a free meal when she shops a restaurant.

But she said there is a lot more to it then just eating a meal.

“Everything we do is about checking what the company standard is. So, if the company provides some sort of a service and speed is their biggest issue, then you would go in with some sort of a timing device, and you would time the different things that they're looking for,” Jennifer said.

“You have to make sure that you're hitting everything that they ask for. Otherwise, you won't get paid. You won't get reimbursed,” she said.

Jennifer also does it for fun.

“It exposes me to a lot of different industries that I've never been exposed to before, maybe experiencing products or services that I hadn't tried, or companies that I hadn't tried and it was really more of an education for me than anything else,” she said.

Jennifer said there is one drawback to the job.

“There's one part I don't enjoy about mystery shopping, which is when I have to say that somebody did not meet the standard or made a mistake. I feel terrible about it,” she said.

For people searching for a job as a mystery shopper, Jennifer and Buxton recommend starting with the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, where reputable companies are members.