What is Mystery Shopping Really?

Occasionally one of the news programmes will run a story on Mystery Shoppers, saying how it’s easy money, quoting three figure fees and generally making us wonder why Gina Reinhardt bothers with mining when you can get paid to shop. So if it’s not free overseas trips and a salary that will land you in Forbes magazine, what is Mystery Shopping, really?

The first result in a Google search says “Mystery shopping is a tool used externally by market research companies…”

On the Above Benchmark application to join our Mystery Shopping team we ask people “In your own words, what is mystery shopping?” Responses that begin with the Google answer are trashed. It’s not just that they’ve copied and pasted the answer, it’s that they haven’t read the question correctly in the first place and that is a huge part of being a Mystery Shopper. We want the answer to be in the applicant’s own words. If they missed that detail, they’re sure to miss an important shop instruction.

So what is Mystery Shopping?

It’s a professional measurement of the actual customer experience against the client’s expectations.

Let’s break it down:

1. It’s pocket money. You will get paid between $5 to $50 a job, with the standard payment being between $15 to $20. In most cases, you will be responsible for working out the tax and declaring your income.

2. There’s effort involved. If you want to get the best jobs and work frequently, you will join every company out there and check their websites on a daily, if not hourly basis, constantly refreshing in the hopes of seeing new work. Some companies (like Above Benchmark) list all of their assignments at the start of the month and assign in bulk, but a lot of other companies will release jobs seemingly at random.

3. It’s fun! Come on, what other job pays you to shop? On any given day a Mystery shopper can have lunch comped, buy something nice for themselves in a homewares store, pick up something at the pharmacy they needed, try on some nice shoes and get paid for it all.

BUT, here’s point two again: when you get home you will have to enter the results of the surveys, which can take between 5 and 30 minutes, depending on the company and type of assessment. If you’re good at writing and typing, it will be a breeze!

4. It’s important. Sure, the shoppers find it fun, but it’s serious business. Companies rely on these results to understand what’s happening in their stores, which is why we are so insistent on the importance of following all of our instructions.

5. Which leads us to our fifth point, it can’t be faked. You are being trusted to follow instructions, conduct the survey, and submit an objective report. Real people will read the report and be impacted by it, so be fair and honest.

So now we’ve answered what is Mystery Shopping, let’s look at what it is not:

It’s not an opinionated review of the experience. It’s not a chance for you to get back at retail workers who ignore you while chatting to their friend on the phone. It’s not being sneaky trying to catch staff out and get them in trouble. It’s not an opportunity to test staff under extreme conditions while you pretend to be the customer from hell. It’s not a report you compile listing everything you think they did wrong and your opinion of how they need to improve. It’s not really even getting paid to shop. Shopping is fun and carefree and led by impulse or need. It’s not even free stuff, unless you work for free. While you might keep things you get to buy, you are exchanging your time for them.

There are thousands of Mystery Shoppers working on a regular basis and, in general, they seem like a happy bunch, so the fun must outweigh the effort. Well for Above Benchmark Shoppers anyway!


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At Above Benchmark, we’re passionate about helping our clients deliver exceptional service to improve customer loyalty and increase sales. We believe every business needs a customer service benchmark, so employees know what to work towards.

If you’d like to have more loyal customers and increased sales contact us today for a complimentary 30 minute Customer Service Strategy Session.

Simply call 1300 400 716 and let us help you achieve above your benchmark.