“Mystery” Customers Evaluate Stores for Companies

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    By Michelle Lizon

    The popularity of mystery shopping has increased over the past few years as many people, from retired couples to single college students, shop and observe businesses anonymously.

    Many BYU students receive e-mails asking them to become mystery shoppers for different industries. Labels such as “get rich quick” and “be paid to shop” cause some to become skeptical.

    Aimee Crossett, a sophomore majoring in accounting, said she recently received a mystery shopper e-mail inviting her to be a secret food critic. After clicking on the link, she filled out pages of sponsors asking her for personal information. She said she quickly realized it was a scam. Despite this experience, she said other contact with legitimate mystery shoppers has caused her to realize mystery shopping can be positive for companies and shoppers.

    She said she remembers mystery shoppers coming in to evaluate service and food quality at the restaurant where she used to work in order to improve customer satisfaction.

    “You could get fired if you didn”t receive a high enough score from the mystery shoppers,” she said.

    Some view mystery shopping as an information resource to improve products and service in the business world of competition.

    “Mystery shopping is a chance for companies to see how employees do when they are not monitored,” said Paul Godfrey, an organization leadership and strategy professor for the Marriott School of Management. “They are a valuable link in the chain of measuring and providing good customer service.”

    Cathy Stucker, author of “The Mystery Shopper”s Manual,” said as competition increases businesses need to know how they”re performing. Mystery shoppers provide them with insights that aren”t available any other way, she said.

    Some mystery-shopping providers pay for the information that is obtained. Others charge for training and then promise rewards they do not give. When researching a mystery-shopping provider, various factors will usually point to legitimacy or scam artistry.

    Susan Seiler, president of SG Marketing Group and board member of The Mystery Shopping Providers Association, said the association is the best place to check for authentic mystery shopping providers because it requires members to follow an ethics code.

    The association is a professional trade association with over 150 company members worldwide.

    Its guidelines stated that mystery shoppers should look for a provider with company integrity, customer service measurement training and an ability to successfully execute mystery shopping.

    Providers that promise large sums of money and free products and ask mystery shoppers to pay a fee up-front and start with no training are probably fraudulent, said Jane Driggs, president of the Better Business Bureau of Utah.

    Mystery shopping may be perceived as playing in return for money, but as with most jobs, different assignments tend to have a combination of benefits and drawbacks.

    Some of the pros of mystery shopping can include flexibility, self-employment, consumer education and social interaction, Seiler said.

    She said despite the interesting nature of the work, mystery shoppers are expected to remember a lot of information, which must be quickly reported back to the company, sometimes detracting from the enjoyment of the experience.

    “The people attracted by the idea of picking up a check for just going to the mall will not be good mystery shoppers and will not represent the industry well,” Stucker said.

    The average pay for mystery shoppers varies greatly with each mystery-shopping provider and assignment given.

    Seiler said Volition.com is a good Web site for new mystery shoppers to find out an estimate on how much a company pays and what their policies are.

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