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NEW! The Mystery Shopper’s Manual 7th Edition is Hot Off the Press!

The Mystery Shopper's ManualThe brand new 7th edition of The Mystery Shopper’s Manual is here!

More than an update, this is a completely new book. I reviewed every page of the 6th edition and made drastic changes. Although a few of the basics were retained with minimal revisions, several chapters were eliminated, others were revised, and a lot of new content was added. In fact, the word count of this edition is 40% greater than the last one!

The biggest addition? I greatly expanded the section on writing reports. In fact, there are now two full chapters on writing reports with lots of example comments and narratives.
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How to Take Photos of Your Food on Restaurant Mystery Shops

Empire-cafeMore and more often, restaurant mystery shop assignments include a requirement that you photograph your food. Although it might seem that taking pictures of everything would out you as the mystery shopper, it doesn’t. In fact, so many people post pictures of everything they eat to their blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, that you will probably not be the only person taking photos.

If you are not used to photographing your food, here are a few tips to help you get better quality photos and look like your standard-issue social media junkie and not a mystery shopper.
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Mystery Shopping Sharks

I have done some unusual mystery shops, but I have never mystery shopped a shark! The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) has hired secret shoppers to check out shark dive experience tour operators to make sure they are properly engaging with the wildlife. Shoppers are also being used to monitor dolphin and whale watching tours, kiwi viewing, guided walks and adventure tourism.
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Wouldn’t You Like to Know?

integrity-consultantsMystery shopping company Integrity Consultants has brought back their Wouldn’t You Like to Know? event. This is your chance to get answers to your questions, share your shopper experiences and maybe even win a $25 gift card.

One way to participate is by asking a question. Questions will be answered by industry experts, so if you are wondering about any aspect of mystery shopping, this is the time to ask!

Additional contest entries will be awarded for social media sharing and other activities. (See the official contest page for more info.)

The contest ends July 31, 2015, so submit your question today!

Note Taking Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Customer Impact posted the above video with eight tips for taking notes on mystery shops. The tips are also listed below, with my comments.

  1. Pretend to make a telephone call and jot down notes while on the phone. Pretend you are taking down directions, or noting info from a voice mail.
  2. If the table has a tablecloth, take notes discreetly on your lap. Don’t spend a lot of time with your hands in your lap, though, or you might attract some unwanted attention!
  3. Go to the restroom and write down notes. This is always useful on mystery shops. Go in to a stall where you won’t be seen and you can make notes, check your shop tip sheets, etc.
  4. Bring a crossword puzzle and write notes in the spaces. Do this at fast food establishments and not fine restaurants. Other possibilities are newspapers, magazines, day planners, textbooks and other places you might reasonably make notes.
  5. Put a tape recorder in your jacket or purse. See this post about mystery shopping with a digital recorder.
  6. Send a quick text message to your partner, or have your partner send you a message. Or use a note-taking app on your phone.
  7. If you have a Blackberry, PDA or similar mobile device, jot down a note or two quickly and discreetly. There are a number of note-taking apps for smart phones, and you may even be able to find a way to take notes with other phones.
  8. Practice these methods when not a mystery shopper. Practice makes perfect! The first time or two you do this, it helps not to have the pressure of a real shop. If you mess up, it won’t matter, but you will know what not to do next time.

What is your favorite way to discreetly take notes on a mystery shop?


Mystery Shopping from Coast to Coast

People are doing more traveling this summer, jumping in the car to visit Grandma, taking a family vacation to a favorite theme park or heading to a new destination. According to USA Today, one of the reasons for this rise in travel is a drop in gas prices. On May 15, 2015 they reported that this will be the cheapest driving season in 6 years. Further, they indicate that the typical American household will spend $675 less for gas this year as opposed to last year, an additional financial incentive to travel. But what if one plans yet another way to make vacation time more affordable?

Jancyn Evaluation Shops suggests that cash-strapped families use mystery shopping to subsidize their travels. According to Vicki Dempsey, Vice President of Jancyn, “Mystery shopping as you travel is a great way to earn some extra cash as you make your way across the USA. Our Project Coordinators are experts in assisting shoppers to create mystery shopping routes to fit their travel plans.”

Ms. Dempsey continues, “Most shoppers sign up with several companies in order to increase their chances at having multiple projects to choose from and to find projects that best fit their personal needs. The MSPA maintains a list of member companies you can be sure are qualified and reputable. When it comes to incorporating mystery shopping into a family vacation experience, get the kids involved too! Asking them to help look for key project details, such as the name of their server or the cleanliness of a restroom, hones their observation skills and turns it into a fun spy game! Not all shopping assignments allow children, but many do.”

Many companies, including Jancyn, offer self-assign job boards where shoppers can select assignments along their planned route. Depending on the mystery shopping company, shoppers may find assignments that will reimburse for meals, gasoline, attractions and activities, hotels and more.

To get the most opportunities, apply to as many companies as you can. Refer to my list of 200 legitimate mystery shopping companies. Contact any schedulers you have relationships with to let them know you want assignments you can do while you travel. You may be able to pick up some shops that they are having trouble filling, and that will make you one of their favorite shoppers. You may even be able to work out a bonus or two.

Incorporating a bit of mystery shopping into your vacation can stretch your budget and make vacationing more affordable. Of course, if you spend all of your time mystery shopping it isn’t really a vacation; however,  you can certainly work in a few shops to help cover your meals, hotel and other expenses. Have fun!

Does Western Union Get Mystery Shopped?

western-union-mystery-shopBy now you have probably seen the infamous check scam that tries to pass itself off as a mystery shopping opportunity. You know how it works: cash a large check, shop at WalMart or some other major retailer, keep a few hundred dollars for yourself, then wire the bulk of the check amount to someone via Western Union or another service.

The scam? The checks are bogus. Although banks are legally required to release funds within a few days, the fact that the check is a fake may not be known for weeks. The victim believes that the check is valid (or why would the bank have given them the money?), they send the money off and later learn that the check bounced and they are responsible for repaying the money from the check to the bank.

There are, however, legitimate mystery shops involving Western Union. Here is how to tell if a shop opportunity you received is legitimate or a scam.
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Why Do Some Restaurants Not Take Reservations?

restaurant-reservationsFine dining restaurants typically accept reservations, and a mystery shop of a fine dining restaurant will include questions about the reservation process. But why is it that so many other restaurants do not accept reservations? If you have ever tried to get a table at a popular casual dining restaurant on a Saturday night, you know that the wait can be looooonnnnng. So why do they not take reservations? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if they eliminated the wait?

Although fine dining restaurants can often accommodate walk-ins outside of peak times, taking reservations allows them to better plan. Meals at fine dining restaurants often last longer than a typical casual dining experience. At a casual dining restaurant, we may be in and out in 45 minutes to an hour, while a fine dining meal could easily be twice that long. Reservations help to ensure that tables are available when required and makes it easier for staff to properly serve customers.Continue Reading

Tips for Writing Comments and Narratives

report-tipsHere are some quick tips to keep in mind when writing your reports.

Stick to the facts. Don’t offer your opinions unless they are specifically requested. Watch out for “I” language, such as, “I think,” “I feel,” or “I believe.” These are opinions.

Think of yourself as a fly on the wall. Report what you observed.
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May I Say What Mystery Shopping Companies I Have Shopped For?

Question from a mystery shopper:
Several companies I applied to for mystery shops asked for the names of other mystery shopping companies I have worked with. Is this information something I should provide to the new company or is this considered a breach of confidentiality?

First of all, I am glad that you are thinking about confidentiality. Too many shoppers share information inappropriately, either believing that it is okay to do so or because they are just not thinking.

Let’s take a quick look at what you may and may not disclose, and I will share with you how I answer that question.
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