This question comes up a lot. Shoppers want to know if it is acceptable to take their children, spouse or friend along when they do a shop. Why not? After all, they often accompany you when you are not mystery shopping, right?
The main reason not to take anyone with you is that some clients and mystery shopping companies do not allow it. Their biggest concern is that having someone with you will distract you. Even if your three-year-old is the best behaved child in the world, having him there while you are doing an assignment will make it impossible to focus all of your attention on getting names, timing transactions, and all the other details you must manage on a mystery shop.
And you know that other people’s children are not as well-behaved as yours. I once saw a video mystery shop where the shopper had taken her young son along. Every time the sales person tried to speak, she was interrupted by the shopper saying, “Joshua, stop that,” or “Joshua, get over here,” or some similar order that Joshua completely ignored.
Later in the video, you could see Joshua running back and forth across the sales floor. Amazingly, the shopper actually submitted the video to the mystery shopping company. I can only imagine what happens on shops where there are written reports and no video.
Even grown-ups are not immune from misbehavior on mystery shops. I have heard stories of companions announcing to the employees that they are there to mystery shop them, making inappropriate comments that give away the shopper, or doing things that interfere with the employees’ ability to do their jobs. Just by being there, though, they may be a distraction. If you are in conversation with your friend, you may miss important details that should be noted in your report.
Of course, having a helpful companion can not only make it easier for you to do the shop, it can result in a better report. A knowledgeable partner can help you to provide a more detailed report to the client. But no matter how good your companion is, you should only take them with you when it is allowed by the mystery shopping company and their client. For example, many bank and financial shop guidelines say that you should not have anyone–child, spouse, friend–with you.
On the other hand, many restaurant shops allow or even require you to have a partner. Pay attention to the guidelines to know if your companion must be another adult or if you may take your child, as well as how many people may accompany you. Some shops may limit you to two adults, while others allow for larger parties. (Remember that most reimbursements will only cover expenses for two people, even if you may take others along.)
The bottom line is that you should not assume that you may always have someone with you while you mystery shop. Always read the guidelines and, when in doubt, ask your scheduler. Even if a shop allows you to have a companion, never take someone who will be a distraction or may affect the integrity of the shop. Make sure your partner knows what he should do to help you produce a valid shop report.