Ever wondered what life is like for someone who does mystery shopping in the UK? How much travel is involved? What planning do you need to do ahead? Can anyone make a living from it? – We chat to Money Shed member ‘
Can you tell us how you first found out about Mystery Shopping and how you got into it?
A chance remark from one of the mum’s of the children that I was looking after. She just made a throwaway comment about getting paid to have a meal out. I asked how I do this and she gave me the link to NOP as they were called then. I signed up and was working within a few days. That mum soon regretted letting me know when I gave up looking after her children when I had so much work from mystery shopping that I could go full time. It took about 2 years of part-time work before I took the plunge.
What were your first few ‘shops’ like? Did you come up against any surprises along the way?
My first was a post office and I was so nervous I would miss things out. I remember reading the brief at least couple of dozen times. At that time I thought the scenario didn’t make sense at all. I had to ask about my lost benefit book and then had to tell them about a new van that I had just bought.
I remember thinking that if someone was struggling for money and on benefits, they would hardly have enough money to buy a van! Ten years later I still get some very daft scenarios to follow. I’ve had many ‘adventures’ since then but it is difficult to say exactly what happened as it would identify me to the mystery shopping companies and I take my confidentiality agreements very seriously. Suffice it to say it’s been an interesting and eventful job.
How does a typical week in terms of planning go for someone who does mystery shopping full time?
Scheduling is not much fun at all. This week alone I spent at least 5 hours planning routes and timings to fit in 23 appointment visits as well as quite a few shorter visits in nearby towns. By the time I’d finished, I had another email from a different company with an allocation of 15 visits that had to be done in the same timeframe so back to the drawing board for me. It’s still a work in progress.
For the appointment visits I have to think up false names and research false addresses but with street names and postcodes that do exist. Most companies take your details electronically and so they just ask for postcode and house number. You need to make sure the address exists or they will rumble you as someone doing mystery shopper jobs. You have to estimate how long each visit will take and then check how long it will take you to get to the next visits before you call to make the next appointment. You think you’re getting on great until the next one can’t see you at that time and you have to reroute and reschedule everything. So back to the drawing board again and you still haven’t earned a bean! lol
On average if I include downloading briefs and questionnaires and printing off all the paperwork I probably spend two days a week prepping for work and four days actually doing the visits. Some companies give me addresses and mobile phone numbers to memorise and that can be up to five a day. I barely remember my own number never mind some random one that’s been supplied!
How much do you tend to earn for an average month?
Earnings are really difficult to say. It can vary from £1000 to £2500 a month but it has taken me quite some years to get to the stage where I can earn this amount. Some weeks I can earn even less than £100. Occasionally a project will come up that will earn a lot more in a week but they don’t come up very often. Most of my work is video mystery shopping and that pays more than report based work.
Does flexibility play a bit part if you want to get into Mystery Shopping full time? Both in terms of your availability for work but also the locations you are willing to travel?
The day that I decided I was willing to travel for miles was the day that I could go full time. A lot of course depends on where you live. The larger cities will always have more visits available. London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds etc are going to be ideal for full timers.
My average mileage in a year is 35,000 and some years even more. I live in a small town in the Midlands and so I could probably only pick up three or four low paid visits a week locally. However as I am in the Midlands I am only just over an hour away from Birmingham, Oxford, Cambridge, London and Leicester.
I personally don’t think you can be too ‘picky’ with visits if you want to make it pay full time. I have my likes and dislikes with regard to the type of visits I do however I don’t refuse any type. In the same day, I’ve had to visit a financial advisor asking them for help investing my £4m and then I popped across the road to the local pawn shop to see if I could raise some cash to buy food for the weekend. It can be very varied indeed. I often have to reschedule my working day when last-minute visits get offered by companies so flexibility isn’t essential but is good practice if you want to work full time. My diary looks an absolute mess with scribblings out on most pages.
Mystery shopping in the traditional sense over the last year or two has had quite a shift in terms of how you collect data during a shop, with quite a few clients using companies like Roamler and BeMyEye for work, has this had a knock on effect do you think to those that try to do this profession full time?
There has been a change in how data is collected but that’s a part of the natural shift towards speeding up the process. I remember filling in reports by hand and sending them by snail mail. I very much like using companies like BeMyEye and find the apps really easy to use. There’s less prepping time with printing and of course less waste in terms of paper and ink. I haven’t seen any real impact on the work that’s offered to me using traditional reporting methods though. I don’t really think that will change too much. I often fill in reports on my iPhone as soon as the visit is over and I’m safely back in my car.
Even companies that are still using Excel and Word docs for their reports I can complete on the phone. I feel that there is room for both types. The issues with app-style visits is that they rarely give you a long enough time frame so planning a whole day out is almost impossible. I feel that they are best used as fillers if you just happen to be in the area and have a short amount of time to kill. That may well change so I guess we just have to wait and see!
How have you seen Mystery Shopping as a whole change over the years?
The changes in mystery shopping are clearly as a result of new technology. We no longer have to scan receipts as phones now have cameras with high spec so we can take a picture and upload from the phone straight onto the report. As time has gone on more and more companies are using the same reporting systems such as Sassie and Prophet.
More companies are interested in video work and I see different clients jumping on that bandwagon. On the other hand a lot of the industry has stayed the same. The same old clients just moving to different mystery shopping companies. Most shoppers care little whose name is on the cheque as long as ours is there. I might also point out that there has been very little change in fees in the ten years I’ve been a full timer. I don’t think that shoppers are as respected as they used to be as there are a lot more of us about.
What do you think does it take in terms of personal qualities to make a go of doing mystery shopping full time?
I would say the qualities you need to be a full-time shopper are:
Reliability and keeping to deadlines – It can cause all sorts of problems if you don’t do the visit when you say you will. Mystery shopping companies have made promises to clients to get visits done and may even lose the contract with the client if they don’t fulfill their part of the deal.
Flexibility – Visits crop up in the same area that you hadn’t planned and also clients and companies change the time frame and briefs occasionally so you need to be prepared. It doesn’t happen often but you’ll be respected more if you can be as flexible as you can.
Good command of the English language and good grammar and spelling – You won’t be offered repeat visits if you really don’t care about your grammar and spelling. The odd mistake doesn’t matter (that’s what proofreaders are paid for) but taking care before you push that submit button is important.
Good memory – I don’t think that needs too much explanation
Quick thinking – Crucial as there are so many instances where unexpected things happen in particular when the staff member doesn’t follow their brief! I find a really good back story is essential even for simple visits. The staff member might ask what your job is and if you say I’m a teacher be prepared to chat about your work! I was once an Ofsted Inspector and it just so happened that the staff member’s wife was a teacher and so I was asked a lot of questions about the profession. Although it’s easy to say I can’t discuss it you do need to be able to chat generally about anything that you might have made up.
What 5 Mystery Shopping companies would you recommend to someone just getting started in this sector?
What changes or developments do you see happening in the next year in the Mystery Shopping world
I think that changes will mainly be technology based. More companies will hopefully bring apps that we can do our reports on the move. More clients will become interested in video mystery shopping. Sadly I don’t think fees will increase as more and more shoppers are signing up and are prepared to work for very low fees.