Last week, I posted about how to get started as a mystery shopper. This week, I will share some of the ways you will go about getting shops assigned to you and some of the tools of the trade.
How to get shops
Once you have signed up with a several companies, chances are at least one of them has work available in your area. If there are not any available at the time you sign up, check again in about a week. Every company is different, but often, shops become available (or are "released") at the beginning and the middle of the month, but sometimes they are released at the end of the month for the following month. The end of the month is also a great time to look for shops with bonuses attached to them, as many companies are trying to get the last few shops done for that month. As you continue to work with a company, you will learn how they do their schedules and when you should check for jobs.
So now you know when shops are available, but how do you get them? Most companies have something called a Job Board on their website. You can usually search the job board by mileage from a zip code or by state. When you see a job you are interested in, you can click on the button that allows you to request the shop, or a few will let you self assign the shop automatically. If you have to request the shop, DO NOT PERFORM the shop until you get a confirmation that it has been assigned to you. You will not always be assigned the jobs you apply for. Do not take it personal if you are not assigned it. Often, companies will assign shoppers based on rotation (how recently you shopped for that client or location); sometimes it is first-come, first-served, and sometimes it is based on your past performance. I work with several companies that required me to apply for every shop in the beginning, but as I turned in quality work, they eventually allowed to me self-assign shops that I wanted.
Another way you may get shops is from the schedulers for the company calling you. This is typically done when there are not a lot of shoppers in your area for that company or if they are trying to get a shop filled last minute (usually near the end of the month). The last minute shops can be a bit difficult to squeeze into your schedule, but often have large bonuses attached and schedulers remember who helps them out. This can be helpful when you apply for shops with the same scheduler in the future.
Networking can also help you find available jobs. There are forums, like those on Volition, where schedulers will post jobs. Incidentally, these forums can also help you learn from other shoppers companies to avoid, or which companies work with certain clients. Some companies also have facebook and/or Twitter accounts where they also post available jobs. Other companies use job clearinghouses, such as Jobslinger, to get their jobs filled. In all honesty, I have not found jobs using any of these methods, but if the time came that I really needed to look for work, I would probably utilize all of them.
If you are going to be traveling, you can often use the above methods to find work along your route if you choose. If you cannot search for jobs outside of your area on a company's website, you can try to e-mail a scheduler that you may have worked with or the company in general to let them know you are traveling and to see if there is any work available.
Tools of the Trade
Generally, mystery shopping does not have specialized tools and most of what you will need, you likely already have, but I will give you a heads up of what to expect.
Each job you take will have different guidelines for you to follow. It is absolutely ESSENTIAL that you read the guidelines the company gives you before EVERY shop, even if you have shopped the same client several times for them in the past. The guidelines change all the time and what you needed to do one month, may be totally different the following month. So this tool of the trade is given to you by the company assigning you the shop. Be sure to ask any questions you may have about the shop ahead of time. Typically, you will ask the scheduler, but always check the assignment and the FAQs on the company's site to see who you should contact with any questions.
Aside from a computer and internet access, you will also want a scanner or a digital camera so that you can upload your receipts, paperwork, business cards, or whatever might be required for the shop. Some companies will allow you to use snail mail to mail them in and some still accept them as faxes, but most only accept digital uploads and they all prefer them that way. You will be able to attach the file directly to the shop (If you do not know how to do that, don't worry, they walk you through it. If you need additional help with it, feel free to send me an e-mail.) or you may need to e-mail it to the company (only 1 company I work with requires me to e-mail them). You will also want a printer, in order to print the guidelines, blank shop forms, and anything else you might need. There are also some shops that require photos to be submitted, so a camera would be a great help there.
You will also want a good watch with a second hand. Many shops require you to get timings (how long you waited to be greeted, how long it took to ring up your order, etc) during the shop. Sometimes you only need the minutes, but often they want these times down to the second. Also, just about every shop wants to know what time you entered the shop and what time you left it.
A phone is another tool you probably already have, but will use often. There are mystery shops available that are phone only shops. They are typically pretty quick and easy, but do not pay a whole lot. However, there are also many regular mystery shops that require that a phone call be made to the location either before or after your visit. I probably make phone calls for 1/3 of the shops I do.
If you really want to get into mystery shopping, you can also get spy-type video cameras and digital voice recorders. These could help you later as you enter your shop, but there are currently only a few shops that require this type of equipment. I do not recommend investing in this until you have some experience in more basic mystery shopping and you KNOW there is a need for it in your area.
I also recommend a way to store your receipts and paperwork, either the hard copies or clear, digital copies. This is in case the company does not receive it or needs it for some reason. Most companies require you to hang on to them for about 6 months. I use files for this purpose and purge them at the beginning of the month the following year (so I just purged the receipts from September 2010).
A calendar or day planner is also super important so that you do not forget to do a shop. Some companies will send you an e-mail reminder when you have a shop coming due, but some will not contact you until after it is past due, if at all. A planner also helps you to see when you might already be doing a shop in a certain area. If you can schedule all shops in 1 part of town for the same day, or at a time when you will be over there for another appointment, you will save both time and money.
I hope this helps you as you continue to explore mystery shopping. Next week, I will write about how to make the most of your mystery shops.