The Writing Life

Mystery Shopping

It’s been about three weeks since being laid off, and while I have gotten a decent bit of writing done, I have also found a few interesting things going on during the day that I had no idea of until now:

  • There are people who take their dogs to the dog park every day – lucky pooches!
  • The People’s Court is STILL on television!
  • iTunes University has some really great free lectures on writing given by top faculty at some of the country’s best universities!
  • There is a consortium of companies that pay ridiculously low wages for supposedly easy and quick tasks called Mystery Shopping!

My brother and his wife do Mystery Shopping out in Tulsa, OK and I decided since I had some time on my hands, I would try it out. I signed up with the company he worked for plus a few others and before you knew it, I was going to stores like Lowe’s and Walgreens to spy on their employees to see how helpful they were. I also visited a couple of car dealerships to pretend I was interested in buying a new car to see if the Sales Associate would offer me a test drive or introduce me to the Service Team Manager. These were the high-end shops (paying around $12-$15 a pop); the low-end (usually paying $4-$6) were the internet web inquiries to banks, car dealers, colleges…all to see how quickly I would get a response by E-mail or phone.

Starting out, I created an Excel tracker and pretty soon I had about 15 shops to care for. I didn’t mind the actual interactions I had – except the car dealers who are still calling me weeks later! But going out to the stores and talking to people was not bad, especially since I do miss the daily contact with people at work.

The first downfall of this at-home position is the survey submissions required. I thought, “Hey, I’m a writer, my surveys will be polished, error-free, and it shouldn’t take me long.” Boy, was i wrong! Whether I did an in-store shop, or a quick web inquiry, the time needed to complete several pages-long surveys, uploading photos, emails, receipts took WAY too long. The level of detail required to successfully submit the survey in relation to the length of a call or E-mail communication was out of hand. I could spend 30 minutes in a store, and then spend almost an hour completing a survey and handing uploads. I told myself I would do it for 2-3 weeks and break it down to see how much you could really make an hour; it turned out to be less than minimum wage.

It really was an interesting sociological experiment – which reminds me – read this book if you haven’t – it’s GREAT!!

The second downfall, and the one that finally caused me to realize this is not even a good option for part-time money, was that the same company who has very very strict rules regarding due dates and successful submission requirements doesn’t hold themselves to that same level of expectations. I would do my shop, turn everything in early and then just watch the assignment sit there for multiple weeks waiting for someone to review. When I contacted them, they said they were trying to hire more people to review – so they had a backlog they couldn’t handle.

What turned out to be a mystery to me was how this particular company gets these contracts with notable businesses and tons of people to do the shops at these prices. I researched some forums and saw a lot of people complaining, but who still did the shops – so as long as people are willing to take the money, mystery shopping will remain an option for those interested. For me, not so much. I could have been writing!

Oh well, interesting experience – may be worth an essay sometime! If you’ve done Mystery Shopping I would love to hear from you.

Write on…


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