Everybody likes making money and we like it even more when it's doing something we enjoy. Mystery shopping is an example of a fun way to make quick cash for practically anyone, including disabled individuals.
So long as you know where to look, mystery shopper jobs for the disabled are out there. But for every legitimate job offer, dozens of scams flood the market. This post touches on how to tell one from the other, along with some basic information on how to get started in the industry.
Are you ready? Let's go!
WHAT’S MYSTERY SHOPPING?
Companies understand that it's much cheaper keeping an existing customer than acquiring a new one. So what do they do to keep a customer? Well, among other things, they make sure to offer great customer service. But it isn't always easy to gauge especially since customers rarely give feedback. This is where you come in...
As a "mystery shopper," you're hired as an independent contractor to visit a business establishment to evaluate or "audit" them for cleanliness, service, quality and other criteria which you report back on.
Essentially, you work as an undercover reporter, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of a business without bias. And you do this by behaving just as a normal customer would, like directing questions to employees, purchasing and returning items, and more.
It kind of sounds like spying, right? In some ways it is, except that employees are usually in on it — they just don't know who the mystery shopper is among their customers.
Believe it or not, companies have been doing a form of "mystery shopping" since the 1940's and it's since grown into an 800 million dollar industry with well over 1 million mystery shoppers today!
So, how do you get started? Keep reading...
TYPES OF MYSTERY SHOPPING JOBS
The most common mystery shopping job requires you to visit a business establishment in person, on-site, such as banks, hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, apartment complexes, automobile dealerships, and retail shops.
But there are also options for disabled individuals who are homebound…
- Phone-based – A company hires you to listen to conversations between their employees and customers to identify customer service-related issues.
- Home Service – A house call business like a carpet cleaning company comes to your home to perform a job which you evaluate afterward.
- Online Retailers – An online store hires you to evaluate their website and interact with their live chat/customer service.
If men liked shopping, they’d call it research. – Cynthia Nelms #mysteryshopping
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS?
There are only a few requirements to become a mystery shopper but there are all important...
- Clear Communication – You speak English fluently and write clearly.
- Detail Oriented – You can observe for long periods of time without getting distracted.
- Objective – You can assess businesses without inserting your opinions.
- Inconspicuous – You can blend into crowds, thus avoiding suspicion.
- Good Memory – You can recall shopping experiences when completing your reports.
- Reliable – You can complete assignments within 24 hours.
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Additionally, there are a few requirements which don't relate to the job itself...
- Access to Transportation – If you intend to visit businesses as opposed to shopping online, you'll need a way to get there.
- Access to the Internet – In most cases, reports are submitted over the internet and correspondence is usually done via email.
- Certification – Some mystery shopping companies require certification to become eligible for assignments. Most are free and simply test your understanding of their requirements.
WHAT’S THE JOB LIKE?
Every assignment is different depending on the type of business you're hired to evaluate. But for most on-site assignments, 30-45 minutes is the norm to complete all tasks.
Some typical examples of tasks include reporting the amount of time it takes for an employee to greet you, the way they handle customer returns, and general quality of service.
Once completing your tasks, you normally have 24 hours to write and submit your report, which often consists of many yes/no questions and written answers. This can take anywhere between 20-30 minutes.
HOW MUCH MONEY CAN YOU MAKE?
This is a tough question to answer as it depends on several factors…
- The number of assignments you get.
- The amount of time it takes you to complete assignments.
- The complexity of the assignments themselves.
Typically, you're paid per assignment, NOT hour, which amounts to roughly $8-$10 for smaller tasks or $20-$100 for bigger tasks, usually through PayPal.
For some assignments, you get to keep what you buy but it usually doesn't amount to more than a few dollars. Sometimes you're also reimbursed for money spent at service-based businesses like hair salons and restaurants.
Now, it's possible to get one or two assignments per day if you sign up with enough companies and fit the right profile but even then, you're looking at a few hundred dollars per month. Obviously, that's a far cry from a full-time living BUT it's certainly a way to supplement your disability benefits. But keep in mind that payments can take up to three months!
COMMON SCAM TACTICS
The more popular mystery shopping gets, the more scammers come out of the woodwork trying to trick you into giving them money. Of these, the most common tactic is sending out unsolicited letters, promising you big money for minimal effort.
Here's what to look out for when receiving one of these letters….
- Pre-approved Job Offer – You qualify for an assignment without the company knowing anything about you.
- Counterfeit Check – You're rewarded with a fake $1000+ check for which you get to "keep" a few hundred dollars with the rest wired to the company as "advance payment" to cover expenses (money which you never see again).
- Poor Grammar – A job letter littered with grammatical mistakes.
- Big Claims – A job letter promising rates of $50 or even $100 per hour and more money to buy store items.
Aside from bogus letters, another common scam is having to pay a fee to join a program. Don't fall for this ploy as legitimate offers are almost always free!
WHERE TO FIND LEGITIMATE JOBS
The safest way to find legitimate mystery shopping jobs is through associations and the one to start with is the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). There you'll find legitimate companies with information on how to sign up and work with them.
A couple other associations worth checking out include the International Association of Service Evaluators (IASE) and National Association for Retail Marketing Services (NARMS).
Another reliable source is Cathy Stucker, an expert on mystery shopping, whose list of 150 companies is worth going through. She's also written a well-received manual on the ins and outs of mystery shopping which you can preview here.
Forums like the Mystery Shop Forum are another way to find legitimate opportunities. If there's a new scam going around, you'll certainly hear about it there first!
Of course, you can also find tons of mystery shopping jobs through Google and other search engines but make sure to vet the companies using the Better Business Bureau (BBB) before applying.
The Application Process
Plan on applying to at least 25 companies if you want a steady stream of work. But be prepared to spend a long time filling out questionnaires as companies can be quite specific about their requirements.
For instance, along with basic information about yourself, you may be asked non-standard questions like whether you own a pet and if so, what kind of pet. Or whether you work primarily on a desktop computer or laptop. These type of questions help match you to the right job.
PROS AND CONS OF MYSTERY SHOPPING
- No set schedule — you work when you're able to.
- Expenses sometimes covered by the company but only partially (purchases, bills, etc.)
- A fun way to make money, especially if you enjoy shopping and window shopping.
- Assignments come in at random times, making it difficult to plan your days.
- On-site visits require transportation which can be challenging for those with certain disabilities.
- High level of attention allows little room for mistakes.
- Long wait time for payouts
As far as on-site mystery shopping jobs are concerned, I think the disadvantages outweigh the benefits for one main reason — the amount of time it takes to travel to the destination combined with the time required to fill out the report isn't worth the effort.
And while you may get some reimbursement for store purchases, companies usually don't pay back fuel costs or other expenses.
There are better ways for disabled individuals to make money without hoping for some mystery shopping gig to fall on your lap. But there's one way I particularly like…
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NOW IT'S YOUR TURN!
What are your thoughts about mystery shopping? Leave your comments below!