Secret Life of a Mystery Shopper

 

Written by Amy Dee Stephens in the September 2018 Issue

 

 

Secret Life of a Mystery ShopperSecret Life of a Mystery Shopper

My assignment was simple: discover the secrets behind one of Oklahoma’s greatest mystery shoppers. I was to rendezvous with this mystery woman at a local hotel restaurant. I would recognize her by her cheerful smile, but I didn’t even know her name. I’d been sworn to secrecy to protect her identity, lest she become recognizable and unable to continue her undercover work.   

“Hi, Hon. You can call me Adventurous and Blessed,” she said in a lilting Oklahoma twang, “because that’s how this mystery shopping journey has been for me.”  

“I’ll call you Addie B. for short,” I said. “So tell me straight, is mystery shopping a legit job?”

“It’s legit.” She glanced around the hotel and lowered her voice. “I got paid $3,000 dollars this summer to visit restaurants and stores to check out their customer service.”

“Sounds sneaky,” I said. “I suppose you disguise yourself? Dark sunglasses, floppy hats?”

“Better than that,” Addie B. said, giving me a knowing look. “I play the role of average middle-aged woman. I have a whole wardrobe of comfortable summer dresses.”

“So, you get paid to act normal?” I asked.

“Don’t underestimate my skills,” Addie B. said. “I specialize in acting like a regular customer. Not only do I get paid, I frequently earn free tanks of gas and reimbursed meals.”

“Sounds too good to be true,” I said with skepticism.

“I’ll let you in on a secret,” Addie B. said. “It’s all about organization. I plan carefully, fitting in several mystery shops a day while running regular errands. The first step is to...”


 

As Addie B. talked, her mysterious career began to take shape. Although Addie B.’s name is changed to protect her identity, she is real. She really does get paid to portray the role of a customer, and she really did make $3,000 this summer!  

Addie B. first learned about mystery shopping as a retail manager. Her company hired shoppers to assess her store’s customer service. “Customer service is what any employer strives for, and mystery shoppers help identify strengths and weakness,” Addie B. said.

This summer, since her job schedule allowed for more weekday freedom, Addie B. decided to take her own mystery shopping from an occasional hobby to a business pursuit. Addie B. is now a contractor for nine different mystery shopping companies. “I can sometimes fit in ten shops in one day.  I start by shopping a breakfast diner and end the day by shopping a restaurant for dinner.  In between, I might shop at a dress store, go bowling, get an oil change and visit a car dealership.”

For each assignment, Addie B. has to ask certain questions or even visit the bathroom to assess its cleanliness. The harder ones involve high-pressure sales, where an associate tries to talk Addie B. into a large sale. Afterward, she submits a report about her experience. “I’ve mostly encountered delightful employees, but I’ve had three unpleasant experiences involving employees cursing around customers.”  

Addie B. completed 175 mystery shops this summer. Only once was she sure someone figured her out.  She was shopping a series of bank locations, and an employee that Addie B. already mystery shopped had moved to a different branch, so Addie B. was in the awkward position of replaying the same scenario with the same employee. “She probably recognized me, but we both went with it.” 

Beyond the money, Addie B. has enjoyed the travel. “I mostly work in the Oklahoma City metro, but I’ve planned day trips all over the state. I pre-plan to mystery shop while I’m on vacation, too—and then my mileage becomes a business expense.” Addie B. recommends that anyone interested in mystery shopping should seek a knowledgeable friend to help navigate which companies are reputable. It’s also helpful to have availability during weekday hours.

“I’ve enjoyed meeting new people and visiting new places,” Addie B. said. “I have an Oklahoma map in my house to mark all the towns I’ve visited. It’s next to a plaque that says, ‘Say Yes to Adventures!’ That’s why I describe myself as Adventurous and Blessed.”  

As I left my meeting with Addie B., the air was thick with Oklahoma humidity. I leaned against a light post to consider our conversation. Addie B. had admitted to the job of just…shopping. Maybe being a Mystery Shopper isn’t so mysterious after all.

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