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Who are mystery shoppers?
I don’t know. I have no contact with any other mystery shoppers. However, from the specific schedule assignments for certain jobs and other indications, I suspect that many may be part-time workers, stay-at-home spouses or people who otherwise have schedule flexibility.
Every mystery shopping company that I have looked into so far engages agents as contractors, not employees.
How does it work?
Mystery-shopping is a tool for the tracking and enforcement of standards. Like most standard efforts, it does not provide much latitude to the agent who actually performs the assignment. Generally there is a form with simple yes- no or multiple choice answers to indicate whether the store or business is meetings its standards. (In some cases I have found this frustrating, as when none of the multiple-choice answers is correct.)
Also, as the term “standards” implies, often there are quantifiable measurements to perform. One mystery-shopping company issued me a stopwatch and a disposable camera. I have turned down many offered assignments because they required that the agent own a digital camera for use on the job.
Most often, the form itself is completed over the internet, allowing fast reporting with reduced paper handling. Some but not all of the mystery-shopping companies also permit the agent to scan or photograph receipts and upload them via internet, avoiding mail delays and costs.
National store chains of various kinds seem to gravitate toward use of mystery shoppers. Standardization, for them applies not only to product and service, but also to the “look and feel” of the store.