Love for shopping, eye for detail, good communication skills… The mystery shopper
Without doubt, each one of us has nursed a desire to be Clark Kent by day and Superman on call (minus the red underpants, of course!). Seems fine in imagination, but quite impossible in reality, right? Wrong! Some people get to live that childhood fantasy. Doesn’t go as far as saving the world from maniacal villains, but the world of mystery shopping definitely has a Clark Kentish feel to it!
What do companies do when they want to evaluate their own selves, either on the consumer front or a business-to-business level? Hire mystery shoppers. Mystery shoppers are specially trained to perform specific tasks such as buying a product from a certain outlet to checking the window display of their merchandise — basically behaving in a predefined manner to improve consumer experience. Of course, all this has to be done incognito. And then comes the big deal — the data provided by the mystery shopper helps the organisation in ensuring quality delivery of the brand’s promise and for identifying areas of improvement and train its staff to enhance service levels.
What does this mean for the mystery shopper? Buy or experience anything from a restaurant meal to a spa treatment. All paid for. Plus make money for your services. That sure sounds good!
What does it take?
Love shopping? Have an eye for detail? Got good communication skills? Backed by good Internet access? An aye in all these quarters can make you the next mystery shopper. Pankaj Guglani says that his company matches profiles of mystery shoppers to a client’s target customer-base in terms of income, age and lifestyle to audit the performance of brands via mystery shopping. He should know — Pankaj is the founder of RedQuanta, one of India’s leading mystery shopping firms with over 20,000 registered mystery shoppers catering to brands, including Delhi International Airport (GAR), Fun Cinemas, Mocha, Mad Over Donuts, Calvin Klein, French Connection, Mahindra and Audi, amongst many others. Shoppers include people across income brackets (Rs. 4 lakh to Rs. 4 crore an annum) and age groups (18 to 65-plus). Most mystery shopping companies would like to do that. Importantly, your age, income and lifestyle should match with the kind of brands you want to do mystery shopping for. For example, while auditing a luxury watch store, mystery shoppers must have an income level of Rs. 20 lakh an annum, says Pankaj. “Most shoppers don’t start out with any experience. You can be a housewife, a student or an entrepreneur, and you’ll get assignments if you suit the target group of the client. We may require a student to conduct a coaching class audit while a frequent traveller to do an audit at the airport,” he elaborates. Mystery shopping companies require you to register on their website for the assignments to start pouring in.
Mumbai-based Diya Sengupta Mukherjee, an ESG (environmental social governance) analyst with a leading firm, has been a mystery shopper for a few years now. The 30-year-old has conducted audits for three firms — including RedQuanta, Bare International and Shaw Hotels & Consultancy. Diya does an average of two audits a month, sometimes more, and thoroughly enjoys slipping into her mystery shopper’s garb. She has audited restaurants, salons, vehicles, travel portals and banks. “It’s great that I can combine the thrill element with auditing. At my regular job, some of the companies we rate conduct mystery shopping audits and that only proves to me how serious they are,” she says. Diya says that mystery shoppers ought to safeguard themselves against companies that delay payments and reimbursements. “It’s a rocky ride for mystery shoppers sometimes with companies not paying up on time. That’s why I started by doing audits of smaller amounts, say those worth Rs. 500. Now I handle all sorts for them,” she adds, about her two years’ experience with RedQuanta.
As a professional strategy consultant heading a department in an advisory firm, Amit Kumar Chockalingam certainly has his days full. But the 28-year-old from Hyderabad likes to shop and voice his opinion. The mystery shopper’s cape is cut to fit. He’s been at it for the last 18 months. For his first assignment for RedQuanta at a leading coffee house, Amit noticed everything from the missing nametag on the waiter’s shirt to the dog-eared menus. “I have always been an aware shopper. I would always escalate matters if I wanted to complain about shoddy customer service or compliment someone on good service. My thorough observations and photographs taken incognito made my reports as a mystery shopper concrete,” says Amit who has also audited for another company called WeMark India, albeit with an unsatisfactory experience. “There’s a skill involved when you shop. I use my iPhone to take notes and pictures. Else I take mental notes. It’s also very thrilling. You don’t reveal yourself and then go about your job like a sleuth. I love shopping and to be a mystery shopper allows me to break free,” says Amit. Now who wouldn’t want that!