|By KYLE SCHLIESMAN|
Some people love to shop. Some love it so
much they shop for a living and make themselves available for
any business that needs their services.
professional shoppers, otherwise known as mystery shoppers,
help service-oriented businesses evaluate how they are
performing from a customer’s standpoint. They go into a
business, do a little shopping and then file a report on the
“Ideally, the business wants to find out
how the customer is being treated,” said Nova Sipe, president
of the customer service evaluation company Sipe &
Associates of Tucson. “I’ve had clients ask for everything
down to: “Is there salt and pepper in the
There are some basic things that mystery
shoppers look for, such as the appearance of the store and the
responsiveness of its employees. Businesses can ask for very
specific aspects to be examined as well. The shoppers need to
pay attention to details and be able to write them in a report
well after leaving the store.
“You’ve got to be
objective,” Sipe said. “They may not go in with a chip on
Aside from just retail location,
mystery shopping service evaluations can extend to other areas
of customer service as well, including call centers and Web
sites. The evaluator can attempt to navigate through such
systems to get the information they need and report whether or
not they have problems finding it.
Sipe regularly works
with about five shoppers and still does some of the shopping
herself. Anonymity is of utmost importance for the mystery
shoppers so they are not treated any differently than other
customers. So far, Sipe hasn’t had a problem in Tucson with
her shoppers being recognized by stores under
Businesses use the evaluations for a
variety of purposes. Some want to improve areas of customer
service. Others want to reward good employees.
like it was a great opportunity to evaluate the customer
service of our tenants and confirm any areas that they were
excelling in. Also, it gave us the opportunity to see areas
that needed improvements,” said Regina Harmon, property
manager for the Foothills Mall, a client of Sipe &
Associates for the past three years.
Web site devoted to free stuff online, maintains a list of
companies which hire and provide mystery shoppers.
Sola, president of the company, began posting mystery shopping
information on his Web site, www.volition.com, in 1996 because
of what he calls “slimy people” who were selling short lists
of this easy to find information for about $20 to those
interested in becoming mystery shoppers.
hosts the same information for free and has since become a
premier Web destination for related information. Sola added a
message board to the site, which receives about 2,000 visitors
Many large national companies have in-house
service evaluation programs. Other business contract the work.
A retail location such as a McDonald’s may receive service
evaluations from three different levels: the corporate entity,
the franchise owner and the individual store’s
While some businesses hire full-time
mystery shoppers, many of these people work on independent
contracts. Some do it just for fun or just to fill time, Sipe
“Some people just like to be independent,” Sola
said. “They don’t enjoy being in the corporate
People can make a living at it, if they can
find a full-time position. An average full-time mystery
shopper can make $30,000 to $40,000 per year, Sola said. In
fact, one acquaintance of Sola made about $100,000 in one year
through mystery shopping, though that is
Shoppers are paid a small amount for each
evaluation plus reimbursements for costs related to the
“Depending on the shop, they can get free
things out of it,” Sipe said. “I had my film developed free
In any case, there seems to be no lack of
people willing to professionally shop.
Schliesman may be contacted at email@example.com or 294-1200,