Secret Service

Name: Evelyn Arnette
Age: 40
Occupation: Mystery shopper
Location: Jonesboro, Georgia
Duties: Performs customer service research while posing as a customer for restaurants, utility companies and other kinds of businesses

What’s the mystery behind mystery shopping? Mention it, and most people mistakenly think of a personal shopper. “A mystery shopper is a person who acts like a customer of a business, but who is really evaluating the customer service of that company,” says Evelyn Arnette. “It’s not about the art of shopping, but the process and profit of shopping.”

While surfing the Net back in 1996, Arnette ran across a Website on mystery shopping (see “Get Paid to Shop,” Shopsmart, June 2001). Having had prior retail experience, she was intrigued by this new concept of delivering customer service. After researching the duties of a mystery shopper, she worked as one part-time for nearly a year. She had found her niche.

She liked it so much, she decided to start her own mystery shopping firm. “I thought, ‘I can do this myself,’” she says. She did more research, and made a contact in West Palm Beach, Florida. “I spoke to a lady who gave me a lot of information on mystery shopping. With around $5,000 in start-up capital, A Customer’s Point of View was born in 1997, and Arnette soon landed Greenbriar Mall in Atlanta as one of her first clients.

Duties: “Companies contract us to evaluate their customer service,” says Arnette. A variety of businesses, including department stores, restaurants, hotels, athletic clubs, and grocery stores frequently hire mystery shoppers. The shopper poses as a customer, but gathers research from a predetermined checklist that measures everything from employee performance to facility cleanliness to product quality. The information is then reported back to the hiring company.

Training: Arnette has a B.A. in sociology from Wells College in Aurora, New York, and a master’s degree in business from Mercer University in Atlanta. She also has more than 17 years of experience in retail and customer service. She suggests that aspiring mystery shoppers have a strong retail and customer service background, and that getting a degree in business helps if you want to own your own company. In the future she plans to expand the company to do racial discrimination testing, especially in the home mortgage field.

Salary: Mystery shoppers are independent contractors who work usually on a contract or on a part-time basis for projects paying between $10 and $15 per hour. Those who launch their own mystery shopping company part-time can gross from $20,000 to $50,000 a year. If you own your own company, you can gross from $50,000 to $1 million annually, says Arnette. “I’m the CEO of the company, but I pay myself as little as possible so that I can reinvest in the company.” This year Arnette expects to gross $135,000, a 125% increase over 2000′s $60,000 figure.

For more on this career:
WEBSITES:
Mystery Shopping Providers Association www.mysteryshop.org
Employee Evaluator www.mysteryshops.com/
Confero Main Shoppers www.conferoinc.com/conferoinc/shoppers

BOOKS:
The Mystery Shopper’s Manual by Cathy Stucker (Special Interests Publishing, $19.95)
Get Paid to Shop: Opportunities in Mystery Shopping

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