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I recently had a lovely email exchange with a former student who was curious about what may happen to the Mystery Shopping industry now that everything is closed. She asked, With everything going on right now, is Mystery Shopping still going to exist during and after COVID?
I love mystery shopping – I’ve been doing it since 1999 (over 20 years at this point), and I’ve always relied on it to supplement my income whenever unexpected expenses arise. I’ve also used it as a way to bridge my income gap when moving to a new area, or if I was traveling, I could pick up shops along the way and have part of the trip be tax deductible.
If you’re not familiar with Mystery Shopping, it’s where people pretend that they’re regular shoppers and they the evaluate customer service of an establishment. Read more on our Mystery Shopping FAQs.
Mystery Shopping has always been my “go-to” recommendation for when people need to make extra money. It’s a very low barrier to entry – all you need is decent observation, memory, and writing skills, a computer or tablet and the internet, and you’re good to go. It’s doesn’t require a lot for someone to get started.
When COVID hit, and people were starting to fall on hard times and needed ways to make extra money, Mystery Shopping wasn’t available – stores simply weren’t open.
The great thing about Mystery Shopping, though, is that it is really adaptable. During COVID, I have seen Mystery Shopping companies started pivoting to merchandising. Merchandising is where independent contractors go into stores and re-stock merchandise. During the beginning of COVID when everyone was panic-buying, (and even now, to a certain extent), merchandisers were definitely needed in grocery stores and other essential businesses.
Mystery Shopping wasn’t always focused on customer service, however. It started as a loss-prevention tool back in the 1940s/1950s. “Shoppers” were hired to go in and make sure that people weren’t stealing things. They were hired to pay cash to make sure that the employee gave back correct change. Nowadays, obviously we don’t need that service since we have security cameras and check-point stands. So, Mystery Shopping has already made a huge shift in the industry already – instead of focusing on loss-prevention, it changed its focus towards customer service.
I feel like we may be on the verge of another huge shift in Mystery Shopping, where the focus will become on compliance issues instead of customer service. Compliance issues deal with making sure a business is in compliance with various rules and regulations. For example, when an 18-year-old goes in to buy alcohol, making sure that they get carded and the sale isn’t completed. Compliance issues also exist for banks – making sure the employee states all the required FDIC banking disclosures, as well as apartment buildings – making sure that the leasing agents follow all the required fair housing laws. It’s possible that Mystery Shoppers will be hired to make sure that businesses are following the required state guidelines for COVID openings.
Even if there aren’t a lot of location-based shops in your area, there are still a fair number of phone shops and web shops available. Mystery Shopping is still here, it’s just looking a little different than we’re used to.
I don’t think that MS is going to disappear, but I do think it will change – just like it had to change before. That being said, of course, there simply aren’t as many shops as there used to be pre-COVID and I’m guessing that will last throughout the pandemic. If you’re looking for work right now, look into doing merchandising assignments. But of course, do what’s safest for you! If you’re in an area that is still under quarantine, or if you have compromised health, it’s more important to take care of yourself right now and proceed with caution.
Sadly, some Mystery Shopping companies won’t survive COVID – some of the smaller, boutique, “ma and pa” companies may simply not have the resources to pivot to new technology to stay competitive, or have enough work to carry them though. But I do believe that the industry itself will survive, it may just look a little different on the other end.
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