Shop and get paid for it

Every shopper’s dream is shop till you drop and when someone else has financed it? It is no more a dream, but a reality. This cannot be said about all shoppers because most judicious of them pick up only what they need and not just buy any fancy looking good. Here we are writing about a different category of shoppers which is new for India or rather at an introductory stage.

All one needs to do is to join the league of mystery shoppers. A concept popular in US last five decades, has entered India in the last couple of years. Once you register online with the agencies, you are paid to try out services and offers according to your profile and preferences. For instance, you may be asked to do grocery shopping at a particular outlet or enquire at a consumer goods store and fill up an online feedback form. Your check at the end of the month usually includes an assignment fee plus reimbursement of shopping for shopping to a certain limit.

You will not get rich mystery shopping. It is just a source of extra income. Mystery shoppers’ payment varies on the nature of the assignment. Hotel evaluation will pay a little more than a café visit. If shoppers do a great job, they can easily earn Rs 8,000 – 10,000 a month by meticulously evaluating the business and filling an online form with various objective and subjective questions. For establishments where cash transactions also need to be evaluated, shoppers get paid to shop.

However, there is a higher purpose to it all. For instance, a spokesperson of Specialty Restaurant Group, which includes the Mainland China chain of restaurants, says the group involves mystery shoppers as part of their regular audit exercise. They do this every month across cities. It helps the group to get honest feedback beyond what is written in the visitors’ book. Normally marketers look for customers’ responses on the condition of the restroom portion sizes, buffets, a la carte menus etc.

A research agency Ailiu, conducts regular surveys for a major car manufacturer. It’s mostly to test the discount offered by executives at the showrooms. The research agency usually sends a couple for such enquires who are involved in discussions at length with dealer’s executives regarding the car where discount is applicable to ascertain the actual discount being passed on.

Companies now frequently want to check out the competition. It’s also becoming part of an employee rewards program. After a meal at the restaurant they request the shopper to call them and rate the employee in question. If the service is good, the employee gets a gift, besides encouraging the employee. It also sends out the message to be careful since anyone could be a mystery shopper.

Many times, the shopper is not aware of the client he is carrying out the survey for. Gurgaon-based Grass Roots India, which services clients such as Barclays, Vodafone, Motorola and Pizza Hut, found in a study that India stands ahead of the UAE, France and Spain in customer service standards. But at the same time Indian customer services need to do a lot more to catch up with the US, UK, and Germany who top the list in customer service standards.

There are many converts to the concept with a single agency boasting of a 3,000 strong network of mystery shoppers. However, some like retail giant Pantaloon’s feel the “science” may end up losing sight of the ‘art’ of shopping. In this company, it’s the spouses who check out the stores. Wives of the retail company’s executives even visit the stores and call up their spouses to inform them about availability and quality.

Well, while retail is king, shoppers don’t mind the trend, as long they can indulge and get paid for it.