Thwarted (or how I didn’t become a mystery shopper)

” You could do this while still looking for your Purpose”.

I didn’t want to be a shirker and DH had been very patient with my recent explorations into the recesses of my mind. So together we filled out the online application for me to become a mystery shopper. I like to shop and I like a bit of mystery too and I needed to earn.

A week passed until I learnt by email that I was successful. Within moments my first ‘assignment’ landed in my inbox. There were lots of attachments.

In the initial application, I had to choose shops I like, labels I prefer. When they asked where do I shop I opted for Waitrose over  Lidl, Morrisons and Asda.  I chose Paperchase over Clintons. Pret over Greggs. I’d hoped my assignments would reflect these choices.  I was wrong.  I wouldn’t be riding escalators in Harvey Nicks.  There’d be no visit to a high-end boutique or perfumery. Instead I was to head to one of the largest british retailers of floor coverings in a shopping arcade in the suburbs.

A trade that's died out - who'd be a chimney sweep.

A trade that’s died out – who’d be a chimney sweep

I found out how they can keep things secret. The remuneration is so tiny you’d be embarrassed to talk about it.

I was told the date for the reconnaissance, just a couple of days on. I could choose the time. I’d go for a slot after school pick-up. Though I would have to shake off the kids first.

I called in a favour from a pal. She would bring my two to the park with her own in the afternoon while I headed to the shops. “For a little bit of retail therapy” I lied.  No-one could know.

I read through the paperwork. It was all very cloak and dagger with references to mystery shopper and assignments, briefs and cover stories. I read over ‘my brief’ – seven pages of instructions and FAQs. I was to stick to a story, “my script”. I was looking to replace carpet for my daughter’s bedroom. I could choose the colour/texture. They suggest I use my own home’s dimensions.  It would be more authentic that way.

On entering the store I was to note how busy it was on the shop floor, give descriptions of staff I saw and names for those I had any interaction with. Without names I wouldn’t receive payment. I must make note of how long I was in the shop before I was approached. Notice what they offered me and if they tried to close the sale. How could I get all that information from a casual encounter without logging it as the events unfolded? That’s what I was expected to do as soon as I exited the store. I wasn’t off the meter then either.

There were two parts to the assignment. The phone call must follow the visit. This time I would have to count the rings until my call was answered. Pick up any names I encountered along the way, bearing in mind that payment would be withheld if I didn’t get a name. Give a similar cover story with the same prompts and note what comes back in terms of suggestions and additional offerings.

Then before 8 hours lapsed (or else payment would be withheld) I was to file a web report and be prepared to answer all those questions once more.

Mission accomplished… £10 would find it’s way to my bank account.

On the night before the assignment, I could feel a knot of anxiety build in my tummy as I read over my brief and tried to remember all the details I needed, especially those that in forgetting would forfeit my fee.  My pal texted to confirm her plans to pick up my kids and she suggested I enjoy and extend my kid-free time. Go for a coffee as well as a browse, she urged. If only she knew. But true to my assignment she nor any others ever would.

I woke up next morning and the mystery of mystery shopping thrilled no more. Instead it seemed exploitive and mean. To me and the unsuspecting store assistants. How was this information going to be used? Maybe someone had been professional and courteous to previous customers but needed the loo and had been curt with me. Or was just having an off day or even an off afternoon. How could I capture those statistics? Could they get an unfavourable report and lose their jobs over something I noted?

I wasn’t comfortable about lying to my pal.  I suppose I could stretch the truth. Thanks for having my kids.  I had a lovely time, I went shopping.

When the alarm went, “mystery shopping” was evidently on both our minds but my husband was the first one to make the call. “They are taking the piss”. That’s all it took.  I hopped out of bed.  Fired off a quick email to my employer declining the assignment. It was the best £10 I ever lost. Worth every penny and more.  Much more. Just as I was too .

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