Mystery shoppers spend a good portion of their assignments trying to remain incognito, as blending in and appearing natural are imperative to accomplishing the task at hand. Provider and association sites, as well as other online communities, can help people bounce ideas off one another about the best ways to maintain cover.
It's important to remember your commitment to secrecy extends beyond the assignments, however. It takes a lot of work to keep your identity as a mystery shopper concealed from retailers or customer service associates, but just one misstep or misplaced message can render all that effort for naught. A few things to keep in mind, so you don't encounter easily overlooked bumps in the road, include the following:
- Watch your words. Elementary as it may sound, a simple inference can give you away when speaking to a salesperson while on assignment. There's a fine balance to be struck while trying to uncover the necessary information and maintaining a seemingly organic conversation. Phrases such as "I was hoping to" or "My goal was" can betray your undercover identity. Writing a script can be helpful, but be sure to read through it in advance to make sure it doesn't contain any revealing wording. Most importantly, prioritize the information you need to obtain and don't force things if additional pieces of the assignment aren't coming together. Under normal shopping circumstances, you probably wouldn't segue into a conversation about home delivery options after a 10-minute discussion with the same staff member about desk lamps, so don't try it while you're in the field, either.
- Keep the story simple. The more elaborate your reason for considering a purchase, the more antennas will be likely to go up. Depending on the product or service in question, you may need to have some sort of explanation or justification for asking your questions, but showing up to buy a new phone shouldn't require a five-minute diatribe on the impetus for your decision. You need a new phone, and that's that. The simpler your story is, the more likely you'll be to keep it straight and the less chance there is for suspicions to arise. In some cases - particularly at retailers or businesses you would visit anyway - it can be helpful to simply think of the reasons you shopped for such products in the past. Use that reason, even if it's not true, to inform your quest for new information while mystery shopping. You'll feel more natural in doing so and perhaps even forget you're on assignment for a moment because the conversation is fluid.
- Sensor your social media use. It's unlikely, but certainly possible, that you could blow your cover with one ill-advised or poorly timed tweet or Facebook post. There are obvious no-nos, such as publicizing the fact that you're headed out on a shopping assignment at Location X, and then there are more forgivable yet equally damaging slip-ups. Refrain from posting any information you might have gathered during your shopping trip, even if it seems innocuous. Funny or interesting as a story may be, sharing it publicly with anyone but the service provider who assigned it will only jeopardize your standing as a trusted reporter. Chances are, the dots wouldn't be connected unless you specifically stated said story took place while you were on an assignment, but that's not a chance that you need to bother taking.
Ultimately, if you always bear professionalism and caution in mind, you'll be more likely to maintain your cover and continue generating good reviews, which will, in turn, bring in more assignments.