The brand detective

Looking for a smart way to make a quick buck alongside your salary? Mystery shopping can be a rewarding part time career. Prachi Rege tells you more.

Updated: Nov 06, 2013, 12:41 PM IST

Looking for a smart way to make a quick buck alongside your salary? Mystery shopping can be a rewarding part time career. Prachi Rege tells you more.

"If you don`t measure it, you can`t manage it."

- Tom Peters, Management Guru

Imagine a profession where you get paid to go undercover and shop for products and services across different sectors? You get to point out flaws in the running of a salon, showroom or a financial advisory firm and even make constructive and creative suggestions. Well, we are talking about mystery auditing, which is shaping up to be a rewarding part-time career.

Since a manufacturing or service company builds its edifice on the foundation of customer satisfaction, it meticulously follows the age old adage “Prevention is better than cure”. Mystery audits give companies vital clues on their customer satisfaction quotient, and help the businesses to spot malpractices committed by their staff. The phenomenon has created a demand for a large number of professionals popularly known as the mystery auditors or shoppers.

“In the last couple of years the need for mystery shoppers has increased manifold,” says Gaurav Pachauri, owner of Delhi-based WeMark Marketing Pvt Ltd, a pan India mystery shopping company. An instrumentation engineer by training, Pachauri conducts almost 12,000 audits for clients across sectors every year. “Although we have recruited 50,000 mystery shoppers across cities, we still need 10,000 more to reach out to clients in the tier 3 and 4 cities,” mentions Pachauri, who was himself a mystery shopper once.

Mumbai based Pankaj Guglani, who owns Red Quanta, another mystery shopping company, explains the function of a mystery shopper. A mystery shopper, he says, poses as a customer at a company’s service outlet and makes observations about his/ her experience. “He/ she turns in an audit report within 24 hours of the visit, which is then shared with the client for whom the audit was conducted,” explains Guglani.

Assignments are flexible and in a few cases could be altered to suit the mystery auditor`s availability. “While a part time auditor can easily manage two to three audits a month, a full time professional does up to five,” he says. Mystery shopping may appear to be a fun activity but it is a serious business. “You must maintain your cover and make sure you don`t get busted on the job. Even the slightest of slack on the part of a mystery shopper, will ruin the whole audit,” warns Pachauri.

A mystery shopper must blend in with the place under investigation. Agencies choose mystery professionals on the basis of their income, social lifestyle, age and education. “I can`t for instance, send a person who rides a bike to audit an Audi showroom or, ask a middle class housewife to shop at a high-end luxury store,” clarifies Guglani.

Mystery shoppers earn anywhere between Rs 200 to Rs 40,000 per month depending on the type of client they handled. And if you are tired of analyzing brands and services yourself you can always launch you own company and get the work done from others.

Mystery skills

1) An ability to observe minutely

2) Good communication skills

3) Good acting skills

4) Must be a seasoned shopper

5) Good critiquing skills


Undercover shopper!

Diya Sengupta Mukherjee, environmental, social and governance (ESG) analyst
“Mystery shopping is a like being a detective. It is definitely a lucrative part time career option for those who have fixed work hours and who want to be occupied in their spare time.

You should be a critical by nature and a keen observer. You should not miss even the minutest of slack on the part of the service provider. These very qualities have helped me in surviving in the trade.

Since I work with a research firm, I come across annual research reports of several companies. It was while poring over one such report a couple of years ago that I stumbled upon this concept. A company had hired a mystery auditor to work for them. The term intrigued me. I goggled for more information and realised that here was a career that helped businesses to better their services.

Being in this line has been a rewarding experience both in cash and kind. Firstly, there is a rush about being an undercover customer. Secondly, you get stuffed with freebies. So for instance, if it is a spa then I get free treatment and if it is a car showroom then I get to test drive the latest hot wheels in town and also get paid for it.

You get work satisfaction when your recommendation gets implemented. Once in my audit report I pinpointed unhygienic practices that a salon was following. My agency took this up with the client. The next time I paid a visit to this salon, I was happy to note the change. The washbasins were sparkling clean and the linen spotless.

Once I almost got exposed while auditing a financial services firm. The employee, who I was interacting with, asked me a few tricky questions, which I couldn’t figure out. This could have blown my cover. However, I managed to hold my nerves together and sailed through.

Armed with a focused approach, good research skills and a critical bent of mind, a mystery shopper is sure to enhance customer satisfaction.