Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Or as the old B movie bit characters might say “Read, I don’t need to read no stinking job descriptions.” But you do and here’s why.

I’ll use movie shops as a prime example of how much a job can change with just a few words. 

Movie shops are one of my personal favorites, they are fun to do, they generally pay well and sometimes you get a free movie or two plus concessions out of the deal.  It is all in how the job description is worded and just a single word can change the whole shop scenario.

The first of the single word change out is overt or covert.  Overt means you reveal yourself as an auditor at some point in the shop and by doing so you can prevent yourself from getting free movie shops in that theater for as much as a year or more. 

Covert means, you do not let anyone know for any reason why you are there.  In remaining a true mystery shopper you will get to see more movies for free if you don’t get spotted. 

Not getting spotted is generally a simple task, if you pay attention to who is around you.  These shops generally include counting the number of patrons, gathering ticket prices, concession prices and/or recording what trailers are showing, along with a number of other small bits of info. 

A few years ago I was at one theater and I spotted the mystery shopper by his paperwork that clearly said on it “Covert Movie Audit”  he was setting in the lobby filling out his report!  The man definitely needed to learn something about being covert.  The first rule is do not take your paperwork in with you.  You leave it in your vehicle out of sight.  Yet there he was in the lobby filling out his form. 

On such assignments I put my small spiral in my purse, or use an ipod to make quick notes out of sight of others (bathroom stalls work well for this). Or I will pretend I am playing a game on the ipod and make brief notes there.  The object is to not get spotted.

The first thing I look for in movie assignments is the c that makes the difference in covert and overt assignments.

The second single word I look for is ‘EACH’.  That word can make the difference in being in a theater for just the length of one show, or from the minute the theater opens to the minute it closes on a certain day. 

An example of this is a covert blind check (meaning patron count, and ticket prices) movie mystery shop I just completed last weekend.  The word EACH was on that paperwork.  I had a choice of three different days to do the shop as wekk as numerous local theaters and that made a HUGE difference in how many times I’d be seeing the movie.

The theater I went to was one of my favorites and I chose the Friday time frame because the required movie was only showing one time on that day on one screen.  That meant I got paid for two movie tickets and $25 to see a movie we wanted to see anyway, unfortunately this one didn’t include any free concessions, but then those also require more work.

Had I chose Saturday or Sunday I would have had to set through the movie three times and to do so covertly in the small theater I was at would have been nearly impossible.  We have done it with success before by claiming we were doing a movie review for a newspaper, but it’s not a scenario that is easy to carry off. 

If I had chosen one of the big multi-screen theaters it would have been even more complicated and would have required 1-2 partners to pull it off.  Because when the paperwork says EACH, it means every screen, every showing.  You are paid for your tickets and a flat pay for each additional screen, but you are also talking about trying to remain covert all day!  In this particular movie situation the first movie would have been $25 plus two tickets, but all the other screens would have been $12 plus two tickets, because they figure you have already spent the fuel to get there. 

While doing the multi-screen can net you a lot more money, it can also be very exhausting, and your cash layout until the reimbursement can be quite high.  These are things you must consider when reading over the job descriptions.

Another single word I look for is “FIRST”.  Some movie shops require you to be there for the first and/or last showing.  Since the first showing is often just before noon it becomes a problem for many part time mystery shoppers.  If you have a regular job chances are you are not going to be available for that time showing. Or if you get up early the midnight shows might not be for you either. It’s all in the wording.

After looking for these single words I also read the job description in full because, especially with movie shops, the description of the requirements can change constantly. It is important to fully understand not only the how to do it part of the shop, but the deadline for filing the report.

I have had movie shops where I have had to literally leave the theater right after the trailers to phone in the results immediately and then go back in to see the actual movie.  I do not like missing the first several minutes of a movie.

For other types of mystery shopping and merchandising the instructions can be as varied also.  One company I work for audits several different bank chains, each bank has the exact same basic requirements, but they also have differences.  One might require you to check if their free in the lobby coin counter is working, while another will want you to try to cash a check without being a customer, and a third requires you to take a covert picture of the bank exterior.  Because they are all three the same company it is easy to get them confused.  So it is important to refresh your memory with each job.

The documentation for a job might change slightly too.  While one location may require a receipt another might require you get a business card.  Wrong documentation, you won’t get paid.

Some merchandising jobs will have in them that you must be able to comfortably lift a certain weight, or have a vehicle to transport a box of a certain size, or you might only be able to do the job during a certain short time frame.  Or as I mentioned in my previous post http://cjpattersonontheranch.blogspot.com/2012/07/communication-key-to-good-mystery.html  You might be required to shop a certain department for a certain item.  It’s all in the paperwork both online and what you print out.  The thing is you MUST read the paperwork.

Many a job has not been paid for because the contractor has not read the paperwork and understood it correctly.  The understanding is an important key as well. 

When I first started mystery shopping I didn’t get paid for one fast food shop because I took the time frame of between certain hours to mean I needed to start the job between those hours and it didn’t matter how long it took me.  I was wrong.  It meant both segments needed to be completed between those hours.  I didn’t read the instructions all the way through and it ended up costing me money.

Once you accept a job and print out all the required paperwork it is important to “read” or check that paperwork. As I pointed out in the

http://cjpattersonontheranch.blogspot.com/2012/07/communication-key-to-good-mystery.html  post I didn’t check my paperwork closely and didn’t see that it didn’t have the department and job information in the paperwork.

Another thing to check your paperwork for before you leave home is if the location address is on the paperwork.  With many companies it is not.  They use a generic form for all their paperwork and it is very frustrating to get out and discover you do not have the address for the location you are to go to that day.  It’s fine if the town only has one of that bank or fast food location, but in larger cities where the burger joint might be on every corner it is essential that you have the correct address.  Go to the wrong location, you won’t get paid—nearly did that once.

Time frame is essential, always check that again after you print out the paperwork.  I recently signed up for a lunch shop, for a job you request and they let you know later if you got it.  When the paperwork arrived it had been changed to a dinner shop.  So always check before, during and yes even after you do a shop to make certain nothing has changed.

Reading the paperwork will also tell you what company you are representing on that day in what store.  While there are the basic companies you contract to, sometimes you are there as a representative of an entirely different company.  An example is you work for merchandising company A but they are hiring you to do a merchandising job on behalf of corporation B and you must meet the dress codes, including name tags, and rules of corporation B, including signing in the vendor book as with corporation B not company A.

A word about vendor books and merchandising.  If the store has one, you absolutely need to sign in on that book.  Not only because it is the stores policy, but because the companies you work for WILL send someone out to check to make certain that you were there.  If you haven’t signed in it makes it much harder for you to prove you were there.

Yep, they audit the auditors.  On more than one job my assignment has been to check to see if the previous merchandiser actually did the job.  Unfortunately I’ve found several times the jobs haven’t been done. 

Don’t ever take for granted you can “let something” slide because you are tired, or don’t agree with how the job is suppose to be done, because you will be audited when you least expect it.

One mystery shopper I know tried cutting corners on doing bank shops by just grabbing business cards and not actually doing the personal banker interviews she was required to do.  Well she turned in a report stating she had spent time with someone who was actually out on maternity leave. She was fired by the mystery shopping company.

The companies have all sorts of ways of checking your job performance, so READ the paperwork and follow it to the letter. If you have a question about how it is to be done, then contact the scheduler and ask questions BEFORE doing the shop.

Also reading the paperwork might include surprising extras. For one merchandising job we were required to purchase cookies and take them to the departments for the employees while we gave a how to speech—problem was the company we were to take these cookies to did not allow such things.  By reading the paperwork ahead of time and checking with the company I headed off a potential problem for myself.

Another set of jobs has just recently added that I must visit their website AFTER I do the shop and do a price comparison.  The first time this addition appeared it was not on the assignment paperwork, but it was on the online filing of the report. This is one of the reasons I say READ afterwards as well.  Had I not read that little extra “click here” I would not have completed the assignment properly and would not have been paid.

Filing deadlines are another thing to read closely.  Two companies I work for deduct from your pay if you are late in filing, even by a few minutes unless there is a problem with their website.  If you don’t read the entire set of instructions you would not know that. Sometimes the deadlines are very short. 

One company I work for on a regular basis shuts down their website every night from 10:00pm to 12:30 am for daily maintenance and updates.  You only have 12 hours to file your reports with that company, and if you don’t get it filed before 10 pm you will be up quite late waiting to file the report and it can put you past your 12 hour deadline.

Read your contractor agreements as well. I enjoy merchandising and so when a company I have mystery shopped for years for offered me the opportunity to do merchandising as well I very nearly signed up for it until I read that I would have to pay for my own background check, and my own shirt the two of which came with a pretty hefty price tag.  This is a company I know to be legit, but I object to being required to pay for these things when I’ve already been working for them and their sister company (and doing merchandising for the sister company) for seven years.  They know my work.

I do not object to a background check being ran, I object to them wanting me to pay for it.  Especially when I’ve already had numerous background checks ran by various companies and passed them with flying colors.  Needless to say I am not merchandising for that company.  It would take a lot of jobs for me to re-coup the cost of those expenditures.

Another company that I have worked for a long time has recently changed over from requiring your social security number to requiring an ein I do not have an ein, nor do I want one, that would simply complicate my taxes—and I do pay taxes on the jobs I do. I regret that they have done this, I will miss doing the shops for them, but I do not feel I need any further tax complications, when a social security number has worked for this long and is all both the state and federal government requires to mystery shop.

All of this is in the contractors agreements.  So be sure and read those as well.

I’ve just touched upon a few of the many reasons to completely read all paperwork, but I feel I’ve given you enough to make you realize how important reading the paperwork is.

Jan who remembers a test in school where the first question said “read the entire test before starting” and it turned out that in the middle of the test it said “put your name at the top of the page and turn it over—you have completed the test.” In OK

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