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Spies like us: Mystery shoppers ‘police’ stores, restaurants


PHOENIX — You may not know it, but the person sitting next to you at the restaurant may be undercover.

Companies are hiring mystery shoppers to find out if the workers in their client’s business are doing things right.

Mary Williams is a mystery shopper who checks out such business as Great Clips, Sunglass Hut, Chase Bank and Five Guys Hamburgers. She started after she saw an ad.

“I found it on a work-at-home job board,” she said. “There were some links to mystery shops there, and they had an alphabetized list. I started going down the list and did a shop or two, and found out they were actually reputable.”

Companies send Williams into their stores to find out if she gets good customer service.

“They want to know if the employee is following standards that have been set,” she said “If they are suggestive- selling like they are supposed to, or if they are asking questions like they are supposed to. They also want to know if the store is clean.”

After the visit, Williams fills out a report online. She usually gets reimbursed for her haircut or meal, and occasionally gets a check for about $20 in the mail.

Williams said that Five Guys is the most extensive mystery shop on her list.

“They want to watch them cook the food and count how many times the employees shake the french fries,” she said. “They want to know if you saw the workers flip the meat a certain amount of times after a certain duration. They are looking at the cooking process as well as the customer service.”

Williams said the worst mystery shop she did was for a car dealer.

She was supposed to engage the dealership for three minutes over the Internet posing as a buyer asking about a particular used car.

The problem is that a salesman then called her at home and pressured her until she hung up the phone.

Williams said some mystery shops aren’t worth the time, but most are fun.

“I have a few that I stick to,” she said. “I know the routine. Once you get the routine down, it’s pretty simple.”