Startup Costs: Under $2,000
Home Based: Can be operated from home.
Part Time: Can be operated part-time.
Franchises Available? No
Online Operation? No
Mystery shoppers work for businesses like retail stores and restaurants. Disguised as ordinary nondescript patrons, they shop or dine, then report to owners or managers on customer service issues and food quality. As a mystery shopper (also called a secret shopper or anonymous evaluator), you can also do undercover surveillance on suspected (or unsuspected) employee theft. You can report on the quality of care at hospitals, the treatment you receive from collection agency representatives, or the effects of corporate customer training programs. Mystery shopping is a big benefit to businesses, both in the customer service arena and in averting employee thefts. Most unhappy customers don't complain--they simply take their business elsewhere, and so do the friends and family they tell about their dissatisfaction. And $2 of every $3 lost to retail theft is attributable to employees rather than customers. The advantages to this business are that you can start on a shoestring, part-time if you like, it can be creative, and you get to be out and about all day. It goes without saying that you need excellent observational skills. You should also be able to provide an accurate and detailed written or oral report that cites examples without resorting to trivia. For written reports, you'll need good grammar, punctuation and spelling skills as well. And last but not least, you need the good detective or spy's ability to look nondescript so you can return to the same location several times and not be noticed or remembered.
Your clients can be almost any type of business, although large chains and smaller firms with absentee owners make good starting points. So do hotels, which stake their reputations on excellent customer service. The best way to sell to these potential clients is through a direct-mail campaign of sales letters and brochures. Be sure to follow up with a phone call.
In some states, a mystery shopper is viewed as a private investigator and you'll need to be licensed. If yours isn't one of them, all you need is your trained eye and a reliable vehicle or public transportation to take you on assignments. A computer with a laser or inkjet printer and word-processing software will be a plus for providing written reports but isn't necessary if your clients will accept oral reports.