It’s 5 o’Clock Somewhere – Timezone Awareness

The mystery shopping landscape has experienced some pretty big changes over the past couple of years, particularly the addition of virtual shopping. Once everyone got the handle on the new technology, virtual shopping became a game-changer for service providers and consumers alike. It’s also given mystery shoppers the opportunity to perform shops from home at locations all over the country.

One challenge shoppers can face when completing virtual (or telephone) shops for communities in a different part of the country is the difference in time zone. Many shops have specific instructions around the days and times you can call/visit and most communities are not open past 5 or 6 in the evening. This can become a problem if you forget to make calls according to the community’s time zone instead of your own. When you’re in California and you’re completing a virtual shop at a community in Virginia, there’s a significant time difference – the community is closing when it’s only 2 or 3 PM California time! The same is true on the flip side – even though it may be 10 AM on the East Coast, it’s only 7 AM on the West Coast. You’ll also need to keep this in mind when scheduling virtual tours so that you make sure to sign in at the right time.

It can be hard to remember what time it is when you’re doing multiple shops all over the place, so having a tool handy can be very helpful. Consider bookmarking a Timezone Map site for quick reference when you’re working on shops in other parts of the country. You can also use your phone/Alexa/Google what time it is in a particular city. Doing this will help you ensure you complete the shops in a time frame that will meet the contract specifications and ensure you are paid for the shop.

You Sure About That? Ensuring the Accuracy of Your Report

Submitting an accurate and informative report is crucial to ensure you have access to the most (and best) shops available. When shop reports are consistently inaccurate or incomplete, clients can choose not to allow a particular shopper to continue with their properties, which lowers the number of shops available to you. Beyond this, EPMS can lower the number of shops you are allowed to pick up at one time if reports are unreliable. Don’t freak out, though; we do have a team of editors who look over the report once more before sending it to the client in case anything was missed. So how can you make sure you’re submitting the best, most accurate reports? Here are some tips:

1. Look Over the Report Form Before Starting the Shop

You can open and look over the blank report form before you even start working on the shop! This will give you a good idea of the information you’ll be expected to provide so you’ll know what to look out for. You can find this when you log in, open your shop, and click the “Fill Out the Online Report” section. Don’t worry; you can look at the report and then back out of it without completing it without causing any issues. Just be sure not to mark that section complete until you’ve actually completed the report.

2. Listen to Your Recorded Call!

This is a big one – make sure to listen back to your recorded phone call (if the shop has a recorded call) as you complete the telephone section of the report. In this section, it’s very easy for the client to spot discrepancies since they are also able to listen to the call recording. Make sure your yes/no answers and comments match what actually happened in the call.

3. Jot Down Notes Right Away

As soon as a shop is finished and you leave the property, try to pull over somewhere to jot down notes about the onsite visit while they’re still fresh in your mind. Note: DO NOT jot down notes while you’re still in the property’s parking lot and definitely not during the shop as this can give you away as a shopper! Once you get home, the sooner you can complete the onsite portion of the report, the better. The more time that passes, the less info you’ll retain, especially if you’re working on more than one shop at a time!

When you make a habit of submitting great, accurate reports with just the right amount of information in the comment section, EPMS will notice! This will reflect positively on your profile and you’ll be one of the shoppers we reach out to when we have special or extra high-paying shops.

Are You the Next Spielberg? Tips for a Successful Video Shop

Video apartment mystery shops can be fun, once you get the hang of them! Not only that, but the video shops tend to have even better pay than the regular onsite shops. If you haven’t heard, you now have the option to use your phone to capture the recording, which means you’ll get an extra bonus on top of whatever the shop pay is! With these shops, your main goal is to get the leasing agent in the video frame at least 75% of the time. Here are some important video tips that will create a successful shop, each time!

Always Charge Your Equipment

You would be surprised how quickly a battery can drain during a video mystery shop. Sometimes a tour may go on longer than you expected, so it’s a good idea to make sure the equipment or your phone is fully charged as you head into the shop. If you run out of battery and are not able to capture all of the visit on video, the shop would need to be cancelled.

Check Your Memory Space

If you’re using EPMS equipment, this means making sure the SD card is in the device prior to going on the shop. These SD cards can generally hold the video for several shops, so you can use the same equipment to complete any video shops you have assigned at the time. If you’re using your phone, make sure you have enough available memory for a 30 to 45 minute video recording. This may mean deleting old, unneeded photos, videos or apps.

Be Sure to Check Your Camera Angle

Before heading out for a day of video shopping, shoot a quick test video for yourself so you can make sure the camera is positioned properly. If you’re using the EPMS button camera, make sure the camera isn’t pointed at the ceiling. The client will need a clear view of the agent and the surrounding area. If you’re using your phone, practice to find the best way to hold it so that you are inconspicuous, but still getting the best view. If you didn’t see it before, you can refer to our previous blog about the phone app, Mystery Media Pro.

Isn’t It Illegal to Secretly Film Someone?

In this case, the answer is no. Video shops can only be ordered for communities where all of the employees have signed a waiver giving consent to be filmed.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice – Offering Constructive Criticism

You already know the point of apartment mystery shopping is to offer feedback on your apartment shopping experience. Most of the time, you’ll have a good experience with good service. However, once in a while, the experience will be…less than desirable. It is in these instances that you need to be especially thoughtful about how you deliver your feedback. Clients want to know the facts, but they expect to receive that information with courteous, professional language.

For starters, remember that you’re not really looking for an apartment – you’re only pretending! This will go a long way to help you remain neutral and not rely on emotions to evaluate the shop. Sure, the apartment you’re looking at may be way out of the price range you would spend in real life or maybe it doesn’t look at all like the type of apartment you would choose. Keep in mind that your primary objective is to rate the service performance of the agent, not rank the actual apartment in terms of which looks nicest or has the best price. This way, you won’t feel indignant if the apartment is “too expensive” or “not new enough”.

When you complete a shop and the agent isn’t very friendly or helpful, do your best to stick to the facts instead of fixating on one specific behavior or statement. It’s okay describe your experience in terms of how you felt (i.e. “I felt like I was interrupting”, “I was not offered any refreshments”, or “I did not feel like the agent was motivated to help me”), but try to avoid making assumptions about the agent’s intentions or reasons for behavior. To state, “I was not greeted when I entered the office and waited several minutes until I was noticed” versus, “The agents were all very rude and completely ignored me when I came in because they were too busy chatting” is a more professional, non-emotional way of telling the story. Keep this in mind when listing areas for improvement, as well. For example, try saying, “She could have taken more time to ask about my needs before ending the call” instead of “Next time she could try to actually do her job and find out what I wanted”.

One other area where it is important to exercise tact is when you are describing the actual community. If a particular community is older and possibly in need of updates, but is otherwise tidy and well-kept, avoid making derogatory statements like, “The community was old and outdated”. Instead, try being more specific, like “The community grounds were free of trash and the landscaping was well maintained. The buildings looked like they could use a fresh coat of paint.”

All in all, remember that this is a business interaction. You are essentially working for the apartment management companies on a contract basis, so when you write a report, think of it as writing an email to your boss. You can share your concerns, but do so in a polite, professional manner. Doing this will help you to be a 5-star shopper!

Open Sesame – What to Do When You Can’t Log In

The time has come; you have some space in your schedule and are ready to earn extra cash doing some apartment mystery shopping! You click on the EPMS website to log in and find the shops you want, but – ACCESS DENIED! You can’t log in! Now what? Your first step should be figuring out why. There are several reasons you may not be able to get logged in, so let’s take a look at what they are and how you can solve the problem:

1. You Forgot Your Password or Entered the Wrong One

This one is usually easy to address just by clicking “Forgot Your User ID or Password”. From there, you can enter the email address you used to set up your EPMS account and then a reset link will be emailed to you. From there, you can create a new password to get logged in. If that doesn’t work, you can always contact us at support@epmsonline.com and we can help you take care of that password reset manually.

2. Your Account Was Inactivated

When you complete a shop, you are required to report on whether or not you receive follow-up from the person you shopped, either email, telephone or written note. The system will reach out to ask you to provide the follow-up details if you haven’t already. (If you did not receive any, you will still need to go into the shop and mark “No” for each type of follow-up.) If the answers to follow-up are not received within the time limit, the system will automatically inactivate your account, causing you to be unable to log in. In those cases, you can contact your follow-up person or scheduler for help. You can also email us at support@epmsonline.com and we can reactivate your account. However, you’ll still need to go and take care of the follow-up info to prevent the account from being automatically inactivated again.

3. Your Account Still Needs to Be Activated

If you only recently set up your account, you may have missed a step or two required to activate your account. Typically, this involves checking the boxes acknowledging you understand you are an independent contractor. When you log in, make sure you complete the links at the top of the shopper homepage to activate the account and remember:

  • Enter your complete profile details – leaving parts of this blank will automatically disqualify you from some shops.
  • Enter your direct deposit details as this is the only method we use for payment.
  • View the “Best Shopper Practices” and the video equipment reference to ensure you’re fully prepared.

Once you have completed those steps, your account will automatically activate. Please note – this may still be the issue with your account, even if you opened it a long time ago, but never shopped before.

If none of these work and you still can’t get logged in, please email any one of us and we can help.

Want the MOST Money? Ask the Expert How!

If you’re new to shopping (or even if you aren’t), we want to help you fine-tune your shopping game and maximize your income. We took some time to interview one of our veteran shoppers, Phillip, to get advice on how he makes the absolute most of the time he spends shopping to walk away with the biggest paycheck possible.

Phillip is a shopper who likes to travel and he makes sure to plan ahead. He’ll log in and look for shops that are available along his planned route and then pick up the ones he’s interested in. Once he’s decided on all of the shops he’s planning to complete on his trip, he checks to see which of them may be eligible for a route bonus. If you didn’t already know, EPMS will add an additional $5 bonus to shops when you’re choosing 3 or more and the following conditions are true:

  1. All of the shops are at least 20 miles away from your home address.
  2. There is not already an existing bonus of more than $15 on the shop.
  3. You reach out to a scheduler to ask for the bonus before accepting the shop.

Next, Phillip says he decides what order the shops need to be completed in based on his travel plans. He begins making calls for target shops right away, even if he will need to plan the visit on another day so that he can plan the rest of the shops around those more difficult target shops. (Of course, you’ll want to check the specific instructions for your shops to make sure they do not require a visit on the same day as the call.)

Once the calls are made and the visits begin, Phillip told us he completes the onsite visit and when it’s finished, he leaves the community parking lot and pulls into a nearby parking lot (out of sight of the community, of course!) so that he can take out his laptop and type in some quick notes while the information is still fresh in his mind. He also take that time to upload his backup documentation so he can keep everything organized. At the end of the shopping day, Phillip will go back and, using the notes he made as well as any recordings that accompany the shop, complete the report and get it submitted ASAP.

Any shops completed and accepted by EPMS by the 7th of any month will be paid on that same month’s deposit on the 22nd (unless that date falls on a weekend or holiday – then it would be the next business day). Therefore, the more shops you can get completed by that date, the bigger your check will be for that month. Knowing this information will help you plan around your expected income and make the most of your time!

Great News! You Can Now Video Shop with Your Phone

Have you heard the news? You can now complete onsite recorded video shops using your own smartphone! No longer do you have to wait for us to ship equipment, then figure out how to modify a shirt, and then package it all up and send it back. There is now an app you can purchase called Mystery Media Pro. You have a couple of purchase options; it can be purchased for a monthly fee of $9.99 or a one-time fee of $34.99. The cost of the app is not directly reimbursed by EPMS, but you will receive an additional $10 bonus for using your own equipment on every video shop you complete. That means you’ll have more than made up for the cost after completing 4 video shops!

Essentially the app is designed for you to be able to hold your phone (in airplane mode) and video record the interaction. People are used to seeing folks carrying their phones all the time, so it won’t seem suspect. However, you’ll want to be sure to disable the “auto-lock” feature on your phone because the recording will stop if your phone goes into lock screen mode. More than anything, you’ll want to take some time to practice with this feature to figure out the best way for you to hold the phone to capture the recording while still appearing natural.

You can find out more and get some great help and suggestions when you visit the app creator’s Tip Sheet. Once you’ve practiced and you feel ready to try it on a shop, you can assign yourself a video recorded shop when you log in to the EPMS site and click “I Want to See Shop Contracts Near Me”. If you aren’t able to assign video shops because your account has not yet been marked eligible, just respond to any email offering video shopping jobs to let the scheduler know you’ve downloaded and will the app and your account can be updated to reflect that you have your own equipment and then get ready to make the BIG BUCKS!

Don’t Be Shy – Take All You Want!

As things are beginning to return to some kind of “normal”, more and more apartment mystery shops are becoming available. There are so many, in fact, that we could use your help getting them secured with a reliable shopper – you! We still have opportunities for you to work from home if you’re not quite ready to get out in public yet and we also have tons of higher paying in person shops ripe for the picking. All you have to do is get in there and grab what you want! There are a couple of ways you can go about claiming shops for your own:

Respond to the solicitation emails sent out by our scheduling team or by our automated system.

Our system will regularly send emails that may interest you based on where you live. In addition, our dedicated scheduling team will look over shops and curate other lists based on shop urgency, premium shop pay or convenient geographic location to where you live or other areas you’ve indicated an interest shopping in. Anytime you receive those emails, you can respond directly to them and one of our scheduling clerks will get to work on assigning any shops you are eligible to complete.

Log in to your shopper account and self-assign the shops.

When you log in to your shopper account, you’ll find a menu of options. To search for a shop, click “I Want to See Shop Contracts Near Me”. This will take you to another page and you’ll notice at the top, there are two tabs – “In Person Visit Required” and “Telephone/Virtual”. The In Person Visit Required” tab will allow you to enter a zip code and find nearby shops. You can set the distance from that zip code you want to search and there are several ways to filter the results, based on distance, pay or shop type (target or anyone). The other tab, Telephone/Virtual, will show you shops you qualify for that do not require you to leave your house at all! This helps make sure you find a shop that is just right for you.

Some other things to keep in mind when assigning shops:

What if I get an email about shops, but then I don’t see them when I log in to self-assign?

Sometimes you may receive an email with us offering shops, but then you’ll log in to assign and find they’re not there! There are a couple of reasons this may be the case. First, it’s possible the shop was already picked up by someone else. In this case, the shop will either not show up at all (assuming a backup shopper is assigned as well) or it will show up with a “B” on the icon, meaning you can assign yourself as the backup shopper. The other reason is that you do not qualify for that shop for some reason. Most management companies have rules regarding how long you have to wait before you can shop a particular location again. Some also regulate how many of their properties a shopper is allowed to complete within a 30 day period. Also, certain shop types have some additional requirements to qualify, such as having completed a certain number of in person shops or having submitted your drivers license info (for video shops).

What if I don’t see many shops or I don’t qualify for the one I really want?

You can always reach out to someone on our scheduling team for extra help. Let them know what shop in particular you were hoping to pick up and they can take a closer look. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances or a shop is particularly urgent and the client will allow us to relax the the rules to get it completed.

I’m thinking of traveling and spending some time in another city or state. Can I still shop?

Yes you can! Remember when we talked about entering your zip code to find shops nearby on the shopper login page? Well, all you need to do is enter the zip code for where you’ll be and you’ll be able to see everything available in that area. This is also helpful if you’re planning a road trip and may want to do some shops along the way to make sure that bank account doesn’t run dry!

Remember, our team is always available to help and we’re happy to do what we can to help you find the most and best shops to suit your specific needs.

Hook, Line and Sinker – Catching Your Target Onsite

Every shop has its challenges, but a shop with a specific target person can be even more difficult. Once you’ve finally reached your target by phone, you’re halfway there. To successfully complete the shop, however, you’ll also need to meet with this person for the onsite visit. So how do you work to ensure you meet with that person when you arrive? Here are a few tips to help make sure you hook ‘em onsite:

1. Set an Appointment During the Call

Unless the specific shop instructions state otherwise, your first line of defense is to agree on an appointment time with the target during the call. You’ll need to wait until you’ve been invited to visit and then you can work on narrowing down a time. A great way to do this is to respond to the invitation to visit by saying something like, “Sure! When would be the best time for me to come in and meet with you?” Be careful not to press too hard on the call about meeting with them or you might give yourself away as a shopper. If they don’t invite you to visit and it looks like the call is coming to a close, you can ask how you can go about taking a look at something.

2. Call Ahead

If you end up scheduling your visit for a different day than the call, you should call ahead briefly on the day of the visit to make sure they are in the office. You can use an excuse such as wanting to confirm the address or say that you will be a few minutes late or early. When you call, you can ask to speak to your target, stating you have an appointment with them for that day. If you are told they are not in the office that day, you can say you were calling because you need to reschedule and say that you can call back. This will give you an opportunity to call again to reach the target and reschedule.

3. Ask for Them When You Arrive

You may be greeted by someone other than your target when you arrive for your visit. Make sure to let that person know you had spoken to the target person and that you have a scheduled appointment with him or her. This way they will not assume you are a walk-in prospect and attempt to help you instead.

4. Appear Open to Waiting

Sometimes you’ll follow all the steps above and be told that your target is not back from a tour or lunch or is on a call. In these cases, the key is to appear easygoing and open to waiting. Let them know you don’t mind to wait for his or her return. In the event someone else insists on helping you even after you offer to wait, go ahead with them so you don’t jeopardize your identity as a shopper.  (Of course, you’ll want to review the shop’s special instructions to make sure there are no other client directives on how to handle the visit.)

If you do end up having to meet with someone else, be sure to note in your report that you were passed off, noting the reason you were given. Then, make sure to score the onsite portion of the report for the person who ended up providing the tour.

Be Prepared for Success!

If you’re new to mystery shopping, you might feel a little nervous getting started; there’s a lot to remember! When you ensure that you are properly prepared, you’re sure to complete a successful shop. Here are several tips to make sure you have everything you need for smooth sailing.

Before you even pick up your first shop, you can lay the groundwork. You will probably want to create a couple of extra email addresses through Google, Yahoo or another free site. You’ll be asked for your email address when you shop and some apartment management companies need you to use a new address if you’ve shopped one of their properties before. Be sure the address handle you create doesn’t give you away as a shopper!

You should designate a notebook (or file on your computer, if you prefer) to keep track of your shop assignments. You can include the shop number, name and address of the community, name of the target and any special instructions to keep in mind. Another good idea is to jot down the name, phone number and email address you plan to use as well as the specifications of what you’re looking for. That way you won’t get confused if you’re working more than one shop at a time or if you have to wait for a call back.

Take time to spend a few minutes looking over the community website before you begin calling. This way you can get an idea of the prices and apartment sizes available so you’ll know what to say when you’re asked about your price range. Remember, you’re not really looking to live there, so your price range is whatever fits the community profile. Be prepared to be flexible with your desired apartment size in case they don’t have any available in the size you ask about.

Finally, it is imperative that you read over all of the special instructions for the shop. Once you’ve shopped for a while, you may feel like you’re already familiar with the instructions, but some shops have unique requirements that must be followed in order to be paid.

Following these tips will help you to avoid the awkward situation of pricing yourself out of the community or asking for a type of apartment they don’t have. Plus, if you’re making calls once you’re fully prepared, you’ll feel more comfortable and the conversation will flow smoothly.