Mystery Shopping Choices

To Record or NOT to record

Mystery shopping has expanded over the years. There are many types of mystery shops and many ways in which to conduct the shops. As we as a country become more technologically savvy, more options for recordings are available. So, the big question for you is to record or NOT to record.

When selecting mystery shops, please take note of whether recordings are required or not. The shop instructions will inform you if it is a recorded shop and what type of recording. It is a best practice NOT to record shops that are NOT listed as being recorded in the project offering from the Mystery Shopping Company. The MSC may not have approved recordings for that property, and it may be against the law to record them without their consent depending on where the property is located.

For onsite shops that require a recording, you should start your recording when you are exiting your vehicle/mode of transport and end the recording when you return to your vehicle/mode of transportation. Most people use their phones for audio shops using a recording application. The recording will need to be submitted with your report. Pro tip: Listen to the recording as you are completing your report to help you accurately relay the information gathered during your visit. For video shops, you can use the Mystery Media Pro App or another video recording smart app, where you can video shop with your smartphone.

Tips for recorded shops:

  • Use the bathroom BEFORE you get to the location you are shopping.
  • Remember to pause the recording if you have to go to the bathroom during a recorded shop.
  • Do a test recording at home to ensure you can hear, and if a video shop you can see, the agent.
  • Make sure your phone (or DVR) is fully charged so the recording will not stop/end unexpectedly.
  • Use airplane mode when using your phone to record to ensure the recording is not interrupted.

Why record, you ask? Recorded shops pay a higher rate than non-recorded shops. You are out making visits anyway; you get paid more for the same amount of travel and time you would have spent on the non-recorded shops. Plus, you always have your phone! Work smarter not harder for your extra cash when mystery shopping!

Apartment Mystery Shopping: Oh no! I have to do what?

Apartment mystery shopping is a balance between providing a customer’s authentic experience with a leasing professional and that property while maintaining a “real” customer story for the leasing professional. Things to remember when conducting apartment mystery shops:

  • The leasing professional’s name: if you repeat it or use it a lot- they will know you are a shopper
  • Using industry terms: traffic source, urgency and amenities are a few of the words that tip off you are a shopper
  • Refusing to give contact information: that also can alert a leasing professional you are a shopper
    • A real customer can easily give a name, phone number and an email address
    • If the apartment mystery shop requires an on-site visit, you can use a nickname, a middle name or a play on your name such as initials for your name- remember they will ask for an ID so the name has to be similar to the ID
      • You can also use that you recently got divorced or married and that your last name has changed
    • Email addresses are readily available and free on the Internet, so create several
    • Phone numbers- there are Google voice numbers you can, for free, register for online
    • ALL on-site shops require VALID contact information!
    • Caveat for phone ONLY apartment mystery shops (where you don’t go in-person to the property): unless otherwise required to give valid information per the instructions, you can give a fake name, number and email address for those as only the phone portion is being conducted
      • If you are not sure if your shop requires valid contact information, reach out to our staff using the white envelope
  • Your story should be believable
    • Make sure the reason for moving you give could be believed by another person
    • Make sure you are dressed accordingly for on-site apartment mystery shops based on the property itself- a quick Google of the property should assist you with this AND sometimes on the property or shop instructions it will provide information that you can use
    • If you are shopping for another person (e.g., student shop- a mother for a daughter; senior shop- a daughter for a mother): make sure you easily have a story to give with their name and contact information, in the event it is inquired about
  • Let the leasing professional lead the interaction
    • You should not be asking them questions, they should be giving you the information without prompting
    • If they are not leading the interaction, that is OK! Their management wants to know that which is why they ordered the shop in the first place.
    • Go with the flow and NEVER rush a shop

Every apartment mystery shop will be a different experience. However, these helpful tips can assist you with making the process easier!

Follow up Success!

Did you know that an Ellis Mystery Shop is not complete when you submit your report?  The leasing professionals you shop are scored on their telephone presentation, their onsite presentation, and any follow up contacts they make after your visit.  These contacts (or lack of them) have a great impact on the score the community and the leasing agent receive for that shop.  What are some things you can do to ensure the follow up score is fair and accurate?

  1. Don’t ever decline to give your contact information or say that you prefer not to be contacted.  It is generally required that a community follow up with you.  If you are asked if you have a preferred method of contact, just say that any method is fine with you.  Don’t give the impression that you do not wish to hear back from anyone after the shop.
  2. Always provide valid contact information.  We understand you may sometimes vary your name or phone number between shops to avoid becoming known as a shopper, but the contact information you give must always be valid.  If you have used your own phone number for numerous shops, perhaps you could use a relative’s phone number or a work number to receive contact.  You can set up additional free email addresses at yahoo or gmail.  Just be sure you remember how to log in to the account so you can check for any emails from the community.
  3. Check your spam folder for any missed emails.  Check your phone for any missed calls or voice mails from the property.  Remember that the caller id may not show up exactly as the name of the community.  If you see a missed call or find a voice mail from a community you have shopped, please award credit for the contact.
  4. If you speak with a leasing professional in a follow-up call, do not say that you have already leased elsewhere.  Just say that you are still looking.  You don’t want to shut down any further contacts that could impact her score.
  5. Please report any follow-up contacts that you receive at the bottom of your shopper dashboard.  Scroll to the bottom of your shopper home page and you will see any shops awaiting follow up reporting.  Click on the exclamation mark next to the name of the shop.  You will enter a “yes” or “no” for each of the three types of follow up individually – phone, email, and mail.  You won’t be able to enter a “no” for any of the three types of follow up until it has been 5 days after the visit, but that will not cause your report to be considered late.
  6. If you receive a late follow up after your report has been finalized, please email [email protected] the type and date of the contact.  We will be happy to add that to your report.

The last few points on a shopping report that are awarded for follow up contacts often make a huge difference in the score of a mystery shopping report. 

Time Zones- How Important Are They?

Everyone wants to have a successful mystery shop the first time they attempt it. One of the key items to look for to ensure your shop is successful, is making sure you are shopping the property during their business hours as well as the times that the customer has outlined.

It is easy to pick up a phone or virtual tour mystery shop and think oh it says, “Anytime”. However, “Anytime” does not mean “anytime”. It means any time that the property is open for business and/or during the hours specified by the customer. You MUST be mindful of the time zones. If you do NOT call during the property’s business hours, your shop call will be considered invalid. For example, if you live in California and your shop is in Florida, that is a difference of 3 hours (3 times zones). If you wait to call at 3PM California (PST) time to call Florida (EST), it will be 6PM in Florida and it may be past the property’s open hours for business.

One helpful practice is to print out or save a time zone map of the US on your phone and/or computer. Another option would be to Google in the search bar the name of the city (e.g., “What time is Chicago, IL” ) and then Google will tell you what time it is in Chicago, IL.

There are apartment mystery shops available throughout the US – including Alaska and Hawaii! If you pick up a mystery shop and realize the time zone difference will not work with your schedule, you can decline the shop f you do so quickly so another shopper can accept it. If you pick up a shop and can’t determine what the time zone is, feel free to reach out for assistance.

Last thoughts on how to have a successful apartment mystery shop based on time: Make sure in addition to contacting during the property’s business hours that you also look at the specific instructions to see if there are specific times you are not supposed to be calling. For example, “Do NOT call between 12 and 2” or “Best time to call is between 2P and 6P”. These are time requirements from the customer. Again, if you have any questions about the specifics for a shop, you should ask instead of assuming.

Time zones are very important! Following the time zones will help you:

  • to fulfill the customer’s requirements
  • to be successful with reaching a targeted leasing professional
  • to reduce the number of attempts made to reach an on-site leasing professional
  • get your shop accepted and get you PAID!!!

Don’t Blow Your Mystery Shopper Cover

Our apartment mystery shops are intended to be anonymous.  The leasing professional you shop should never think of you as anyone other than a real prospect.  We sometimes hear from shoppers that their biggest fear is of being “spotted” as a shopper.  What can you do to decrease the chance of tipping off the team member that you may be a mystery shopper?

  • If you are shopping a target agent, don’t ask for them by name on the phone (right away).  If you have not reached your target after a few calls, our team may advise you to ask for them by first name only.  If a prospect is referred to a community by a friend, they likely would not give the first and last name of the individual they recommend.
  • Try not to sound certain at the beginning of the call that you plan to visit the community in person.  Allow the leasing professional to lead the call, determine your needs and build value.  YOU know that an in person visit will usually follow, but don’t jump to it too soon.
  • If you are shopping a target agent and they are not available when you arrived onsite, don’t give the impression that the world had just ended.  Behave as you would in a real leasing situation.  It is entirely reasonable that a prospect would prefer to meet with the same person they spoke with on the phone, but they would not insist on doing so.  If the target is not available even after you agree to wait a reasonable amount of time, continue with whomever is available.  Appearing too upset at being passed off to someone else is often a red flag of a shopper.
  • As the visit progresses, remember to stay “in character” as a prospect.  What features would you want to look closely at?  What questions would you ask?  Behave as you would if you were truly considering that community for your home.

Even after taking every precaution, sometimes a shopper’s cover is blown.  What should you do if you feel like you’ve been spotted onsite?

  • Don’t let your imagination get carried away.  We do thousands of apartment mystery shops every month, and it is pretty rare for a shopper’s identity to be compromised onsite.  Don’t assume the worst!
  • Do not EVER admit you are a shopper.  Even if the leasing agent asks you directly, do not own up to it.  Just continue your story as if you were a prospect.
  • Do not identify yourself as a shopper in a follow up contact.  If you speak with the leasing agent in a phone follow up, don’t say you were a shopper.  Don’t “unsubscribe” from email contacts or say that you would prefer not to be contacted.

Keep in mind that most leasing agents have no idea that the person they are speaking with is not a real prospect.  If you are concerned after a phone call or visit, please let our team know.  If the call was recorded, we can review it and advise you on how to proceed.  If you feel you were spotted onsite, we will let you know the next steps, depending on the circumstances.  Don’t let a case of nerves or awkwardness cause you to second guess yourself as an apartment mystery shopper.

I Object!

When conducting an onsite mystery shop for EPMS, shoppers are usually asked to raise an “objection” to something during the onsite presentation. For many of our clients, this is one of the most important questions in our report. Prospective residents have an idea in mind of what they are looking for in a home. They may feel that a community or a specific apartment is “missing something” that is important to them. Leasing consultants are trained to address such objections in a way that is respectful of the prospect’s wishes, but still confirms that the community would be a good fit. When done correctly, overcoming objections is an art form!

Objection Overruled! What is NOT a good objection to raise during a shop?

  • We aren’t trying to trip up the leasing agent. Don’t knowingly raise an objection that is beyond their control. If a community is all electric, don’t insist on gas appliances. Don’t object to something that would raise a fair housing concern, such as there being too many children living there. If the community does not have three-bedroom apartments, don’t say that a two bedroom is not large enough for you.
  • If a leasing consultant makes a reasonable attempt to address your objection and build value in the community, don’t give the impression that it is still a “deal breaker.” Remember that shoppers are not actually going to lease there, so don’t go overboard in appearing displeased.
  • Don’t state your objection in a negative tone as if what you’re asking for should be on everyone’s wish list and you should not even have to ask.
  • Don’t state in your discussion onsite or in your report that they “should have” more flowers out front or a laundry room in every building, etc. – in other words something the leasing agent has no control over.

Objection Sustained! What are some reasonable and believable objections to raise?

  • You may use a personal interest as a way of raising an objection. Do you need a place to dock your laptop or set up your sewing machine? The leasing agent may suggest a nook or corner of the apartment that would work well for that purpose. Do you have a large or awkward piece of furniture that you are concerned may not fit? She may suggest ways to arrange your furniture to maximize the space. Or he may be able to suggest where in the apartment he has seen other residents put their Christmas tree.
  • Listen for an attempt to create rapport with you, while addressing your objection. Perhaps you said you were concerned that the noise from the pool would be too loud. She may say that she once thought so as well but when she saw everyone having fun out there, she found that it made her go to the pool a lot more often.
  • If a situation arises the leasing professional cannot overcome, such as your request to move your personal appliances into the apartment, they may have to overcome that objection by offering something completely different. As an example, if you were hoping to bring your washer/dryer with you and there are no connections in the home, you might be offered a location right by a laundry facility, or told how new and awesome their onsite machines are, or maybe offered a few credits to use their laundry

Above all, remember that you should give the impression that what they do have to offer could work for you. Allow the leasing consultant to talk through your objections in a way that builds value in the apartment and the community. Give the appearance that you are able to be pleased and give credit for a reasonable attempt to accommodate your requests. You don’t have to really live there, but if they are trying to find a way to help solve for your problem that’s the ultimate goal.

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.

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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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.

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!