Tomorrow at 5am I'll head for Gillette, where I'll try to evaluate the customer experience at a big box by 8:30, so I can get to Casper, Wheatland and Laramie and further evaluate customer experiences at gas stations and big boxes and badburger places.
Thursday, I'll shop Cheyenne, Kimball, Scottsbluff, Alliance and Chadron. In two days I'll drive about 900 miles and do 19 shopping jobs. I spent about six hours today putting the trip together. I'll work (and drive) about 11 hours each day. Then I'll spend three-to-five hours (depending on internet speed at the moment) making reports online each night. I'll gross about $700, and net, after immediate expenses (food, motel, gas), about $500. I can do a route similar to this about once every two months.
Pretty good pay for the time involved (until I blow an engine in the Sybille Canyon; things'll get expensive then), and I wouldn't mind doing it four times a month. Doesn't work that way, though.
Jobs appear periodically, and from time to time other folks who compete with me for shopping jobs choose not to grab jobs that, in the right combinations, make a trip like I'm taking tomorrow feasible for me.
In the course of this work I am charged with observing the enthusiasm with which the folks I deal with directly (cashiers, primarily) represent their chain of command. In the six hundred mile radius within which I have done most of my "mystery shopping" for three years, a significant majority of the people who ring up my purchases have done so with an admirable amount of enthusiasm and friendliness. I have tallied about 1300 "shops" since June of 2009. Shopping has become my career. It's perfect for someone with no job skills and no interpersonal skills.
I am in a free-market situation, taking calculated risks. The fee offered for shops increases in relationship to the availability of those willing to accept the fee for spending the time doing the shop and the reports. I have to determine how much I have to get for the miles I drive, then I have to calculate how likely it is that someone will grab the shops when the fee offered by the shopping company reaches a certain level.
Most of the people I meet in these paid encounters are in similar situations. They are selling their time and manual dexterity for the best price they can find. They mostly perform their jobs with pride and are credits to the other folks up the trough from them.
While I am asked stupid questions like, "How likely are you to recommend this [fast food joint or convenience store] to your friends and relatives?" (I always give that one 10 out of 10), I am also asked to give subjective observations on how polite and enthusiastic a sales clerk is. If the clerk manages to get through the transaction (usually for a buck or two, however much I get reimbursed) without showing overt antipathy my observations are complimentary. Many of them deal with 3000-4000 people during their shifts. Hard to try to establish a friendship with somebody buying a quart of gas and a bottle of coke in the middle of that.
We are all in a race with inflation. We all have that in common. Even the guy I mention below.
Funny thing happened today. I shopped a local big store. I encountered five employees on the floor in half an hour. Four of them acknowledged me when I was within 10 feet of them. This appears to be a big deal for the parent company. A guy with "store manager" on his name tag brushed my shoulder while meeting me in an aisle without giving me a glance. Should I mention that incident in my report?