Q: When did you work as a mystery shopper?
A: It was 2014 to 2017. At the time, we had a young daughter at home and we couldn’t pay for daycare, so essentially it was a good way for me to take her to the park, do a mystery shop for lunch, then a few more shops in the afternoon.
Q: What does a mystery shopper do? Is it basically ratting out the employees?
A: It is ratting out the employees, but if you report that the employees are all giving five-star service and saying all the lingo that they’re supposed to say, they’re never going to investigate it. The company wants to look good.
Most of the time, they want you to verify that they’re using all of the catchphrases and ad words and stuff. Like when you go to a place like a “Blaze Pizza,” they require their people to say, “Have a Blaze day.”
I always had employees be very candid with me. I have a neck tattoo and a hand tattoo, and my ears are stretched out. I do not look like the typical mystery shopper at all. Employees were very friendly because it was my job to talk with them, and they honestly believed I was a regular shopper.
Q: How did you get started?
A: There are tons of scam companies, but you can get started for free. There are websites that basically list every mystery shop that’s available in your area. There are hundreds of companies. I was probably signed up for 150 companies at one time. They’re pretty small outfits.
Q: How did it work?
A: When you start, you have to build a résumé with the company. If you haven’t “done a shop” before, they’re only going to let you do any of the major cell phone retailers. You go in and say, “Hey, I’m looking to switch to this phone. What’s the new thing?”
Beforehand they give you a questionnaire, and you review it. They require that you ask two or three qualifying questions. And then you go home and you fill out a report. You make sure you get a business card from them, and then you take a picture of the business card to prove that you were there.
That’s the beginning. It goes all the way up to luxury cruises, hotels, and airlines, but to get into that, you have to be very deep into it for years and have a good track record.
Q: What kinds of places did you report on?
A: Movie theaters, skating rinks, amusement parks, skiing and snowboarding places….
Q: How many times do you think you did this?
A: Over 1000. There would be days when I would do six or seven cell phone shops in a row and then get food. Then I’d stay up all night, for like four hours, just writing reports.
Q: Were some jobs more challenging than others?
A: One that put me on my heels was this luxury shop called Bulgari — this Italian haute couture brand.
I didn’t own a suit, and I didn’t know what clothes to wear… I was really nervous. I decided I was gonna pretend that I was a Zuckerberg. I wore some nice jeans and a sweatshirt and wanted to be as unassuming as I could be.
Well, I go in and the guy is wearing a fucking tuxedo.
I told him I was looking for watches. He’s like, “Every man needs a fine timepiece.” Then he offered me something to drink. He went to the back and made me a little tiny cup of espresso and we drank it together.
And then we started talking about watches. He pulls this one watch out, and he puts it on the table, and it was $20,000. I was afraid to touch it. I was trembling on the inside. That was more money than I’d made the year before.
And he was like, “Sir, may I ask you… what exactly is it that you do?”
A: I was as vague as possible. I was like, “There’s a brand in L.A., and I do all the social media marketing and advertising for them. We have branches all across the world. My family brought me to this area, and they let me work remotely, so I can kind of do whatever I want.”
His eyes got very wide, and he said, “Oh, that must be very nice for you, sir.”
I think he was annoyed that I was so stupid-looking and was looking at this $20,000 watch.
Then he gets another watch out. It’s $50,000.
The other one I had let sit on the velvet on the table. But this one he puts on my wrist. And he says, “Go ahead, feel the heft, give your arm a firm shake.”
So I start shaking my wrist with this watch, and all I could think was, “If this hits the ground, I’m fucking running. If there’s a park nearby or some woods I can hide in…” I felt like such a goddamn impostor.
Q: Any other memorable jobs?
A: I accepted one job that shocked me because it was way beyond anything that had happened before.
The job listing said they suspected one of their employees of stealing cash from the register. I’d need to go to the store during a time when the person was working and make sure they were the one who checked me out. If their cashier information wasn’t on the receipt, the shop would be invalidated.
I was fine lying about someone saying, “Have a Blaze day,” or, “Have a Kentucky Fried Chicken afternoon,” but this was literally setting someone up to go to jail. Criminal charges. I’ve seen people get caught stealing at work, and it’s not, “Oh, we forgive you.” They don’t ever do that.
I was nervous. But I go to the store and it works out perfectly. The cashier I’m supposed to target is there with another employee, but then the other person goes on a break, so she’s there by herself. I go up to the register, she opens the drawer, I give her the cash, and she thanks me, and she does the transaction correctly as far as I can tell.
But I looked at her and said, “I was hired to report on you and how you handle cash going into the drawer. You need to find a new job or stop what you’re doing right now.”
And she was stone-cold shocked. And I was like radiating on the inside. I had full vertigo and just hurriedly and awkwardly walked out and that was that.
I felt like I was 20 feet tall. It was just shocking to see her face. I don’t know what she did after that. Hopefully she avoided jail.
I would like to train more people to do this. I would like to teach more people to be mystery shoppers and give five-star reviews. To help working people.
Q: What was it like to do the roller-skating rink?
A: You don’t just go to the roller-skating rink and write a report on how fun it was. They require you to go to the game room, to go to the skate counter, to do laser tag. They require you to do everything in the building, so eventually you’ll get sniffed out. It becomes very obvious.
I went with my wife and daughter. I didn’t do the timing right and it was about to close and I still had to do laser tag. My daughter was too young and my wife had to stay with her, so I showed up by myself. And they were like, “No one else signed up for laser tag.”
And I was like, “Oh darn it, that’s OK.”
And they were like, “Wait a second, is Lacy still here?”
So then this 14-year-old girl shows up. She doesn’t work there, she was just there all the time, and they said she’d play me in laser tag. I was 33 at the time.
I was never in the game. She followed five feet behind me, and I tried to run away from her, but she was constantly pulling the trigger and getting me out. Every single time my light built back up, it went right back down.
She was laughing and watching me fall to the ground. I’d say, “Hold up,” and put my hands on my knees. Like, “Hold up a second.” She just sat there shooting and giggling.
I was breathing so heavily, red all over, and I wanted to scream. I was in such a panic about it, and finally it just ended. And my wife saw me when I came out and it looked like I’d just run a few miles. I was just trying to get this girl to stop killing me instantly and with no remorse.
It was like the worst five minutes of my life. That’s all it was too. It was probably 180 seconds. But it felt like a year.