Mystery Shopper

I applied to be a mystery shopper for Tesco yesterday. I'm not sure I should be telling you this--the word "mystery" might indicate a certain amount of discretion is in order--but I'm fairly certain I don't have a chance of being selected; so I'll share it.

The application process was really a covert--and not even covert--form of advertising. To "help (Tesco) build a profile" for my application and ensure their mystery shoppers covered the widest possible socio-economic base, I had to answer something like 60 questions. And all of the questions were related to competitions and promotions by Tesco partners and affiliates--people who had paid Tesco, no doubt, to place them there.

As if to prove my cynicism was well-founded, as soon as I'd finished the questions I had a phone call from a number I didn't recognise. Thinking the Royal Mail might have realised their folly and decided to offer me work after all, I broke the habit of many years' mobile phone usage and answered the call.

"Hello, is that Mr. Hodder?" the person at the other end of the line asked.

"Yes," I said, caution stealing over me.

"Hello, it's So-&So from 'The Guardian.'"

The Guardian? I thought. What did they want? Had my moment come at last? Was fame reaching down for me the way I had always secretly known it would?

"We understand you're a reader of the newspaper," the guy said. "Can I ask you how often?"

That was when I remembered. One of the questions Tesco had asked was what newspaper I read. Christ, leave it to the high-minded hope of the free world to be quickest off the mark when it came to merciless capitalism.

"Well, hardly ever," I said. "I don't really read newspapers."

"Okay," he said, trying to digest the self-contradiction, "what we at 'The Guardian' can do for our occasional readers is this..."

I hung up (if you still "hang up" with mobiles). I'd wanted to earn money, not spend more of it. And I gather the salesman was used to responses like that because he didn't try my number again.

Now, nearly twenty-four hours later, I have an email inbox full of crap from the various companies who'd been part of my application; but I still haven't heard from Tesco. If I do I'll be extremely, and very pleasantly, surprised.