Learn How to Become a Mystery Shopper

Woman shopping for clothes
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Mystery shopping, also known as secret shopping, involves posing as a regular customer in order to evaluate the goods and services that a business provides. Your findings are reported back to the client and used to improve their services.

How Mystery Shopping Works

A business hires a mystery shopping company to evaluate their services; and the mystery shopping company, in turn, hires shoppers to perform those evaluations. Shoppers are given a list of things to evaluate/note during the shop. This may include:

  • how long it takes to be greeted
  • the speed of service
  • cleanliness of the location
  • compliance with company standards – dress code, signage, greetings, etc.
  • listening for specific services to be offered
  • names/descriptions of employees

After completing a shop, the shopper submits her evaluation and receipts. Payment is typically made one to eight weeks after submission of a successful shop.

What Types of Businesses Use Mystery Shoppers

  • restaurants
  • hotels and resorts
  • retail stores
  • grocery stores
  • movie theaters
  • car dealerships
  • amusement parks
  • gas stations
  • and many others

How to Find Mystery Shop Assignments

If you're new to mystery shopping, Volition.com is a good place to start. It provides a database of reputable mystery shopping companies, as reported by actual mystery shoppers – so the information is more reliable than what you'll find through a web search.

Spend some time looking through the database. Then, form a list of the companies that you're interested in working for, and submit an application with each one.

Once your application is approved, you'll have access to the company's database of shops. Check it often for shops in your area, and apply for any that are of interest to you.

How to Avoid Scams

Unfortunately, not all mystery shopping companies are reputable. To avoid falling for a scam, you should avoid any company that:

  • requires you to pay a fee – you shouldn't have to pay anything to get assignments
  • advertises for shoppers in newspaper help-wanted sections or through unsolicited e-mails
  • requires you to pay for and earn a shopper certification
  • guarantees you shops or a set income

For even more protection against scams, look for companies that belong to the Mystery Shopper Providers Association.

What the Typical Mystery Shop Entails

Every mystery shop assignment is a bit different, but most assignments will require you to complete your shop on a specific day and time. It will also require you to listen for certain services to be offered; to ask specific questions and remember the answers you receive to those questions; and to note the details of your surroundings – everything from the cleanliness of the bathrooms to whether signage is placed appropriately. It may even require you to try out specific services (say a new burger at a fast food restaurant); to take photos of the location; or to record conversations that you have with employees.

How Much Mystery Shopping Pays

Mystery shopping is not a way to get rich, nor is it a full-time job. Expect to make $10-15 per shop, in addition to any merchandise or services that you receive during the course of the shop. A typical restaurant shop, for example, might result in a free meal, plus a small shop fee for your time.

What It Takes to Be a Good Mystery Shopper

  • attention to detail
  • a good memory
  • objective evaluation skills
  • the ability to perform and submit shops promptly

Tips for Success

  • Apply to a lot of mystery shop companies, to increase your chance of getting regular assignments
  • Check for available shops often – the good ones go fast
  • Don't accept a shop unless you are sure that you can complete it. Many companies will remove you from their list of shoppers after just one failed shop
  • Be willing to accept last-minute and less-than-glamorous shops when starting out – this will improve your standing with the company
  • Read over the requirements of a mystery shop several times before attempting the shop. If you miss some of the details, you won't be paid

Starting Out with a Mystery Shopping Company

When starting out with a new mystery shopping company, there are several things that you can do to ensure that the relationship is a good one. This includes:

  • Starting with a shop with no or low out-of-pocket expenses
  • Waiting to receive payment from your first shop, before taking on additional shops
  • Evaluating whether you are being fairly compensated for your time. $20 may sound like a fair payment until you discover you're spending five hours on each shop
  • Evaluating how easy to use and reliable the site is. If the tools are difficult to use, you may find your earnings don't justify the hassle

Disclaimer: Mystery shopping ads found on this page may or may not be for legitimate companies. Research all companies carefully before submitting a shopper application.