How to Get Work as a Mystery Shopper

Over the years, I have had more "careers" and "jobs" than you can shake a stick it, mostly because I get bored easily and I'm always looking for some new challenge. So I thought I'd put together some hubs about the various jobs I've had and I think it makes sense to start with mystery shopping since it is something a lot of people are interested in and it is one of those jobs for which there are lots of scams floating around.

So first things first... NEVER PAY TO MYSTERY SHOP! It is completely unnecessary. All the paid Mystery Shopping membership sites are giving you the exact same information that you can get at for free! Virtually every company that hires mystery shoppers recruits at, usually in the forums. That is how I found the mystery shopping jobs that I did and I didn't pay a cent to anyone to get them.

You should also check out my page on How to Get Work as a Retail Merchandiser to see if that might be more up your alley or something to consider in addition to Mystery Shopping.

How to find a job as a Mystery Shopper

The first thing you should do before you even start applying with companies is to visit the Mystery Shopping forum at Volition and start reading. Spend a couple of days and read through as many threads as possible and decide whether Mystery Shopping is even for you.

I personally did about 15-20 mystery shops before abandoning it in favor of Merchandising which I found much more relaxing and I didn't have to sneak around in the stores. You can also find info at Volition about merchandising and my next hub will be about Merchandising jobs.

Once you've decided that you'd like to give mystery shopping a try, set up a new email account before you start sending in applications. You'll be getting a lot of email because you'll need to sign up with dozens of companies if you expect to shop on more than an occasional basis. If you only want the occasional shop, then you probably can just use your regular email address, but in the long run I think it is better to set up a new one.

What I would do is use gmail to set up a new account, and then for each company that you sign up with, create a new label in gmail for that company. That way you can quickly scan emails from one company at a time. If you want to shop often, you'll need to check your email every day and also log into the sites in order to scoop up the jobs. Most of them are first come, first serve.

Once your email address is set up, go to Volition and then just start signing up with all of the companies that are looking for shoppers in your area. Most of the companies are national. Many companies use a site called Sassie that functions as a database used to sort jobs. But each company is entirely independent of the other ones, so get used to seeing Sassie over and over again. Signing up with Sassie once does not mean you are signed up with everyone.

What kind of skills do I need to Mystery Shop?

The first skill you will need is this. Be very very sneaky! And not only will you need to be sneaky, you will need to be nonchalant about it. All of the stores that you will visit are perfectly aware of mystery shoppers and the whole idea of mystery shopping is that you are -- mysterious.

They cannot ID you. If a store manager, shop clerk or cashier suspects for even a moment that you are a mystery shopper, they will mention it to the company hired to shop them and that company will not be paid for the shop and neither will you! So if you don't feel that you can blend into the wallwork and look like an ordinary, every day shopper, this is not the job for you. I personally found it a little too stressful and was always worried that I'd be ID'd as the shopper. It never happened, but there you go. I worried.

The second skill you will need is an excellent memory. Not only will you have to memorize the instructions for the shop before you enter the store (and some of them are quite convoluted), but in most cases you will also have to get and remember the name of the shop assistant who waited on you or took your payment, as well as what they looked like, what they wore, etc., and the exact time that they greeted you, how much time they spent with you and what time you went to the cash register, how long you had to wait to pay, etc.

You'll note from the above that you'll also need a good watch! I recommend a digital. My Rolex didn't quite cut it since it is an antique and doesn't keep time perfectly LOL

In order to assist your memory, you should keep a notebook in your car and as soon as you are completely out of sight of the store, sit and write every single thing down in your notebook. Usually you can print out the shopping directions from the website before you head out to shop, so if you have that with your notebook, you can often save time by filling in the blanks.

And thirdly, you will need decent writing skills. For some shops, you will only have to fill out a short form and fill in the blanks and make a few checkmarks, but for many shops (and especially the lucrative ones) you will need to write several paragraphs of narrative about your shopping experience -- your opinion about the service, what condition the store itself was in, how knowledgeable and friendly the clerks seemed, etc.

I generally found that the in-store part of the shop took less time than writing the report about the shop. You might spend 5-10 minutes in the store and then spend anywhere from a half hour to an hour and a half writing up the shop report. You will want to keep the writing requirements in mind when you are thinking about what shops to accept. It is not worth accepting a shop for $10 if you are going to spend more than two hours total on that shop between getting to the store, the shop itself and writing the report.You will get to know which shops are likely to have the most tedious writing requirements through trial and error.

The fourth skill you will need is total reliability! If you are a flake, you will likely find yourself blackballed by more than just the company you flaked out on. All the recruiters know each other and they do talk. If you blow off a shop and don't advise the company in advance that you cannot get to the shop, don't expect them to give you a second chance. They won't. I know this from experience LOL

On the other hand, you will get a great reputation and lots of shop opportunities if you can accept last minute shopping opportunities that are caused by the flakes ;)

Other things you'll need

A reliable car -- if you live in a major urban area, it is possible to do mystery shopping by public transport, but for the most part you will find that having a car makes it much quicker, especially if you are very organized. You then might even be able to book several shops on the same day and build a scheduled route for yourself. It also needs to be a reliable vehicle so you don't end up flaking on jobs because of your car. This is what happened to me on a job.

Reliable internet service and your own computer --- virtually every company requires that you book your jobs online and you complete your reports online and the deadlines for the reports are the same day of the shop (generally) so if you do not have your own computer or if your internet is iffy, you should consider merchandising instead.

Possibly, a fax machine -- It is entirely possible to only sign up with companies that do all reporting online, but there are some that prefer faxes. I stuck to the ones that were strictly online. Faxing is archaic technology LOL

A good digital watch -- almost all reports will want to know the exact minute you walked into and out of the store and the exact time you were greeted, etc.

Other nice things to have

There are some lucrative jobs that require the use of a digital camera. Most of them involve taking pictures at gas stations. I never did any of those jobs because the idea of not getting busted as the "mystery shopper" while walking around with my camera struck me as ludicrious, but if you have sneakier skills than me you might want to give it a try.

A digital voice recorder -- I prefer paper and pen (old school, yo!), but a lot of mystery shoppers use a recording device to record all their shop information before they get home.

What's the money like?

Quite frankly, I think it's crap which is why I eventually switched to merchandising, but there are definitely lucrative jobs out there if you don't mind having to memorize a lot of things, writing long reports and and doing some role-playing.

Some of the best paying shops are the ones that are for apartment complexes, car dealers and hotels. If you happen to travel a lot for another job or just travel a lot, then hotel jobs can pay pretty well -- as much as a couple of hundred dollars. But I hear the report writing is huge. Apartment complex and car dealer shops can pay anywhere from $40 to $100 or so for the shop.

Your average shop, however, pays much less than this. Some shops do nothing more than reimburse you for the items you bought. This is great if you were going to buy something anyway, but if you rarely spend money like me, then it is hardly worth it. Some mystery shoppers though make a habit of scheduling as many gas station shops as possible. Most of those reimburse the fuel-up and with gas prices the way they are, that is well worth it.

Most restaurant shops are also reimbursement only, but if you like to eat out a lot, those may be well worth it for you as well -- especially if they reimburse for two people.

Shops that pay better than reimbursement can pay anywhere from $5 to $20, and sometimes higher, but that is about the average. The more desperate the recruiter is to book the shop, the higher the rate goes and sometimes you can negotiate a better offer if you contact the recruiter directly and say you are willing to complete the shop, but only if they pay you $XX for doing so. If they are in a bind, they'll probably okay it.

Can you live off mystery shopping income?

It isn't something that I would want to do full-time, but it definitely can be a decent second income, especially if you are organized and get yourself into a routine where you book multiple shops per geographical area. If you spend a lot of time out running errands anyway, you can probably pay for the time you spend running around by picking up mystery shops in places you are headed to anyway.

If you really want to get up and running as a Mystery shopper, especially if you're thinking about making it your main source of income, then you might want to check out the Mystery Shopper's Manual. The book is now it its 6th edition and it is written by Cathy Stucker, who has been mystery shopping since 1995. It's the only book endorsed by the Mystery Shopper Providers Association (an international professional association for mystery shoppers & the companies that hire them). If you do want to use mystery shopping as more than just a nice second income, I definitely think you'll need the book. It provides a lot more information that you'll find online and you'll be able to refer back to again and again as you build your business.

Next up is Merchandising, a related industry, and many mystery shoppers do both mystery shops and merchandising. Check out my hub on How to Get Work as a Retail Merchandiser

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Comments 12 comments

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 9 years ago from North America

Great information in this Hub!

Dorsi profile image

Dorsi 8 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

Great information! I don't think this would be something I would do long term- but it sounds like a great way to pick up some extra income! My 22 year old son is always looking for extra work so I'm going to tell him about this and merchandising.Thanks!

embitca profile image

embitca 8 years ago from Boston Author

If you love to shop anyway and you run a lot of errands, I do think it can be fun. I really hated the reporting aspect though. Very time consuming. Glad you checked our the Merchandising hub too. That kind of work was more up my alley. Your son should definitely check out merchandising. A lot of Big Box stores like Lowes and Home Depot need merchandisers who can actually haul heavy stuff around, so it's good work for young guys.

DaraRai profile image

DaraRai 8 years ago from New York

Very informative! But it seems as if mystery shopping takes so much more work than the rewards. By the way, what types of shops do they typically send you to? Clothing, shoes, or home decor?

embitca profile image

embitca 8 years ago from Boston Author

DaraRai, I agree with you actually. I think it is too much work for what you get paid.

They send you out on all kinds of shops -- there are gas station shops, clothing stores, fast food, even real estate rentals and stuff. Basically, anything that is retail of any kind.

EYEAM4ANARCHY profile image

EYEAM4ANARCHY 7 years ago from Las Vegas, NV.

Thanks alot, I did a bit of mystery shopping during my college days and I'm probably going to start back into it again. Things have changed alt and I appreciate the resources you provided.

issues veritas 7 years ago

In this bad economy, are myster shoppers still in demand?

embitca profile image

embitca 7 years ago from Boston Author

Hi Issues, yes, mystery shoppers are still in demand. But the economy certainly impacts pay rates. I know there are some mystery shopping jobs that don't compensate as much as they used to

issues veritas 7 years ago


I have to do a better job of editing "myster" to mystery, I just washed my keyboard and I can't do anything with it. That is no excuse, because I should look closer at it in the edit mode.

Thanks for your reply.

KellyPittman profile image

KellyPittman 4 years ago from Walker, LA

I'm telling you, I just LOVE Hubpages! I don't have to use search engines - I just search my topic in Hubpages and I find so many useful tips. Thanks for this! Voted Up and Useful.

Pmarikelly 4 years ago

Great articles. I mix mystery shopping with merchandising. Most of my mystery shops are for fast food so I get a paid meal during my day. With everyone sporting blue tooth earpieces for their cell phones, it's easy to pick up an app for recording and use it for accurate timings and notes. I find mine will pick up what the other person is saying just fine.

Shelby 4 years ago

I agree mystery shopping sounds like so much works. I just started with a Merchanding company.. Well 2 and they pay great! Great hours too, super easy and relaxing.

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