What is a Mystery Shopper?

Mystery shoppers earn money and fun items.
Mystery shoppers earn money and fun items.

Mystery shoppers have more fun!

I’ve been a mystery shopper for 10 years. It's fun and easy.

Here's a list of things I've gotten for free in my years of mystery shopping. Later on I'll explain how you can earn cash and fabulous bling by becoming a mystery shopper.

During my 10 years of mystery shopping, I've gotten:

  • A free weeklong vacation at a seaside hotel
  • Cash
  • Deluxe spa facials and massages
  • Designer cosmetics and skincare products
  • Countless luxury restaurant dinners
  • Designer clothes and shoes
  • Groceries
  • Gasoline
  • Sporting goods
  • Jewelry
  • Computer hardware and software

If you want to make some extra money and enjoy perks like dinner at elegant restaurants, free clothing, groceries, gasoline or even hotel stays, you don’t need a trench coat or a magnifying glass.

If you’re reliable and can follow instructions, you can be a mystery shopper!


Mystery shoppers must blend in.
Mystery shoppers must blend in.

What is mystery shopping?

It’s basically grading a store, giving it a report card. In today’s competitive business world, store owners want to know things like:

  • Are my employees friendly?
  • Are they greeting my customers quickly?
  • Is my store kept clean?

Mystery shoppers help answer those questions. By visiting a store and taking careful note of such things, the shopper can give a store owner an accurate snapshot of the customer experience at his store.


What kinds of companies use mystery shoppers?

You name it. Since I started 10 years ago, I’ve shopped:

  • hotels
  • restaurants
  • theaters
  • banks
  • car dealerships
  • even doctor’s offices

Everybody's getting shopped!


Mystery shoppers earn an average of $10 - $20 per shop.
Mystery shoppers earn an average of $10 - $20 per shop.

How much do mystery shops pay?

It varies, depending on the location and complexity of the shop. I’ve done shops for as little as $10 and as much as $300. Some pay solely in cash; others reimburse shoppers for a store purchase; and some are a combination of the two. It’s important to understand that mystery shopping alone will not pay the rent, but it’s perfect for those who want to earn some extra money.


What equipment do I need?

Mystery shopping is a sideline that requires very little equipment. You need

  • an Internet connection
  • a printer
  • preferably a scanner or digital camera.


Who does a mystery shopper work for?

A shopper works for herself. She's not the employee of any store, or even any mystery shopping company. She's an independent contractor -- which means she’s free of bias, free to work as much or as little as she likes, and free to turn down any assignment that doesn’t suit her. However, most assignments are flexible, allowing the shopper a range of days and hours to complete the shop – so she can fit it into her schedule.


Don't fall for a shopping scam

But beware mystery shopping scams!

There is one pitfall to avoid when applying to an unknown mystery shopping company: mystery shopping scams. A reputable company will never ask you to pay money to apply, ask you to buy a list of mystery shopping companies, or ask you to cash a check (see the video at right).

Some would-be shoppers have been taken in by such scams, but with a few common-sense precautions, it need never happen to you. The MSPA (www. mysteryshop.org), the industry association, is a good place to find reputable companies.


How do I enter this mysterious world?

Follow 7 simple steps:


It's easy to become a mystery shopper.
It's easy to become a mystery shopper.

Open sesame…


The first step to become a mystery shopper is to fill out an online application. Secret shopping companies can be found by a simple Google search or by going to an industry website like the Mystery Shopper Providers Association (MSPA).

Applying is easy. Many mystery shopping companies don’t even require a resume, though they will ask for tax ID and contact information.

Some companies also ask for a writing sample to test your ability to write a report.


The secret password…

The next step in the process is to go to a website, become registered as a mystery shopper and receive a shopper’s password.

Once she has access, a new shopper can scan the jobs board page on mystery shopping websites. They vary, but many can show you all available jobs in your state, city or a specified radius from your zip code. Applying is usually as simple as typing in your email address and password.

But be sure to read all the shop requirements before applying. Some shops require things that not all shoppers will feel comfortable doing.

For example, some restaurant shops require the shopper to order a drink at the bar. Others give the shopper a scenario to follow, essentially a script: for example, a shopper visiting a computer store might be instructed to tell the salesperson she wants five PCs for her real estate business -- whether or not that's actually the case.

Some shoppers have no problem with scenarios. They are, after all, a test. Others prefer to avoid them. In any case, read the requirements before accepting the shop. It's better not to take the shop, than to take it and then cancel.


A cell phone is a must for a mystery shopper.
A cell phone is a must for a mystery shopper.

The undercover assignment…

After applying for a shop, you must wait to hear from your contact at the mystery shopping company, called a scheduler. This is the person who decides which shopper gets what assignment, and it goes without saying that there's competition.

If you're awarded the shop, the scheduler will send you an email message with shop instructions.


The coded message…

Once you're awarded a shop, a report form will appear on your online assignment page. It will include a questionnaire for you to fill out, and the shop guidelines.

Instructions are usually spelled out very clearly. Some shops can only be done at certain times or on certain days. Others require a purchase. All require detailed and accurate observations.


You never know how many people at the mall are actually mystery shoppers!
You never know how many people at the mall are actually mystery shoppers!

The secret mission…

Once the shopper understands the job requirements, she’s ready to go! If she has prepared correctly, she will blend in with the other customers as she makes her observations.

And blending in is key: no one must suspect who she is, if her shop is to be of value. It’s important to be fair and accurate: store employees may be rewarded or reprimanded based on a shopper’s report. And the shopper must not inject personal opinion into her observations.

Shoppers are usually required to obtain some documentation as proof that they did the shop. This is often the receipt from a required purchase or a business card.


Report to headquarters…

Once the shop has been completed, the shopper fills out the questionnaire on the company website and uploads any required receipts or cards. Mission accomplished!


Most mystery shopping companies pay in a month or less.
Most mystery shopping companies pay in a month or less.

The manila envelope…

Payment times differ from company to company. Most pay through PayPal. Some pay relatively quickly, others as much as a month or two after the report was received.

If you choose to work for more than just a few companies, it’s a good idea to keep records.



Bling galore!

If you love the mall, enjoy the thrill of going “undercover,” and could use some extra money, mystery shopping may be the perfect part-time job!


Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Domingo Reyes, also known as Inspirational Chatter, for permission to use his helpful You Tube video in this article.

More by this Author


Comments 54 comments

mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 3 years ago from The Shire Author

Jmillis, it's a valid concern, but if you want to do mystery shopping, don't let that fear hold you back. The MSPA is a good place to find reputable companies, but even if you're dealing with an unknown company, if you refuse to cash a check or pay for a list of jobs, etc., you should be fine. Thanks for looking in!


Jmillis2006 profile image

Jmillis2006 3 years ago from North Carolina

I would like to do something like this, but like others have said I am nervous about scams.


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 3 years ago from The Shire Author

Thanks for dropping by, SusieQ! I used to do it all the time. I even trained for the video shopping -- they gave me a camera hidden in a purse, but since I couldn't check to see the picture I was getting, I kept cutting the employees' heads off -- lol! But some people do that kind of shop, and I understand it pays pretty well.


SusieQ42 3 years ago

Great hub! I've never done this but find it quite an interesting way to earn extra money. Thank you!


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 3 years ago from The Shire Author

Lbjnflower, thanks for looking in. Yes, it can be, especially if you're dining out or shopping for clothes! ;-)


lbjnflower profile image

lbjnflower 3 years ago from TENN

I do mystery shops .They are fun!


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Thanks for visiting, Prektjr! I'm glad if it was useful to you. If you get signed up and settled in now, you can get a jump start on the holiday season!

If you do decide to follow it, check out the companion piece "How to be a Mystery Shopper: Get the Most from Your Shops" to squeeze the most benefit out of your shops. You can rack up some nice savings by combining shops and other discounts. Happy shopping!


prektjr.dc profile image

prektjr.dc 4 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA

What a great idea! I love to shop and this would be such fun! I will definitely check into it! Thanks for sharing!


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Margarita, thank you for looking in! I'm glad the information was useful to you. Mystery shopping really comes in handy just before the holidays!


MargaritaEden profile image

MargaritaEden 4 years ago from Oregon

Wow this is very interesting, I've heard of this before, but always thought that it must be some kind of scam, I will definitely try this out, great info thank you!


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Thanks for stopping by, SusieQ -- and happy shopping!


SusieQ42 4 years ago

Thanks for your great information, Molly. I just may look into it. God bless, Susieq42


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Hi, and thanks for looking in! Yes, mystery shopping is a real sideline and can be a nice way to earn some extra money, especially if you like to shop. :-)


unknown spy profile image

unknown spy 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

Molly, this is very interesting..i've heard it once but never knew its meaning.


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Hi Integrity, thanks for dropping in! I appreciate your kindness and hope the hub was useful.


IntegrityYes 4 years ago

I definitely voted up,Molly. That is so informative.


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Prektjr, it's nice to meet you. Thanks for looking in! You can go to the Mystery Shopper Providers Association (MSPA) website. Member companies comply with industry standards and many are members of the BBB. I've worked for many MSPA member companies and have never had a problem with one. The only company I would recommend you avoid is one that asks you to cash a check or send them money. Happy shopping!


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Ron, thanks for the visit! Yes, mystery shopping has its share of scam artists, but generally speaking, you only get burned if you send money to strangers -- something no one should ever do anyway :-0

I'm glad the subject inspired you! I'll be looking out for your hub.


prektjr.dc profile image

prektjr.dc 4 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA

I LOVE shopping and this would truly be a kick! My question is where specifically did you go to locate a "reputable" company to apply? I have read SO much about scams that I am leery of simply going to Google. Is there a particular company you would recommend to go with or to avoid? I really am interested! That being said, thank you for a well written and interesting hub!


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Hi Kimberly -- nice to meet you, and thanks for looking in! Yes, it's been a nice little sideline. Shopping's a much more pleasant experience when you know the money you spend is coming back to you -- lol! Try it sometime!


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Pete, it sounds like you and your wife are having a good time! Mystery shopping really is a great way to stretch your dollars in a tight economy. I once went to Washington and stayed in a very nice hotel in Alexandria, courtesy of a mystery shopping company. That was my vacation for that year, and I had a great time. Thanks for reading -- I appreciate your visit!


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Tammy, thanks for stopping by! Yes, you can get all kinds of things with mystery shopping. I've been reimbursed for all sorts of things I never would've sprung for with my own money because they were too expensive! Case in point -- my one and only jar of Chanel face cream. The scent was heavenly, it smoothed on like silk, but it was $80 a jar! Eighty bucks buys a caseload of Oil of Olay -- lol!


Ron Hawkster profile image

Ron Hawkster 4 years ago from United States of America

A very well organized, researched, written hub. Same for your comments. As soon as I read the title I knew I had the (related) topic for my next fun hub to write. Reading the rest of your hub was a bonus. I had always wondered what mystery shopping is all about, especially since I get so much spam related to mystery shopping. If and when I write that hub, a satirical piece, you'll take the credit for sparking the idea in my head. Thank you for that.


KimberlyLake profile image

KimberlyLake 4 years ago from California

Great information. This sounds like good side gig. Thanks for sharing.


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Thank you, Running Deer! You're very kind and I appreciate it!

I'm glad this hub inspired you. I've had fun with mystery shopping, and have eaten so well that I now need to lose weight -- lol! Just out of curiosity -- how long did it take you and your coworkers to spot the shoppers? You clearly tagged at least two!


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

It's nice to meet you, Sinea! Thanks for looking in!

I was leery too at first, but if you're working for a company that's registered with the MSPA you shouldn't have a problem. I've worked for over 30 companies that I found out about online, and never had any bad experiences. Many of the companies in the MSPA are also members of the Better Business Bureau. If you're nervous, you could just stick with them to be extra safe.


petenali profile image

petenali 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

My wife and I are mystery shoppers and have been doing it for about 3 years. We don't make any money doing it, but we get to stay at some swanky hotels and eat some fine food all in return for completing a detailed survey. We really enjoy it. It is shocking how bad the service is at some places despite the high price tag on the room/meal. Then there are other times when they have truly "wowed" us with their service.

We got into it via friends who are friends with one of the owners of the mystery shopping company. I'm sure there are plenty of scams out there but if you can get hooked into a legit company, it's a blast!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

Wow! You have convinced me. I knew they paid but I didn't know about all the perks and bling bling. Why would anyone not want to do this? Thanks for this great information.


RunningDeer profile image

RunningDeer 4 years ago from Iowa

I love this idea! I used to work at Subway and mystery shoppers would come in there. All they had to do was order a sandwich, and make sure we asked if they wanted a meal with that. It was all sorts of people who did it too. One was a woman in a red dress with red fingernails, another was a mom with her daughter. It's a great idea and gets you out trying all sorts of new things! Great hub!


Sinea Pies profile image

Sinea Pies 4 years ago from Northeastern United States

This is so interesting! Sounds like great fun but I'd be so leary of anyone wanting my ss# .


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Thank you, Beckie! Yes, it's one of the lesser-known sidelines but it does have a certain zest. There was even one company, I forget the name, that had cruise shops. Shoppers went on a three-day cruise and evaluated all the different elements of the service experience. I didn't go for it because I would've had to go to Miami, and I'm in Atlanta, but it was a fabulous opportunity.

Thank you for visiting! I appreciate the read, and your kind comments.


shiningirisheyes profile image

shiningirisheyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

Molly - great job writing this artcle. I was in the merchandising business for many years and we leaned heavily on the use of mystery shoppers. Many people do not realize this is an optionf or an income and I think you did splended writing about it.


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Frank, lots of people think that because of the well-publicized con games some criminals run. Mystery shopping is legit; shoppers who avoid cashing checks or sending money should be fine. Thanks for looking in -- I appreciate the visit!


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

very interesting Molly I thought it was all a scam to be honest with you... hmm thanks for sharing this hub..bless you


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Teaches, yes it does! One company once outfitted me with a video purse with a tiny lens that looked like a grommet on the strap. I was supposed to hold the strap with my hand and point it toward the employee I was taking a picture of. They also had video cameras hidden in baseball caps and ties. I had no luck with video shopping, but did ordinary ones for years. Thank you, as always, for visiting and commenting!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

I remember this from my marketing days. It was always fun to run one of these projects for a client. It does provide a good side income for those who enjoy the mystery!


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Hi AC, nice to meet you! Yes, there is sort of a thrill in going into a store as a mystery shopper. Try it -- you might like it! Thanks for stopping by!


afro-cerealist 4 years ago

Love the allure. Thanks for the info.


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

AE, thanks for looking in! I appreciate your comments. Yes, I've had fun and learned a lot doing mystery shopping. It trains you to be observant, and you learn about all the good deals ;-)


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Drbj, I once worked as an editor for a mystery shopping company, and I did indeed see ridiculous things. I reviewed shopper reports and vividly remember the report of a manager who responded to a fire at his restaurant by *locking the doors and trapping patrons inside.* His main concern was to be sure no one stole from the till (!!??!!) No one was hurt -- except possibly the restaurant owners. I assume they were sued by many, many people. :-0


always exploring profile image

always exploring 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

I have always wondered about a mystery shopper, now i know. Great advice. I don't have the time, but have fun, that's the key...


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

After all your experiences as a Mystery Shopper, molly, I would not be surprised if you have the material for a dozen or more funny hubs. As long as you use fictitious names. Great information for those who have the time and desire.


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Hi C, thanks for looking in! When I was really active I was signed up for more than 30 companies, but that was some time ago. I did all kinds of shops and had a range of about 30 miles. I'd line up 4 or 5 in one day and do a day trip down to Atlanta. I still keep my hand in, but nowadays it's mostly restaurants and grocery shops. Thank you for your comments, and for your votes. I appreciate it!


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

Hello fellow mystery shopper....I work for Best Mark and mainly do restaurants and car dealerships.....with an occasional visit to electronic stores. Sounds like your company is a little bit more sophisticated than mine....but I have fun doing them.....although sometimes it is hard to finish all the questions on the survey as they all require at least 3 to 4 sentences on each scenario. Voted up and very interesting.


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Thanks for commenting, Hyph! Yes, they can be fun. Once I even tried to train to be a video mystery shopper; they gave me a purse with a camera in it and I tried to make it work but I couldn't see what I was doing and kept cutting off the employee's heads -- ! Makes me pity the real spies. Thanks for looking in!


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

I did a couple of mystery shops and encounter several at various places of employment. It can be very fun but I am not flexible now in hours because of my son. The legit companies are dedicated to quality. Thanks mollymeadows.


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Hi Jackie, thanks for dropping by! Yes, mystery shopping is legit. It's introduced me to a world of stores and products I would never have found otherwise. Try it sometime -- it's fun!


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

It is good to finally know this is legit. I have always wondered. I have done some survey things for money and made a good bit, even had a bank lady ask for a link because I went in with so many checks but all of a sudden the really good one changed and I just quit it. It was fun while it lasted though and a lot of good perks like food, make-up, hair stuff etc.

Thanks for the info.


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Thanks for looking in, Mhatter! Mystery shopping can be a nice part-time money maker.


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 4 years ago from San Francisco

Interesting information. Thank you for with us.


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

You're welcome, Bill! It can be a fun sideline, and at the least, offers most shoppers the opportunity to eat exceedingly well. I blame my *koff koff* unfortunate shrinking wardrobe on all the restaurant shops I've done over the years. Mmmm...ribs.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

That's really cool Molly! I have always wondered about that; I'm passing this on to Bev and see if she would like to try it. Thank you!


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire Author

Thanks for your kind comments, GT! I've done it on the side for years and it's been a lot of fun. Many people think it's a scam, but it's pretty easy to avoid getting burned. Mystery shopping has introduced me to some of the best restaurants in my area and gotten me a lot of goodies I wouldn't even have been aware of otherwise. :-)


Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

This is fascinating. I just might have to look into this. Thanks for an interesting and useful hub!

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