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How To Be A Successful Mystery Shopper

Updated on November 3, 2015

There is more to being a Mystery Shopper than just stopping by a store. You may be assigned to go to a move, "shop" for a product, or perform an audit. Here are some tips to make your Mystery Shop assignment successful for you and the company who hired you!

My first paycheck as a Mystery Shopper!  I visited two different Ford dealerships, got reimbursed for an oil change and a tire rotation, AND made cash!  LOVING IT!  Only $33 of this is reimbursement!
My first paycheck as a Mystery Shopper! I visited two different Ford dealerships, got reimbursed for an oil change and a tire rotation, AND made cash! LOVING IT! Only $33 of this is reimbursement! | Source

Maintain The Mystery

One of the key reasons for your assignment is for a company to accurately evaluate the service their employees offer when not being directly supervised. That is only possible if you maintain the "mystery" by keeping your job purpose unknown to the employees of the business.

Think for a moment of the last time you visited an appliance department of a store. Did you walk in and go to the register and pay for a refrigerator? No? Of course not! You looked at them, measured them, touched them, asked questions about them, thought about which one was best and maybe even took a couple of days to decide. It is the same for a mystery shopper. You will be assigned to do specific jobs. Number one will be to maintain the mystery.

That begins with keeping your "job" as a mystery shopper confidential. Of course your spouse or immediate family will know, especially if they are with you when you are performing a shop. Draw the line there. Don't tell friends or even extended family members. If they work for a business that hires shoppers, you will effectively blow your cover! If you tell one and they tell one, your entire community will know and you are no longer a mystery and cannot be effective.

Think about who you tell before you ever tell them. Do they have family that work in retail? My son's girlfriend's father works in a high traffic customer service business. She has NO idea that I am a mystery shopper. It could jeopardize the mystery and might cost me a shop some day. The shops are money. I can't afford for her to know at this time. While she would never betray my identity to others in general, her loyalty to her father would be normal. That being said, he is a customer service wiz! It would be absolutely no problem to evaluate his service even if he DID know. It protects us all if I just maintain the mystery.

I have not linked this hub article to my social media links. There are many people who would be respectful. There are many more, however, that work in retail stores, restaurants, car dealerships, and on and on, where I may have an assignment. I am intentional in maintaining the mystery. This gives me the opportunity to evaluate them at work and leave honest feedback.

It also means that I have some creative scenarios to build!

Build A Real Scenario

A vital link to successful shops is the reality factor. Think about real life situations. Use them. They can be past situations, current events in your life or even an anticipated event. Build the information to fit the assignment.

My most recent assignment was looking at a car. I love my current car. I am newly self-employed and would NEVER qualify for a new vehicle. I have, however, wondered if a SUV would be a better vehicle for hauling my jean inventory to home parties. It will not happen anytime soon, but it would be great to have the information! Who knows, maybe I will be able to buy one sooner than I had thought! I made an appointment, made the visit and had a great time learning some awesome information about a brand new car! Oh....I get paid to do that too!

Most shops are planned days or weeks ahead. This gives you time to prepare your scenario ahead. What will you say, do and how far will you go? Will you actually test drive the car? What will you say if they get suspicious? What will you say? It won't happen if your scenario is a real one!

  • My son just moved out into a home of his own. We sent furniture with him and now I have an empty nest!! This gives me reasons to shop for items for my home.
  • I am setting up a home office. I am in need of equipment for my business and furniture to fill the room.
  • I am an independent consultant for Vault Denim designer jeans and several other companies. I need a reliable car to go to home parties and the travel that requires!
  • I am a Grandmother. Always looking for great activities for my grandchildren when they are visiting! I need great gaming products so that job of being a grandparent is a bit easier!
  • I am redecorating my home. I need new furniture, new electronics, new storage solutions. I sent appliances with that son of mine. That means I am interested in new appliances too!.

What about you? Everyone has life events happening that can tie into the purchase for many different products. Using a real life event for your scenario will make it easy to answer the questions that any quality customer service associate should ask you! If you don't know.....tell them!! It is better to be honest and be able to maintain your anonymity! It is easy to say, "I am not sure whether I can use this or not, but I thought I would check it out. Tell me about it!" This opens the door for an attentive associate to share all kinds of information!

Plan Ahead And Schedule

It is essential that you make your "shops" in a timely manner. They will be strictly scheduled and you WILL be expected to complete your paperwork on schedule. If you are a natural organizer, then you will be fine! If you like to "fly by the seat of your pants" - may need to choose jobs with less paperwork or schedule shops on specific days only.

I work with 2 different companies right now. I also am a consultant for direct sales companies that have home parties. I have found it best for me to plan shops for Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, for the most part. Of course, a Saturday night dinner and a movie with my hubby, paid for by shops, is something easy to work into my weekend! I have to plan ahead and schedule it around my parties! I also have to plan the paperwork! Mostly online and completing surveys, the "paperwork" is often due the same night as the shop or by 10 a.m. the next morning. Once you get into the groove of it, this takes about 30 to 45 minutes per shop.

I like to plan a group of shops clustered in one area. For example, I will go to Anytown, KS and conduct a grocery store shop, a department store shop AND an appliance shop. This will take about 3 hours total. This makes my day more effective as I am earning about $10-$15 each and spend less time on the road, therefore making about $45 in 3 hours averaging $15 an hour. That's not too bad for an afternoon where I am picking up groceries and school supplies anyway. It is also more cost effective on my gas costs!

Budget Your Shops

It is important to note that sometimes your shop will involve you making a purchase and waiting for reimbursement to come along with your "paycheck". If you budget your shops ahead of time, it will not become cumbersome! One example would be that dinner and a movie I was talking about! The assignment for the restaurant includes reimbursement for up to 2 entrees, non-alcoholic beverages, and one appetizer. If the waiter/waitress offers dessert, then you are to order and you will be reimbursed for it as well. This could cost up to $60. Add movie tickets for two and popcorn and a soda. If the clerk offers an upsize, then purchase the upsize. This could be an additional $35. You are now up to $95 plus the gas to get there! This will be reimbursed (excluding the gas) with the payment of the fee. The companies I work with pay on alternating weeks. The timing of the shop could mean you are out the money for almost up to 3 weeks. Make sure you have the cash flow before making the bigger shops!

Many shops will only require the purchase of gum or a soda. This is often reimbursed in full by the company along with your fee. They do place a maximum sometimes on the reimbursement amount. Keep this in mind when making the purchase. The purchase is a way to validate the occurance of the shop and the date and time. I began with these and worked my way up to the more expensive shops. This way my "shop money" pays for my activities and it doesn't actually come out of our budget at all!

Supplies You Need

Yes, you will need a few supplies! It may seem a bit odd to need supplies, but you will quickly see that a few supplies will put you on top to complete your shops quickly and efficiently within the guidelines set forth in your assignments.

  • First of all you will need a computer and internet connection. That is a given for most, but just in case you are just trolling around for fun and come across this at the public library, then you will know! You will book your shops online, confirm them online, download the assignment, and process the assignment online. You MUST have a computer and internet connections. A cell phone is not elaborate enough to process the entire assignment.
  • A phone is another essential item. The company will contact you by phone to offer last minute shops, shopper's bonuses, or to ask questions about your reviews that are submitted.
  • You will need a digital camera. Some shops require a download of a photo of either a receipt, tickets, business card or some object to confirm that you did, in fact, conduct the shop assignment. I have been able to use my cell phone effectively for this. It is important that you know how to use it and how to download the pictures!
  • A printer is a must! Some shops require that you print off a card or certificate to hand to your server. This will give them congratulations or tell them they need to step it up! It is helpful to download and print off the instructions to your shop to have on hand when heading out to complete your shop. It is easy to jot down notes on your assignment sheet when you return to the car if it is there with you! This is especially helpful when conducting multiple shops!
  • A purse or pocket sized notepad and a pen are essentials. I jot down a list of questions or "needs" to use as a referral point for shops. This is something I use naturally for any time that I am looking for something. I also often will have jotted down a shopping type list to have as something to use as an excuse to walk away. I can honestly say, "I'm going to think about what you have told me. I have a list here to get done. Thank you for your time!"
  • A calendar or datebook will help keep you on track. This is the place to keep track of your shop dates and times. Many assignments will have to happen on a specific date and even within a specific time frame. A datebook will keep you on track and on time!
  • Last, but definitely not least, you will need cash! The majority of shops I have done have required a minor purchase of something small like a pack of gum or soda. The shops that include a meal, alcoholic beverage or movie tickets also require cash. Be sure to plan ahead and have enough cash on you to cover your expenses. My first assignments were an oil change and tire rotation on my car. I was out $33 up front, but received an check for $105 two weeks later! That's a great return on my money AND my time! I spent less than 2 hours making $70!

Wrapping It All Together

Gather up your schedule, your scenario, your cash and your supplies and get ready to head out to the stores! It is fun, easy and a great way to earn some extra cash! While you are out there, focus on keeping your mystery element strong! This is all about maintaining the mystery after all! Have fun with it and never forget to be honest! Spinning a good story works well here on HubPages, but honesty and objectivity are essential for mystery shopping! Want to learn more about what benefits come with mystery shops? Check out my other hub: What's A Mystery Shop?

Text and Photo Copyright 2012 Deborah M. Carey

Share Your Thoughts And Comments Here

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    • prektjr.dc profile imageAUTHOR

      Debbie Carey 

      6 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA

      One good thing is November is just around the corner! Keep an eye on it though, they seemed to multiply the opportunities once they know there is a shopper in the area! Do sign up with Market Force...they have some awesome shops as well! I am #1123671, by the way! I saw where you had signed up with Bestmark, thanks for using me as a referral! God bless and have a great day!

    • I Am Rosa profile image

      Rosa Marchisella 

      6 years ago from Canada

      Great idea with the follow along! BestMark isn't going to have anything in this area of Canada until mid-to-late November, so I'll definitely check out Market Force! Thanks!

    • prektjr.dc profile imageAUTHOR

      Debbie Carey 

      6 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA

      Thanks Rosa! Thanks for the idea to do this follow up! I have another in the works...kind of a follow along on a Mystery Shop sort of thing! Have a great day and thanks for reading! Working with a 2nd company too! Market Force...I'm shopper #1123671 if you want to join me! It has movie theaters and lots of restaurants! Lots of fun!

    • prektjr.dc profile imageAUTHOR

      Debbie Carey 

      6 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA

      Thanks for the votes and compliments! It has been really interesting to learn just how much goes into the whole process! Thanks for reading!

    • prektjr.dc profile imageAUTHOR

      Debbie Carey 

      6 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA

      Thanks for reading! I love it and have had a great time meeting new people and learning a lot about new products!

    • I Am Rosa profile image

      Rosa Marchisella 

      6 years ago from Canada

      Awesome info!

    • rcrumple profile image


      6 years ago from Kentucky

      Interesting information. I had always been interested in this and its methodology. Very extensive presentation. Up & Interesting!

    • justateacher profile image

      LaDena Campbell 

      6 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

      This is great information...I have always thought this would be a fun job!


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