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What is a Mystery Shopper: Get the Most from Your Shops

Updated on August 16, 2013
Mystery shopping is a nice gig to have just before the holidays.
Mystery shopping is a nice gig to have just before the holidays.

This is a companion piece to my previous article, What is a Mystery Shopper? If you're looking for a basic explanation of what mystery shopping is and how to get into it, I would recommend that you read that article first.

This one shares tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your shops, once you've started shopping.

Stretch Your Shopping Dollar

I was a mystery shopper for over 10 years. Over that time, I learned how to save on expenses, stretch my mystery shopping dollar and take advantage of great shopping opportunities.

How do you squeeze the last bit of profit out of a side gig that isn't meant to cover more than your shoe addiction?

Let me tell you.

Plan Ahead

The first law of making money is to avoid spending it.

You have to travel as a mystery shopper, and gasoline expenses rack up fast. Then, too, most mystery shops pay between $10 and $15 dollars.

The trick is to snag three or four at that price, all in the same neighborhood, and do them in one day.

You should get familiar with Mapquest if you want to be efficient. Type in the addresses of each of your stops, and let the program suggest the most cost-effective route.

When I was really active, I would sometimes schedule as many as seven or eight shops in one day, which was about as many as I could reasonably do. At $10 each, that wasn't a bad day, and justified some travel expenses.

I usually tried to get a lunch shop too, which kept me from giving in to the temptation to stop in the mall food court and spend my own money.

I also learned to start early, especially if I was shopping a mall area. There's nothing quite as frustrating (and expensive) as getting stuck in rush-hour traffic.

Mystery shopping is especially good for getting reimbursed meals at really nice restaurants.
Mystery shopping is especially good for getting reimbursed meals at really nice restaurants.

Required Purchases

Many assignments require the shopper to purchase a store item of her choice. These purchases are almost always fully reimbursed, up to a predefined limit.

At first blush that doesn't seem particularly profitable, but there are many ways you can make that purchase work for you.

Unless your shop instructions expressly forbid it, you can:

  • Turn a required purchase into cash by simply returning the item later
  • Combine the built-in discount of a reimbursed purchase with end-of-season sales or clearance item purchases
  • Sign up for the store's loyalty program and earn points on each required purchase to maximize its value
  • Give the store your Gmail address (not your usual email address!) so you can receive notification of sales and schedule your shops for those times
  • If the item can't be returned to the store, you can sell it on eBay, especially if it's a high-end item

Making Friends with the Scheduler

The longer you work as a mystery shopper, the more you'll get to know the people who assign the shops, also known as schedulers. It helps to develop a collegial relationship with your schedulers. They tend to call on the shoppers they know they can rely on. If you're professional and pleasant, they're more likely to call on you.

And getting called on can be profitable, especially when another shopper flakes and the scheduler only has days, or possibly hours, to get the shop done. That's when they start to offer shoppers incentive bonuses. These bonuses usually aren't more than about $5 to $10 more per shop, but it makes sense to try to be the shopper they think of when they need something done fast.

Work It

Mystery shopping will never get you a full-time salary, but there's no reason not to work your sideline to the max.

Pay attention to what you're spending, and work to get the most possible mileage out of what you make, and your mystery shopping experience will be a profitable and happy one!


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    • mollymeadows profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Strain 

      6 years ago from The Shire

      Thank you, Teaches! I appreciate your looking in! Yes, there are many aspects to mystery shopping, and it's important for shopper to make the most of their "shop-ortunities." :-)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      I remember when we used to hire mystery shoppers for our marketing projects at work. It was always a fun marketing analysis to write. Good job in covering the details of this position.

    • mollymeadows profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Strain 

      6 years ago from The Shire

      Hi Always, thanks for looking in today! Yes, I've always thought that mystery shopping is a dream job for a woman. You get paid to go to the mall! And you'd be surprised how many businesses participate. I've shopped most of the big retailers both in my local mall, and around it. :-))

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Talk about a dream job! The way i love to shop, it wouldn't seem like a job. Need to check this out. Thank's for the tips..Cool

    • mollymeadows profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Strain 

      6 years ago from The Shire

      SusieQ, hello and thanks for visiting! I have another hub called What is a Mystery Shopper? that explains how a newcomer can safely get into this sideline. It covers things like what mystery shopping is, what you do, and how and where to apply. There's a link halfway down this hub that will take you right to it.

      This hub expands on that one by explaining how you can stretch your mystery shopping dollar, and get the most from your shops, once you're in.

      I hope the hubs are helpful to you. Mystery shopping is fun and can keep you in nice dinners and extra cash. Good luck!

    • mollymeadows profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Strain 

      6 years ago from The Shire

      Hi, Hyph! Yes, it can be fun, but you're right, you do have to carve out time from your schedule to do it. It's a handy sideline just before Christmas.

      Thank you for your support, friend. I appreciate it!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      What does the mystery shopper do? I thought that this person is to rate the store or restaurant. I would like to look into it but where do you start???

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 

      6 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      I would love to mystery shop but just do not have time right now. It is fun isn't it?

    • mollymeadows profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Strain 

      6 years ago from The Shire

      Josh, I'm glad if the hub was useful to you. It really can be a fun sideline, and helps with extra expenses, since lots of businesses get shopped. Thanks for looking in!

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania


      Absolutely awesome hub! I was never quite sure what mystery shopping was a ll about. Thanks for the enlightenment Molly! :)

    • mollymeadows profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Strain 

      6 years ago from The Shire

      Thank you, Faith, I appreciate your visit very much! And I'm glad the hub was helpful. If you ever do get into it, I have another hub that explains the application process, entitled What is a Mystery Shopper.

      You must have a keen eye if you can spot the mystery shopper! I've often thought of shopping as a kind of game -- maybe it should be called "catch me if you can" -- lol!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      6 years ago from southern USA

      I thought about being one for a long time, so this hub really is very informative and helpful. Sometimes when I am shopping, I can figure out who is the mystery shopper, or at least something about them gives them away, but I could be wrong. Ha. Great Hub. May try it out. In His Love, Faith Reaper

    • mollymeadows profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Strain 

      6 years ago from The Shire

      Thanks, Jackie! I appreciate the vote and your kind words. It's not a full-time thing but it can help cover the cost of entertainment or Christmas shopping.

    • mollymeadows profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Strain 

      6 years ago from The Shire

      Thanks for visiting, Bill! I appreciate your support! :-)

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      6 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I really regret I never tried this because I am just too busy right now, but I will come back and read this over again if I finish up and get free time. Thanks, very good info, voting up!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I still haven't looked into this but it is on my to do list. Thanks for the tips and I will get around to it, as soon as I learn to budget my time more effectively. :)


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