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How to be a secret shopper and get paid

Updated on October 10, 2013

The Secret Life of a Mystery Shopper

You are probably reading this because you want to make money as a secret / mystery shopper. Maybe you just want to know what being a mystery shopper involves. I am a mystery shopper. It's my secret past time hobby. I watched that video clip at the bottom of this hub and became tempted about whether or not it was possible to earn money as a mystery shopper. I know of a couple of single moms and university students that earn decent 'pocket money' and get free meals and flights by working as a mystery shopper. So I decided to give it a shot!

A mystery shopper is an individual hired to discreetly assess the level of customer service customers are given as well as observing the overall appearance and safety of a workplace.

Do I need to pay to become a mystery shopper?

There are many mystery shopper organizations around the world. Some are in their infancy, others are well established. Not many people are forthcoming about working as a mystery shopper, therefore determining the credibility of each company can be tricky. This was one of my primary concerns until I found out about the Mystery Shoppers Providers Association. It's a way of finding ethical legitimate companies that do not charge its shoppers are a fee. Never join a company that requires a fee, good mystery shopping companies should not need its employees to pay them to work.

Is Mystery Shopping For Me?

Mystery shopping is not for everyone. I would suggest holding back on your enthusiasm and signing up to just one mystery shopping company and only take one or two jobs to begin with to get a feel for it.

How do I apply to be a mystery shopper?

Applying to be a mystery shopper takes about 30-60 minutes per organization and will either be a purely online process or a combination of a pre-online application that will prompt you to provide further information via post, email or phone call.

Once you are approved you will need to provide bank details before you can be paid. Payments may be distributed weekly, fortnightly or more commonly monthly. As I am not a fan of sharing my bank details online, I have opened up a bank account just for my mystery shopping earnings.

You will most likely have to complete a mystery shopping online manual and test before being allowed to apply for any job. The manual will train you in all aspects of being a mystery shopper from accepting your first mystery shopping assignment to your conduct whilst on a job.

Some organizations have a training program where the more training you complete online, the more likely you will be to get certain jobs. Some businesses have their own specific training guide as well that you much complete before doing any mystery shopping jobs for their company. Do as much training as you can to make yourself a potential candiate for as many jobs as possible.


How do I get a mystery shopper job?

Most jobs are offered on a first come first serve basis. On your shoppers profile you would have determined what type of jobs you are willing to accept (retail, dining, experience) and which postcodes/zip codes you are willing to drive to. When an assignment becomes available, all the shoppers who match the criteria are either emailed or the available assignment is posted on the website.

Whilst this 'first come first serve' selection process could deter newbies, it is important to note that many companies do reward good shoppers with priority listings and many secret shopper jobs are reoccurring which require a new shopper each week.


What do I need to be a mystery shopper?

Being a mystery shopper it is essential that you are prepared on any job that you go to. There are some 'tools of the trade' that will help you complete each job efficiently and accurately. Most of these items you will likely already have.

  • Timer: Most mystery jobs require you to time how long it takes a customer to be served. A watch with a second hand or a mobile phone with a clock or timer function is efficient. Remember to be discreet; don't keep staring at your watch whilst watching the staff.
  • Notepad and Pen: You will need to remember quite a lot of details after a mystery shop. I like to have a small notebook in my bag and after a shop I will go to my car or somewhere nearby and jot down some details discreetly. Alternatively, you could use your mobile phone notes function for this and in reality relying on your phone will just make you blend in, as it seems every second shopper these days are preoccupied with their cell phones whilst shopping!
  • Unbiased Attitude: Don't go into an assignment already expecting it to bring negative results based on prior experiences. Alternatively, if you are already a local customer at one of the places that you are doing a mystery shop, and already have a repertoire with the staff, don't let that have any bearing on your results.

How much money will I make as a mystery shopper?

There's a false myth amongst some people that mystery shopping is a high paying job. That's not really the case. Without giving away the business names, one of my first jobs was for a sandwich chain. The payment was around $10, plus reimbursement of my meal. That's not a great amount, but as it is a location that I pass daily , I accepted the job as it worked to my advantage and the whole mystery shopping job would have taken around 10 minutes to complete.

When you first start out as a mystery shopper you will likely be eager to accept all the jobs you can get. This may not necessarily be a good idea. Always consider the cost of fuel and try and opt for jobs that are local for you.

Being an objective mystery shopper is not optional

On any mystery shop, you need to wipe the slate clean and need to provide results on just that one shopping experience. However, if on this one occasion you have received a bad level of service, but ordinarily receive good service, you could note that under the 'any other comments' section on your questionnaire. I was quite surprised that the level of service I received today was unsatisfactory as ordinarily the level of service I am given is above average.

Final mystery shopping tips

Mystery shopping can be a fun way to earn some extra money. Be honest when completing your mystery shopping jobs, but make sure your comments are always in context and always fair. For example, if have been waiting 15 minutes to be served by a fast-food checkout operator have a look around you to see what could have been the cause for this. Were the staff being lazy or was the outlet understaffed?

At the end of the day, mystery shoppers need to be mindful that they are critiquing someone's work and their can be implications on that employee, so always conduct yourself in a fair and ethical manner.


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