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Work at Home: Profile of Mystery Shopper Jane Doe

Updated on September 17, 2017
Karen Hellier profile image

Karen Hellier is a freelance writer and eBay entrepreneur. She lives happily in the mountains of North Georgia with her husband and her dog.

Free desserts during a mystery shopping dinner. Yummy!!!
Free desserts during a mystery shopping dinner. Yummy!!!

Mystery shopper Jane Doe enjoys contributing to her family's budget by getting free dinners in area restaurants, free bowling, free movies and free products by providing a secret service for area businesses. Jane Doe is not her real name, but if I mentioned her real name, she would no longer be a mystery to area businesses!

Business Snapshot

Jane Doe is employed as an independent contractor by more than one dozen companies who hire mystery shoppers, or "secret shoppers" as they are often called. She has been a mystery shopper for the past 5 1/2 years. She can do more mystery shops if she is not working a part-time job on the side. Over the past few years, she has held part-time jobs off and on. Each day, she receives emails from these companies informing her of the "shops" available in her area. She can choose to take these shops in some instances, or she can apply and wait to hear if she is awarded the shop in others. She has completed a variety of mystery shops in numerous types of businesses. These businesses include restaurants, grocery stores, services such as computer repair, spas, banking, and oil changes. She has gone to at movie theaters and bowling. Jane has done retail shopping for various items including clothing, housewares, gardening supplies, sporting goods, pet supplies, ice cream and even chocolate! Stores that hire mystery shoppers are large chain stores and restaurants.

Once Jane is awarded a mystery shop, she first goes over the instructions thoroughly and often takes notes which she keeps hidden if the shops are very detailed. That way she will be able to check back on her notes to make sure she is obtaining all the information a company is seeking. Some companies want names and descriptions of employees who assist her in a store. Others want exact times to the exact second such as in a fast food restaurant. She is sometimes able to book 2 or 3 mystery shopping jobs in one day if they are close enough to each other geographically. Depending on the job at hand, it may take 30 - 60 minutes to complete a mystery shopping assignment, or in the case of a fine dining assignment, maybe 1 - 2 hours. It takes under 30 minutes if the job is for a fast food company. Part of accepting a mystery shopping assignment is to make sure she allows enough time in her schedule to complete the job accurately. This includes travel time, shopping time, as well as time to complete paperwork which includes filing reports online, usually within 12 hours of the shopping experience. The paperwork required is usually several pages long, but she can see the report before the mystery shop experience, so she knows what questions will be asked and therefore what observations to make during the experience. All of the reports are due online, and receipts for purchases must be saved and scanned to be sent in with the report. Filing a mystery shopping report takes approximately 30 minutes each. Filing reports get easier with the more experience a mystery shopper has.

Personal Snapshot

Jane Doe is 53 years old, married, and has two children. Her daughter is 23 and graduated from college and is now living independently and working as a teacher. Her son is in his third year of college and comes home during summer breaks to work. She first became interested in becoming a mystery shopper when her daughter was 18 and suggested that it would be a good occupation for her. Jane did some research and decided to research mystery shopping online, and jumped in with gusto!


According to Jane, the pros of this job are that she has complete control over her schedule. She enjoys easing the family budget with the income, and from the perks and reimbursements from the companies, she does secret shopping for. She and her husband have gone on "date nights" that they probably could not have afforded to take otherwise due to the high financial costs of having two children in college at the same time. She also enjoys seeing the results of feedback she gives to the companies she shops for. They have gone to restaurants they probably would not have tried without being a mystery shopper and gone bowling and to the movies.


Jane states that one of the major cons to mystery shopping is that she gets a lot of emails for shops that she would never want to do because she is not interested in the company, they are too far away, etc. The companies do not have filters to sort out the exact type of shopping experiences a mystery shopper is willing to do. She also feels that another con is staying up late to complete a lengthy report on a mystery shopping experience at a restaurant or bowling alley to get the information in by the required period because it has a tight due date. Also, although mystery shopping can be a fun experience, the pay is low. Often, you get fully reimbursed for items you are requested to buy. But sometimes you don't get reimbursed for the total cost of an item you were expected to buy, but only a small payment, which will not cover the total cost of a clothing item in a nice store. In a case like that, Jane looks at the experience of having a coupon for a percentage off the item, rather than getting a total reimbursement.

Financial Outlook

Each year that Jane completes mystery shopping assignments, she earns a little more. In her busiest year, which was 2010, she earned $1198 in straight pay and $2176 in reimbursements for everything she was required to purchase. Most of those reimbursements were for food and entertainment. The average total she made per shopping experience is $19, whether that be straight pay or a reimbursement. The payments and reimbursements are treated differently for tax purposes, so it's important to keep detailed financial records.

Advice to Future Mystery Shoppers

Jane suggests that someone interested in becoming a mystery shopper should beware of scams. Advertisements that require a person to pay a fee to become a mystery shopper is a scam. And mystery shopping is not about getting to complain or compliment a business that you may love, or don't like at all. It is about giving an accurate report of your observations, timing the amount of time it takes for your shopping experience including check out, and reading and following directions exactly. A mystery shopper must follow precise directions and be at the store or restaurant at the appointed time. Although some things are reimbursed, not everything is covered in total so a future mystery shopper should not expect to get all of their purchases for free.

Jane also suggests that since all reports are done online, a scanner is a must to do mystery shopping jobs correctly. A mystery shopper should also be comfortable writing reports and submit them on time. For tax purposes, all gas mileage, purchases, office supplies, pay, and reimbursement figures need to be tallied at the end of each year for tax purposes. It is also necessary to have a Pay Pal account as most companies pay through Pay Pal. There are still very few companies who pay directly through checks, but they are few and far between.

To get started in the mystery shopping business, one should check out the Mystery Shopping Provider's Association website ( MSPA) at That is the mystery shopping profession's legitimate organization. There is a list of many companies that hire mystery shoppers located on this website. Upon enrolling for each company, an application will need to be filled out. Some will ask a potential mystery shopper for a writing sample. Once accepted for work, a mystery shopper will be informed of which businesses are in need of mystery shoppers.

In conclusion, being a mystery shopper can be fun and exciting for those who like undercover work, and the perks of getting meals and items free or at a discount. But it is also hard work that for some might just not be worth the effort.

Free main course during a mystery shopping dinner!
Free main course during a mystery shopping dinner!
Free dishes from a mystery shopping trip.
Free dishes from a mystery shopping trip.
Free plastic containers and planting pots from a mystery shopping trip.
Free plastic containers and planting pots from a mystery shopping trip.
Free pjs and socks from a mystery shopping trip!
Free pjs and socks from a mystery shopping trip!

Mystery Shopping Poll

Would You Like to Become a Mystery Shopper?

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