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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 happily lives 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!

Pros

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.

Cons

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 http://mysteryshop.org/ 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?

See results

Comments

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    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      You are most welcome Free2writ3. Maybe someday you can give mystery shopping a shot since you know what it's all about now?!

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      teaches12345,

      Thanks for the comments about the pics. Jane Doe thought they might be rather boring, but that first picture of the dessert is anything but boring!!! It looks like a real delicious experience for the taste buds! And it was free to boot so you can't beat that!

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      pstraubie48,,

      I have a hard time keeping my emotions off my face, so unlike you, I probably would blow the sleuth thing!!! LOL. I would be so nervous i am sure they would know and the jig would be up as they say! Thanks for the comment!

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      Tillsontitan,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. The best advice I can give after writing this article is not to pay anyone a fee to become a mystery shopper, and check out the website mentioned to get in on the real deal!

    • Free2writ3 profile image

      Free2writ3 5 years ago from Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania

      I have heard a lot about mystery shopping. I had no clue what it was about. Thanks for sharing.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I have worked in marketing and know the fun time a person can have being a mystery shopper. Love your hub and the photos that enrich your content and point.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 5 years ago from sunny Florida

      This is sounds interesting and if I lived closer than a 45 minute drive to a large enough city to be one I would sign up. I like 'cloak and dagger' stuff. It would be so much fun to be a sleuth, of sorts. Thanks for sharing this detailed account of Jane Doe's experiences.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      Very interesting. I keep getting emails asking me to be a mystery shopper but think they are scams. Like you I'm not sure about the details and a "travel time frame". This was a very informative article and great read.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      Wow that must have been uncomfortable. I didn't know that was something that could happen. Good to know for future mystery shoppers. Thanks for your comment innerspin!

    • innerspin profile image

      Kim Kennedy 5 years ago from uk

      I enjoyed reading this, Karen, as it brought back memories. For a while, I did mystery shopping, and got to learn about some of the psychology of sales. The pay wasn't terrific but it was an interesting experience. Only got caught out once when I was sent to two shops with the same owner, and met the same member of staff at both outlets. Oops. Had to keep a straight face and make a swift exit.

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you Frank fur kind comment. Yes, there are scams everywhere I guess. It just pays to be cautious and research things before jumping in. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 5 years ago from Shelton

      Karen I too never heard of this type of work but it sounds like a blast.. although I heard of scams featuring this type of work: But I guess scams can be found in most anything.. also the advice to future mystery shoppers here... valuable.. bless you Karen :) Frank

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      carter06,

      You're welcome. And thanks for the votes and sharing. I didn't know the ins and outs of mystery shopping till I gathered the info. for this hub. I used to think it was something I wanted to do. Probably won't fit into my lifestyle though.

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      ComfortB,

      I didn't know Groupon offered Mystery Shopping, and the votes. I really thought it was a better opportunity than what it seems, but youa re right, I think it varies with the person. It would be great for someone who's retired and has the time, and wants the perks of free meals, etc. Thanks for the votes!

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      donnah75,

      Thanks for your comment. I had always known that it was legitimate but didn't know the perks were not very good financially. Apparently you have to be very good with details and keeping organized, both of which I am not, so it's not for me! LOL! But for a person who wants a few perks for their family and has the time to do it, it sounds like it could be fun.

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      This work sounds like it could be fun as well...and seems plenty of perks on offer...I didn't know what a mystery shopper did, thanks for explaining it...voted up & interesting & shared...cheers

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 5 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      This is very interesting. You've really dealt well with this subject. I guess being a mystery shopper is not all it's cracked up to be, or maybe the experience varies with the person.

      I had looked into it a while ago with Groupon and some other company. And the not knowing when and where ahead of time turned me off.

      Thanks for this useful hub. Voted Up too.

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      What an interesting job. I have often seen ads for mystery shoppers, but I never thought it was legitimate. It might be one of those things that is fun to check out and try. Great topic. Voted up, useful and sharing.

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      Hi Josh!

      Thanks for commenting. I always thought it would be something I would like to do. Free stuff for observing people in their place of business sounded okay to me. I love free stuff. But when I talked to Jane Doe and heard how complicated things were in terms of timing and a list of things you need to observe, and 30 minutes to fill out a report, etc. it suddenly dropped way down on my list. She seems to enjoy it, and that's great. But I think it's not for me. I am not good with small details. I'm much better at seeing the big picture!

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Karen,

      Very fascinating article here! I do not know much about this subject, but I am always very interested in it. Thanks for sharing Karen!