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Mystery Shopping - Strategies That Work

Updated on April 7, 2013

Mystery Shopping Companies

Here's a sampling of some of the more reputable companies with which I am contracted:

  • BestMark
  • Beyond Hello
  • Intellishop
  • Ace Mystery Shopping

Finding the Right Company

There are allot of scams out there in the real world. Look for these things first when selecting a company.

  • Do they require any investment or monies to complete shops?
  • Do they require you to perform several shops before paying for your first shop?
  • Are they a member of MSPA (Mystery Shoppers Providers Association)?

If you can answer YES to the first two of these questions....KEEP SEARCHING! If they are a member of the MSPA - great! Just remember, you don't have to join to perform shops.

Check out a few Mystery Shopping forums for comments, both Pro and Con. There are even a few on Facebook that you can go visit before making a decision. And, if you know someone that does it already....ASK THEM! It's all about knowledge!

Reputable companies will have you fill out extensive questionaires, including your Social Security Number. This is for tax purposes only, as depending on how much you earn, the 1099 Form may be a necessity. (If you are concerned about using the Social Security Number, apply at the IRS for an EIN.) They may also inquire about where/how payments should be made to you. Most will utilize PayPal, or offer you Direct Deposit. Others still pay by check.

Always read the agreements! Don't do what most people do, and just click YES and proceed. Know what their expectations are from you and if you have questions, find out now....not later!

In the 20 years that I have been shopping, I have had only 1 bad experience with a company, and believe me, I will never go back to them. I have provided a listing of several companies that I currently work with that have been very compatible to my busy schedule.

Getting Started

Before you venture out there and sign up with a gazillion companies...set yourself up with ONE email exclusively for Mystery Shopping. Once you sign up with companies, they will be emailing you with shop opportunities as they come available. I have gotten upwards of 75 - 80 emails a day, which are hard enough to go through without sorting out the personal ones!

Like noted previously, if you are concerned about using your Social Security Number for signing up with companies, apply for an EIN through the IRS. This way you can treat you shopping as a business, which it is! (or should be!)

Do your research on the companies. While I won't do it here, in my years of experience, I have only had one company that I would absolutely REFUSE to work with again. Seasoned shoppers have that experience and you can draw from it on Mystery Shopper Forums and similar sites.

And, while you need to treat this as your business, enjoy it. If you don't have the time to shop, don't schedule it! That only adds to the pressure and you will not enjoy it, and probably will do some poor sales associate a complete injustice as you attempt to rush through your shop!

Try a variety of shops to keep it interesting. By selecting a variety of companies to contract with, you can perform shops from restaurants, casinos, hotels, sports venues....practically everything out there that is a customer service function has some sort of shop done!

Timing is Everything!

Like me, most of you lead very busy lives. With the cost of gas, you can't afford to be running all over the countryside, hither and yon, doing shops that only pay a few dollars.

I work full-time and lead an active life. I schedule my shops during lunch time or to and from work (if local) or take one of my off days exclusively for shopping. I never plan a day of shopping for less that $150 - $200. Otherwise, it's not worth time, effort, gas and aggravation from dealing with parking at malls!

So here's what you need to do to have a complete, profitable day of shops:

  • Sign up with several different companies so you have plenty of shop selections.
  • Utilize self-assignment opportunities when possible.
  • Shop stores you know.
  • Map your shops, especially if you live in the rural areas.
  • Treat this like a business...schedule each shop as an appointment, allowing plenty of time between for note making.
  • Invest in a voice recorder. (Cellphone recording is O.K. but with the voice recording you can download to your computer and literally verify the timings for specified shops.
  • Enjoy it!

And, once you get established, you might have the opportunity to take part in studies which will allow you to do one thing on a monthly basis for a flat rate. I currently have several of these working which gives me a guaranteed income until the study completes, and if you have done well, they usually offer you more opportunities! These usually run for some 6-8 months.


Pay attention to details! As I am an executive in the the retail market, much of what I am shopping is exactly what I deal with daily. You will be looking for dress codes, name tags, professional appearances, customer service oriented and more. Each company will give you precise details and forms that you can familiarize yourself with prior to your shop.

Pay attention to timing. This is where a voice recorder is wonderful. I have tried just using my cellphone, as I can hold it naturally during my shop, but I can't break it down into the seconds, which are occasionally needed. My voice recorder is about half the size of my phone and can be easily concealed for use. And, unlike most cellphones, voice recorders won't time out with no sound.

Always read your instructions carefully. Missing just one requirement can disqualify your shop. Also, be sure to complete your online report on time. The more reliable you are, the better your chances of getting offered the better shops!

Remember, it's their livelihood!


I've really just touched on the subject here, and there is lots more that could be discussed, but this will get you started. Just remember....Timing is everything in shopping. Your attitude when performing your shops will allow you to be fair in your observations. And never take a shop where you will have a conflict of interest or a predetermined impression. Most shops are done on the company, but also the person assisting you. If you had a bad experience with a company years ago, leave it at home. Chances are that the associate assisting you today wasn't even employed at the time.

Always be fair, concise and honest in your appraisals and observations. While most companies will not dismiss an employee based solely on a shop report, they do use these for training purposes and in most cases, they do become part of an employees record.

This is a serious business. It is an honest business. While it doesn't seem like much to some, to others it is their livelihood. Make it part of yours and enjoy it!

Please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or suggestion for contracting with companies.


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    • justateacher profile image

      LaDena Campbell 

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

      I started to do mystery shops not too long ago. While I am in no way making a living from it, I am having a great time with it. I love giving honest feedback - and really love it when the people I am observing are doing a great job! I also love letting people know when there are issues that need to be fixed. Great info here...voted up and interesting!


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