How to Be a Savvy Mystery Shopper

Becoming a mystery shopper sounds like a dream come true from the commercials and advertisements bombarding us today. The idea is presented as a way to make money in a fun and easy way. Although not a full-time opportunity so you can quit your day job, for most, it can simply be a very lucrative hobby.

Many, if not most, of today’s service and retail companies spend considerable amounts from their marketi research and R&D budgets in hopes of increasing their levels of customer service; they do these by contracting with mystery shopping companies to set a standard shopping report to be ‘graded’ on. The mystery shopping companies then locate and deploy their shoppers to complete these assignments. This is where mystery shoppers come in!

Mystery shopping companies are looking for people from a diverse age range and background. You do not have to fit any specific consumer category, but you do have to know how to shop undercover, and this takes practice. Almost all assignments require that you do not reveal your identity as a mystery shopper, as this can affect the outcome of the report. All of your specific interactions, expectations, and even questions asked will be predetermined in your guidelines, and you will receive this information well beforehand. You will always have the tools to be prepared before your mystery shop.

Still, there are some key skills that mystery shopping companies searching for when selecting shoppers for assignments. These include shopper reliability, time management skills, having a fairly open availability, having a strong internet and phone connection to get in touch with you whenever needed, and your ability to write well. It is very important that mystery shoppers understand the guidelines and specific details of every shop they perform. This ensures that not only does the assignment not have to be reassigned, but also that you get paid! By having access to the internet, you can easily get the information you need for any assignment, and also enter your report. Most companies require a 12-24 hour turnaround time between your assignment completion and entering the report. If you don’t meet their specific guidelines, it is likely you will not be paid and even removed from their database if it happens too often!

Just as you are ‘grading’ the shops and companies that you are assigned to, you are also building experience and even a ‘grade’ as a mystery shopper. Many companies give numerical grades after you submit your report so that you know what you are doing right (or wrong!). Some even add comments, and these help you get more assignments from the same company in the future. It’s here that you can really begin to get strong experience, and your chances of reassignment become increasingly better over time and successful shops.

Databases of shoppers maintained by companies are always changing; there is a huge need for seasoned shoppers, so the more experience and diverse types of shopping assignments you have, the more likely it is that you will be assigned higher-paying shops. Shop payments can range from just the cost of reimbursement of a purchase, up to all-expenses paid trips on a cruise! However, the standard shop rate for retail or service assignments is between $8-$15 depending on location. If the mystery shopping company regularly updates their available shops, it is wise to stay updated by logging in frequently. This can be especially lucrative when deadlines are approaching and there are unfilled shops; during these times, bonuses or increased commissions are always available. Usually this would require you to perform the shop within the next day or upcoming week, so this is a good opportunity if you have some extra time!

Do make sure you complete any training modules or overviews that the company provides for a specific chain, company, or assignment. These are resources for you to use as you perform the assignment, and will greatly affect your report and your ability to complete it as required. Sometimes there are short tests or exams to take after a training slideshow, for example, just to make sure that you understand the specifics of an assignment! The depth of these trainings depends on the mystery shopping company you are working with; some require it, while others give you a standard guideline worksheet and wait to see how you do. Whatever the case may be, it is important to read all the details and even get in touch with your contact person with any questions.

So now you have the background and expectations on becoming a mystery shopper. How do you get actual assignments? The first step is to register online with various mystery shopping companies. An easy way to find these is by doing a simple internet search on Google or After a little searching, you’ll find many, many companies that have assignments available in your area! Your registration should not cost anything; be warned of mystery shop scams where a registration fee is required to ‘enter a database’ of shops. It is rare that you will actually be assigned from these databases, so be prepared. It’s important that you look for companies that are legitimate, so run it through the Better Business Bureau if you have to. Another excellent resource is the site This features a complete mystery shopping forum, links to mystery shopping companies in alphabetical order, and other tips and skills for you as a mystery shopper. The key to being savvy is to seek out strong companies, stay updated on trends in the mystery shopping world, and increase your skills as you do more assignments. Browsing member forums is a great way to ‘meet’ others who are working for other companies, and even a great way to vent about bad assignments!

After registration is complete, you will be upated either via e-mail, or given a login name and password to enter the database. Most companies have easy search features on their site that let you look up all available assignments within a given zip code, territory, or state. Some allow shoppers to self-assign, but this is usually a privilege to only the seasoned shoppers or top performers. When the company assigns shoppers, it will ask you to ‘express interest’ in a shop that you can tentatively perform. After reviewing available shoppers, they will confirm the assignment either by e-mail or a phone call, at which point you can accept or decline the shop. Whatever the case may be, do take the steps to learn about the company’s process, and be aware of the deadlines, rotation of shoppers and assignments, and staying in touch with your scheduler.

One final area of interest to all potential and current mystery shoppers is an international organization called the Mystery Shopping Providers Assocation at It is a professional trade association, and is focused on growth of the mystery shopping networks available. This is the most extensive site and online resource center, and features conferences and seminars throughout the year. The association also gives you the ability to be certified as a Silver or Gold shopper. Certification is possible after taking an exam, and you will be given a code that can be entered with all mystery shopping companies in recognition of your achievement. By achieving certification, you do increase your chances and status as a mystery shopper and gain significant advantage by being assigned high-paying, frequent shops!

The world of mystery shopping awaits you as you learn the steps and acquire skills to be the best! It is important to keep in mind that different areas of the country, and world, have more or less assignments than others. Rural areas and places with limited retail and service industries will likely have low levels of shops available, and will not be potentially lucrative. However, larger cities and extensive retail outlets will bring lots of opportunity to even the beginner mystery shopper, so keep up to date on what is available in your area and get started today!

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