So You Think You Want to Be a Mystery Shopper?

So you think you want to be a mystery shopper?

Here are a few things you should know before you begin.

It takes money to make money.
You will need money before you begin taking on mystery shopping assignments. Most assignments require you to make a purchase of an item that can cost anywhere from $5 to $200, depending on the nature of your shop.
Your shop fee will generally be only enough to cover the cost of the item purchased. Few assignments pay a fee and offer a reimbursement of the purchased item. More often than not, you will get one of the two, not both.

Be patient, you will not get rich quick.
You will not be reimbursed or paid immediately. As with other work, the mystery shopping companies make scheduled payments. Most often, you will be paid for your work the month following the date of the actual assignment. For instance, if you were to complete a shop on May 25, you would not receive payment for the shop until after June 15th.

You are an independent contractor.
As a mystery shopper, you are considered an independent contractor. You are not an employee of the mystery shopping companies. Therefore, you are responsible for any all taxes on the income you earn. Some companies will issue a 1099 statement if they pay you more than $599.99 in a year. Others will not. Regardless of this, you will be required to report your earnings on your taxes.
You are not entitled to benefits and the companies do not guarantee that work will be available on a daily or even monthly basis.

You work at your own risk.
As a mystery shopper, it is your job to evaluate the customer service that has been provided. This means that you will be subject to some very poor customer service. This could translate into something as simple as a rude attendant to a bad haircut, or, at worst, damage to your vehicle or property. You must be prepared to accept this risk if you want to do these kinds of shops. The company you are shopping for cannot be held liable for any damages you may incur. Be sure to read the independent contractor agreement carefully before signing on as a shopper.

Shoppers require skills.
Although anyone can be a shopper, the work does require some basic skills. You must be able to communicate well verbally as well as in written format as each assignment will require you to interact with company employees. You must be able to follow sometimes complex and detailed instructions. Every company will have its own set of standards that must be met. The assignments will also require you to purchase certain items, do or say certain things and observe specific behaviors. Sharp memory skills are a must. You cannot take physical notes during your shop as this would tip you off as a shopper. You must be able to recall in detail facts, figures, names, colors, etc. Confidentiality must be maintained. No one must know that you are a shopper or what companies you are shopping. Your evaluations will need to be free from opinion and emotion. For instance, rather than stating, “The overweight sales person ignored me.” You would state something like this. “The sales associate did not greet me within 2 minutes of my arrival.” Above all, organization is a must! The sales receipts, evaluations and instructions from each assignment will need to be kept for varying lengths of time, depending on the company you are working with and accurate records are essential at tax time.

Some tools of the trade:
In order to complete your shops effectively, you will need some or all of the following:
A watch with a second hand, preferably digital, to get an accurate count of waiting time, shop length, etc
A stop watch – for the most accurate accounting of wait time to the second
A digital Camera – some shops require a photograph
A printer – to print the paperwork required to complete a shop
Access to a fax machine or scanner – receipts, business cards, brochures, etc will often need to be faxed or emailed in
Access to the internet for online shop submissions
A debit or credit card – as some shops require you purchase items with a card
A legitimate Email address – most shop opportunities will be emailed to you
A Pay Pal account – Many companies make payments to shoppers using Pay Pal only and will not send payment any other way.

Legitimate Mystery Shopping Companies are FREE
Most importantly, legitimate mystery shopping companies will not charge you to sign up with them. Beware of links to companies that will give you access to a ‘database’ of mystery shopping companies for only X amount of dollars! The information they are sharing with you is readily available for free to anyone who needs it from the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). At the MSPA website,, you will find a list of many legitimate mystery shopping companies. Shoppers can find available work in their geographic location under the shoppers tab on the MSPA website. MSPA also offers training and certification.

For more information on what it takes to be a mystery shopper, check Cathy Stucker’s website Cathy has literally written the book on mystery shopping. In fact her book The Mystery Shoppers Manual is the only book for mystery shoppers endorsed by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association:

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