Four Tips for Becoming a Successful Mystery Shopper

Guest post by Mystery Shop Mom

For several years, I have been following frugal blogs to help my family save money. More recently, however, I decided to become proactive and actually help make my family some money. I wanted the extra income but not the extra time away from my family. That is when I delved into the world of mystery shopping. Here are some tips to help you decide if mystery shopping is for you and, if so, how you can get started.

1. Understand the Realities of Mystery Shopping

If you are expecting to put in little or no effort to get paid and receive free goods, you need to adjust your expectations. Mystery shopping does require time and effort but, in my experience, I have been pleased with the reward for my work.

Additionally, you should not expect to get fine-dining and five-star hotel shops in your first months of shopping. You have to prove yourself to the companies with small jobs before you will be entrusted with the more luxurious ones.

2. Decide Your Purpose for Mystery Shopping

Do you need to make some serious cash or are you shopping for a little supplemental income? There are people who have actually quit full-time jobs to full-time mystery shop. I am, however, enjoying a little extra income and the extra space in our food and entertainment budget thanks to the grocery and restaurant shops I have been able to do.

After you sign up with companies and see how much shops pay, set monthly goals for yourself. Decide how much time you want to put into finding jobs, shopping and writing reports to determine how much income you would like to have per month.

3. Sign Up With Numerous Legitimate Mystery Shopping Companies

Most legitimate companies will be members of the MSPA, the international Mystery Shopper Provider Association. Currently, scammers have caught on to the names of legitimate companies and are using them in emails they are sending. You should never sign up with a company through a link you receive in your email.

Most importantly, you should never pay a company a fee to shop for them!

Resources exist to help you sort through these companies. I have compiled a list of companies that I have shopped and name some resources on my blog Sense to Shop. Always go directly to the legitimate website and sign up that way. The more companies you sign up with, the more opportunities you will have.

4. Branch Out of Your Comfort Zone

When you first sign up, you are probably not going to immediately get offers to shop your favorite restaurant or retail store. Be willing to take some jobs that involve some different locations or tasks than those to which you are accustomed. I have found some of my favorite shops by doing just this!

Mystery Shop Mom is a behavioral therapist turned stay-at-home mom of two amazing children ages two and six months. She enjoys spending time with her wonderful children and husband and partnering with him in ministry at the church where he is Associate Pastor.

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Comments

  1. Melissa N says

    I’d like to add a few things, if you don’t mind. Mystery shopping takes TIME. Many shops do not allow you to bring children with you – they can and will check business’s security camera footage to see if you are alone. So if you are home with the kids all day, that limits you right off the bat as to which shops you can accept. Also, most shops require extremely detailed reports – even if kids and husband are allowed to go, you often are not really “present” with them as you must note and secretly record sometimes dozens (yes, dozens) of criteria. A Mexican dinner with a $65 reimbursement, including margaritas and/or beer, might sound like an awesome, free night out, but be prepared to be constantly “working” during your meal, taking hidden time measurements, finagling names out of managers, hostesses, servers, and busboys without directly asking, wandering the restaurant looking for several types of advertising, and sometimes even “creating” a problem that you ask the waiter to fix. Then you come home and spend a good hour (often much longer) filling out a report (most shops require report submission 8-12 hours after the shop, so you can’t go to bed without spending the time right then) and uploading reciepts.

    I did mystery shopping for a few years before kids and about 18 months after my daughter was born, and even with the free food, decided it just was not worth my time for the small amount of money. I never made any “real money” (maybe a few hundred a year when I was jobless and childless), but we did enjoy the free food. Again, though, it was quite a buzzkill to have to come home from a date and immediately sit at the computer for a couple of hours, worrying if I’d missed something I was supposed to note.

    This is just my personal opinion and experience. I think when the kids get older I might try to work some shopping in again. We did get a lot of free pizzas from Papa Johns – their report was a snap to fill out every time! =)

    • says

      I agree with Melissa.. I too worked as a shopper for about 7 months with an income of $270. From that was gas, time and energy. Some jobs pay as little as $6 with the expectation of an hour or so after to fill out accurately and with proper English, the report to be sent in that same evening. If the report is not on time they can refuse to pay you and some of these reports are very long and detailed. The highest paid job I had was for $17 at a motorcycle shop. You have to have a good memory or REALLY good at hiding your written notes in order to keep track of several names of workers in stores and check-out people, as well as describing how each responded to you as a shopper, the cleanliness of the store, bathroom, signage etc. It was fun to begin with, but quickly lost its sparkle! :o) Fun if you have nothing else to do with your time. Also no children are allowed for most shops.

    • Stephanie says

      I completely agree with Melissa. I also enjoyed doing mystery shops to get free food at restaurants that we would not normally visit and my husband enjoyed it too. However, it would always take for me at least 2 hours to write an essay about the experience and fill out the survey when we got back. It was extremely long for a couple of ice cream sundeas or even a fancy dinner. I agree that it was a buzzkill to have to come home and spend several hours at the computer. Then, several times I would get the report back and get nasty comments about my report or that I was missing something that I was not told to include. After an extremely poor grade on a recent report I decided to forget it. Spending several hours working on it and to be sniped at was not for me. Maybe it was the wrong company but it does not make me want to try others.

    • Emily says

      Melissa, would you mind sharing how you found the Papa Johns shops? Is there a specific company they work with and, if so, would you mind sharing the name? That sounds right up my alley and I’d love to give it a try!!

      • says

        Emily, There are a TON of companies that do these shops. I get emails begging me to do them weekly. Per my IC Agreement I cannot disclose which companies shop specific clients. I will say that I have reviewed a company or two that does these shops on my blog.

  2. says

    Great article! My mom (and I for a short time) used to edit the mystery shop reports before they went to the clients. Another tip for potential mystery shoppers: PLEASE employ some grammar skills when you write your reports!!! My mom would read us ridiculous things on some of the reports she had to edit. Sometimes, people wrote so poorly that you couldn’t even understand what they were trying to say! While editing was her job, it was obvious that many shoppers had just slopped down a few sentences as fast as they could without really giving it a good effort.

    • Allison says

      How did you get the editing job? Was it through a mystery shopping company or through an outside company? Thanks!

  3. Mary S. says

    One tip I have that goes along with #4, if you have done a certain shop before and really didn’t enjoy it or felt the pay wasn’t worth the work involved, don’t take that shop again. Try most things once but don’t feel obligated to do it again if it just wasn’t for you.

    Also, when you are traveling be sure to look for shops in airports/along the way. I was able to get a meal at the airport for myself and some snacks for the rest of my family last time we flew and the airport had free wi-fi so I was able to finish up the report while waiting for the plane. Airport food is so expensive so it was definitely worth it and the airport shops often get bonused because not everyone has access to airports.

  4. Jen says

    I have been a Mystery Shopper for over 10 years and really enjoy it. At one point I worked F/T and made good money. Yes many of these reports do take time to do. I always looked at it as a way that I could stay at home with my kids, and make extra money. I was also on the other end and was an editor. I didn’t make as much money on that end, and so it didn’t last long. Another great site is Volition.com to find companies. Good luck.

  5. joanne says

    I am retired now from mystery shopping. It can bring in a good extra income though. I do want to say that there are certain companies that pay on the really low side and I do mean LOW side. Sign up with lots so you can pick and choose for sure. I would get 9 and 10′s on most of my shops. Some companies give you a “grade”. There was one company that would give me a hard time after every shop. I finally told them not to email me anymore. They had actually would want me to make more of a “story” than I could. They wanted me to elaborate on one part but there was absolutly nothing more to say on it. So just watch out for the “difficult” shopping companies and avoid them. It is not worth it to me to risk getting reimbursed for a $50 dinner because the company seems to be looking for a reason not to pay you. I onec did apt shops for cirrus marketing and they refused to pay me because they had me do 4 shops in one day. I went to four different apartment shops and by the time I arrived at the fourth one it was obvious to ME they knew I was a shopper. The guy showing me the upscale apt was downright rude but I kept my cool. The company mentioned above was not going to pay me. After a few calls to the owner they did finally pay me. I never took a job with them again even though it was offered to me. I was like “Hey I held up my end of the deal, now you need to pay me.”

    • Wendy says

      Yes, I decided to try this a while back and did four shops without getting paid for ANY of them. All from valid companies (suggested on this site), too. Three just never contacted me again and wouldn’t return phone calls or emails, the fourth required proof (in the form of a UPC # from a specific item in the store) that I had been there. Problem was, the store I mystery shopped was a MESS, and they had the wrong item in that spot, so I got the wrong UPC #. Despite having pictures, names, written documentation of all the issues that store had, and an explanation of why I couldn’t give them the exact # they wanted, they refused to pay me. Plus, since I’m sure they thought I was making it all up, I bet they threw out my report too (and the store got away with being a huge mess).

  6. says

    I’ve been mystery shopping for years. It takes time to find the right companies and the shops that are worth doing. I’ve done restaurant shops that the first commenter mentioned that are not worth it due to the time it takes to fill in the report. However, I work with several companies that don’t require very long reports and I can get them done in less than 30 minutes.
    Also, I do grocery store mystery shopping. There is a lot of information you have to collect for these, but the reports are simple and they pay a small amount towards your groceries. They are my favorite ones to do, but definitely can’t take the kids on these. They get super bored while I’m walking all over the store getting the info I need :)
    I don’t think, from my experience it’s possible to really make an income from mystery shopping. However, it is possible to get a few meals, car washes, groceries, etc for free with minimal work.

  7. Cheryl says

    I just signed up with a Mystery Shopper company, and the one thing I have to consider is the cost of gas. They pay $10 per shopping trip, and if gas is $3-4 gallon, and I get 12 miles per gallon, then a trip of 20 miles round trip makes my profit around $3-4 dollars. Just a consideration for those thinking about mystery shopping. Consider carefully your time and assets required to fulfill the requirements.

  8. Elizabeth says

    I’ve been mystery shopping with three different companies, Market Force, Trend Source and National Shopping service and have relly enjoyed it. My reasons for singing up were to get a little extra money since I’m a stay at home Mom and so that we would eat out every now and then, because we are penny pinchers and never ever pay to eat out. I singed up for National shopping service becasue they do Papa Johns and we love pizza. We get free pizza delivered to our door and sometimes get a little bonus $5-10 (one time we got $17 because they needed it done so badly!) and their questionare is really easy and quick to fill out. Market Force does Mcdonalds, Sonic, Ihop, five guys burgers and fries and a few other fastfoods. So far I’ve only done one shop with Trend Source and it was also a papa johns. I’ve been paid by all three companies and have never had any problems with any of them. If you have any questions, please fee free to ask.

    • says

      Thanks for your post. It gave me more specifics on where to look to get started. I went on the websites of the companies that you gave and I’m interested to see what happens when they get back to me. Thanks again.

    • Emily says

      Yes thanks for including the names of those companies and what restaurants each one does. I had only ever been able to find Focus on Service, which handles Longhorn Steakhouse shops. I signed up and have done one shop there and have just requested my second one. The report was kind of detailed, but I took my whole family with me (including 2 kids under 5 at the time) and I had no problem completing it. It helped that my husband was a server during his college years and helped me out a lot during the meal!! WHat I really liked about it is that you get a bonus if you complete your survey within a certain time frame, which was not hard to do. THanks again for the names of those companies…..I’m off to go check them out. We LOVE Five Guys, so I’d love to get a shop there.

    • says

      The Independent Contractor agreement that you sign with each company prohibits you from giving information that links a company with a specific client. Please be careful not to jeopardize your mystery shopping status by doing this!

  9. Tracy says

    Hi everyone, just a quick question. I have done some Mystery Shopping but none of the companies I use request your Social Security Number. I noticed that some of these do. Has anyone had any issues/concerns?

    • Elizabeth says

      All three of the companies I use (been mystery shopping for about half a year now) requested my SSN because they need it for tax purposes. I only signed up for companies that were recommended on this blog though so I felt safe doing so.

      • says

        Tracy- Yes, many of them (especially through the SASSIE system) do request it for tax reporting reasons. I have felt comfortable giving it to the companies who are MSPA members as these companies are generally “screened” well. You can always check out a companies track record on the MS boards at volition.com.

      • Katie says

        All of the companies I signed up for (about 10) required my ssn. I only shop for about 3 companies on a regular basis now because they have the shops I want. I didn’t give out my ssn lightly though. I signed up for the companies on the list of 18 that was posted last year on here. I also sign up by seeing what shops are listed on the job board at Volition.com. If I’m unfamiliar with the company, I check the company out with the BBB. I do not sign up unless I can find valid information on BBB and the company has a good rating.

  10. TheApril says

    I’ve been doing some mystery shopping and have found it an easy way to bring in some extra cash. Last Thursday, I went out after my husband got home to watch the baby. I left at four and was done by 8. I did 6 shops. It took me an hour and a half to put in the reports, so five and a half hours total and I made $92. I don’t count drive time to my first place or from the last place (which was 30 min total), since my job doesn’t pay my drive time I don’t think it is comparing apples to apples.

    The key to making the bigger dollars is to sign up with A LOT of companies. I’m currently signed up with almost forty. The above mentioned trip, I shopped for three different companies. The way I plan my trips is this:
    1. Look for the desperate schedulers. If you are signed up for the email alerts, there is usually someone screaming for help. I have to make so much money an hour for it to be worth my time. So, I wait for the bonused shops. Usually, in my area, there are two or three bonused shops a week I can pick up if I want. I mark down the available days to do the bonus shops. I don’t sign up for them just yet, though.
    2. I look for filler shops. These pay less, but are close to where my bonused shops are and have shorter reports.
    3. I look for a dining shop. All this running around is making me hungry. Why pack a snack when you can get paid for it?
    4. Sometimes I will notice there is a cluster of filler and diner shops on a certain day. If the cluster is in the area of my bonused shops, I will run back over to my bonus shops and sign up for that day and then top off with my filler/diner shops.

    This way, I am not making special trips across town. I am also maximizing my time by scheduling around the biggest money-makers.

    Btw, I don’t live in a metropolitan area. Sometimes, it pays more to live in a smaller town because the companies don’t have a steady supply of reliable shoppers and are willing to pay more to get the job done at all.

    • Katie says

      I do what April does and try to schedule multiple shops in a day. I usually have to wait until weekends though, so I’m limited at times. In November, I left my house at 8am on a Saturday and was done with 4 shops by 9:15. I made a total of $74 that day. 3 of those shops had lengthy reports, but I think I did them in about 1.5 hours. I also like the grocery mystery shops. I’m currently signed up for 5 of them over a 2 day span. I’ll get tons of free groceries! Oh, I look for the desperate ones that are bonused too.

        • Katie says

          You are supposed to claim any misc income. The companies only send something out or have you fill out a form if you earn $600 (I think). I didn’t start mystery shopping until June last year, and I did not make $600 between all my companies. I did keep all of the money I made mystery shopping in a special account. I used it to pay cash for vacations and saved some for taxes. I’m self-employed (home daycare), so I know to save some money away for taxes. Sometimes it’s hard to know what you actually made. For example, the grocery shops I complete only pay $5 each. They reimburse $9 though. If I only did those shops 4 times a month, my actual income would only be $240.

          You have to claim the income but not the reimbursements.

          I’ll say one thing for bonuses–I just signed up to do a 20-min shop that requires about 15 mins to complete the survey, and I’ll get paid $24 for it. The bonus was the same amount of the shop!!!

  11. Katie says

    I’ve also shopped with Market Force and Trend Source. Market Force doesn’t have a lot of shops in my area. I did complete some for some teenage/young adult clothing stores, and they gave me a headache. I have chosen not to complete any more of them. Trend Source is my favorite. I also like Second to None. I’ve completed bank shops or easy gaming shops. They pay more than others. The one company I’m not very happy with right now is Bestmark. They were the first company I started with, but I’m tired of filling out long surveys for them. I fill out surveys for 2 hours for restaurant shops that only reimburse half the amount that the dinner costs. They also nitpick and gripe at me for my comments even though I write substantial narratives. They don’t include all the information in the instructions.

  12. Sakura says

    I’ve been signed up as a Mystery Shopper for a couple of years now. The shops I did were open shops. This means that I let the manager know who I am and what I’m doing and looking for. I did these shops for 3 months a few years ago when my husband was out of work. Those few months help to fill the gap of shopping for groceries. I did enjoy it, but felt as though the reports took a long time. One suggestion I have is to make a copy of the report and keep it in the car. Pull over somewhere and jot down all your notes right away. This will help you when you do it online, this should make the reports a bit quicker. I don’t do the shops anymore, but I’m glad to know if I need them they are there.

  13. Amber says

    Thanks for all the comments, they have been very helpful. One question that I don’t see is…. What’s the turn-around time on payment? If I’m reading this right, you pay for a service out-of-pocket, and then get reimbursed by the companies. How quickly do you typically get reimbursed?

    • Lauren Wilson says

      Yes, you generally pay out of pocket and are then reimbursed. The reimbursement typically occurs the following month after you complete the shop. So, if you complete three shops in March, you will be reimbursed for them in April. Some companies will reimburse more or less quickly, but most of them reimburse you once a month on the same day each month.

  14. Lauren Wilson says

    My husband and I have been mystery shopping for over 7 years. We generally only shop restaurants and hotels. A few people mentioned that you constantly have to take notes during your shops and can’t enjoy yourself. I found this to be the case at the beginning, but it has become second nature to pay attention to those details. It doesn’t even feel like work at this point, and we always enjoy ourselves when we do our mystery shop dinners. We don’t receive much extra income for the shops we do, but we sometimes do as many as 3 or 4 mystery shop dinners a week. Another tip is to check out the mystery shops in cities where you are traveling. We mystery shopped one of the nicest restaurants in New York simply by looking at the shops that were available in New York with the companies we already worked for.

      • Lauren Wilson says

        Hi Emily. It takes a lot of time to work up to mystery shopping hotels. You would want to get established with the companies that mystery shop hotels and do several smaller shops first to show them that you would do a good job on the hotel shops. I would also recommend signing up for as many companies as you can, because very few companies shop hotels. The companies that do will usually advertise it on their websites, so you could select which companies you sign up for based on if they shop hotels or not. Also, you usually only get to stay in the hotel for one night, which turns a lot of people off of doing it. My husband and I have mystery shopped hotels in Kansas City where we live just to get away for a night, so it’s worth it to us.