Mystery Shopping: a Step by Step Guide

I’ve been mystery shopping for years. There are a lot of questions and misconceptions about what it is all about. I’m here to give you the real story and walk you through the whole thing.

Take the mystery out of Mystery Shopping with our amazing step by step guide!

Mystery Shopping: a Step by Step Guide

What Is Mystery Shopping?

When you become a mystery shopper, you become the honest voice of the customer to the business. You sign up as an independent contractor and you are working for that business as their objective eyes and ears.

How many times have you been at a restaurant and the service or the food was horrible but you didn’t want to be rude and say anything? Well, the restaurant owner really wants to hear what you have to say! This is a way for them to hear the truth objectively without having any feelings involved.  Enter mystery shopping to solve their questions about their business, and give you some extra funds you need for your budget.

My Experience With Mystery Shopping

I started mystery shopping a few years ago when I was in debt and having trouble paying my bills. The collectors were calling and stressing me out all day, every day. I had a good job, but I wasn’t bringing in enough money to pay for the mistakes I had made with credit cards in the years prior.

I was single, had no kids and worked a 9-5 job, so I had all weekend and every evening to do mystery shops. I signed up with a lot of different companies and started learning and making money. This allowed me to pay off those pesky collectors in a few months time.

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How Do Mystery Shopping Companies Work

Marketing companies use mystery shoppers to get that honest, objective viewpoint. And they are willing to pay for it. You sign up with mystery shopping companies and you become an independent contractor. That means they will hire you for a one-time job and they are not required to give you benefits or time off.

You still pay taxes, though. Mystery shopping companies need your social security number in order to pay you and report your earnings to Uncle Sam. This is one of the biggest misconceptions about Mystery Shopping. It is not a scam if they ask you for your social security number. Always be thoughtful and protective of your information online, but it is required for them to pay you.

Mystery Shopping Companies To Try

Start here – MSPA North America,

This is your best resource to find mystery shopping companies who have jobs in your area. They are not a mystery shopping company, but they collect job information from other companies so it is all in one place for you. You don’t have to sign up with a dozen companies just to find out they don’t have any jobs in your area. Look here first, so you sign up with companies who have jobs for you. Their job board is located here.

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Bare International

Shopper’s Critique


Service Check

Customer Impact

Types Of Mystery Shopping You Could Do

Mystery shops come in all shapes and sizes. Some examples are:

  • Restaurant shops
  • Retail shops
  • Car Wash shops
  • Oil change shops

Each shop has its own requirements and steps to follow. Some shops you need to do alone while some shops require you bring another person. Unfortunately for moms, a lot of shops don’t allow you to bring your children. I completely understand, though – I get totally distracted by my kids sometimes, especially with a crying baby or toddler.

What To Look For When Choosing A Shop

When you sign up with a mystery shopping company, you will log into their job portal. You can look through the jobs available in your area and see what is required from each shop.

Things to look for:

Location – Will you have to drive far or is it close to your home?

Time – Do you have to do the shop on a specific day or during specific hours?

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Other people – Can you bring your kids, or do you need another adult?

Pay – Does the shop pay enough for what you think your time is worth?

Once you apply to a shop and get approved, you will have access to the shop report. Look it over in detail immediately. If there is anything in the report you think you can’t do or don’t want to do, then decline the shop right away.

Tips On Completing Mystery Shops

Never pay to join a mystery shopping company. Legit companies do not ask for any type of payment. You work for them, not the other way around.

Don’t be a flake. Flaking means you just don’t do the shop. Many companies have a zero tolerance policy for flakes. This is the quickest way to get banned as a shopper from a mystery shopping company. If you won’t be able to do a shop, let the company know in advance.

Take a watch that shows seconds. You can use your phone, or a digital watch, but have something you can check the time that won’t be super obvious.

Read the shop report before you do the shop. Make sure you know all the questions you will need to answer.

Try to sign up for multiple shops on the same day in the same area and make a “route.” This will save you travel time.

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Don’t forget that you will need to fill in the shop report within 24 hours (usually).  Make sure you have the time for that. When you are starting out, it may take an hour or so for each report.

Is It Worth It?

This is the big question. Only you can answer this depending on what your life looks like right now. When you consider the travel time, research time, shop time and report time – the hourly rate could be fairly low. However, if you can’t commit to specific days and times like with an ordinary part-time job, it may work for you.

When I was mystery shopping regularly, I really liked the freedom it gave me. I could choose to do a shop or not do a shop without committing to a weekly schedule with an actual job. Now, as a mom, it doesn’t work for me as well. These days, I have to be pickier with the jobs I choose. I like to stick with shops for things I need anyway – like restaurants and car washes.

I hope this helps explain Mystery Shopping a little bit.  Have fun!

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “Mystery Shopping: a Step by Step Guide”

  1. I love mystery shopping ! I have not done it in about a year but it did generate at least $200 a month in extra income for my family and I during some tough times. I came over from the Smart Passsive income community to say hi !

    Have a great day Kristen.

  2. I loved reading your article about mystery shoppers. I have worked for a customer service/training/mystery shopping company called ProSolutions for the past 10 years. We mostly deal with the hospitality industry and do much of our mystery shopping by phone and email. Your readers are welcome to check out our webpage and review the job description for Market Research Consultants. Have a great day!

  3. Thank you for this article. I have been mystery shopping for a while and the market for the shops available has become so vast. I generally can make $300 or more a week on route shops. I love what I do and it also allows me to travel and make money to have some fun time.

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