Telephone Mystery Shopping: Here’s How It Works

It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and, instead of cooking, you decide to order a pizza for delivery from your local pizza joint.
An employee answers the phone, takes your order, and estimates delivery to be within 30 minutes.

You hang up, only to realize you have no idea how much cash to have on hand because the pizza joint employee didn’t give you a total and you didn’t think to ask.

Had you been conducting a telephone mystery shop, you would evaluate your experience based on a set of instructions, which might include whether or not you were given a total without asking and whether the food was delivered on time as promised.

Many people instinctively associate mystery shopping with going to stores, restaurants, and other businesses to evaluate customer service, cleanliness of the establishment, and sometimes to make a purchase.

The majority of mystery shops are just like that: You go into an assigned business, follow the shop’s instructions, return home and complete the shop form, submit receipts for reimbursement, if applicable, and wait to receive payment.

However, mystery shopping isn’t confined to traditional mystery shops anymore. Video, web, and telephone mystery shops have all become popular in recent years. Many different types of companies engage the services of mystery shopping companies to perform telephone mystery shops, including automobile dealerships, apartment complexes, call centers, and any business that deals with customers over the phone.

A telephone mystery shop can help businesses answer several questions including:

• Are employees following company policies?
• Do employees need further training?
• Are employees missing opportunities to make or to close sales?
• How long did the mystery shopper (and presumably other customers) have to wait for an employee to answer the phone? Was the phone answered in a reasonable time?
• Are wait times acceptable or so long that customers or prospective customers are hanging up?
• Is the employee personable, creating conversation rather than just shooting questions at the customer or prospective customer, pressuring him to make a decision?

You may be asked to keep track of several of these issues, including noting how many times the phone rang before the employee answered; whether you were put on hold and, if you were, how long you had to wait; and whether the employee tried to close the sale.

But, businesses don’t just use telephone mystery shoppers to evaluate their businesses. Some business owners want to determine how well their competition is doing. For example, perhaps an automobile company wants to determine how quickly customers can receive an appointment for an oil change with their biggest competitor.

Telephone mystery shops may or may not be recorded, depending on the mystery shopping company and, more specifically, on the particular needs of the business that has hired the mystery shopping company. Unlike video mystery shopping, which requires you to wear video recording equipment, you do not need to borrow or to purchase equipment to successfully complete a telephone mystery shop.

One mystery shopping company, for example, simply requires mystery shoppers to call a toll free number which automatically calls the number of the business being evaluated. At the same time the system dials the phone number of the target business, it automatically begins recording the phone call. When the phone call ends, the system stops recording and the file is automatically uploaded for the mystery shopping company.

Other mystery shops may require mystery shoppers to download software onto their computers that will then allow them to record their mystery shops.

Because expensive equipment is not required and the requirements of a telephone mystery shop generally aren’t as strenuous as those of a video mystery shop, you probably aren’t going to enjoy the same high rate of pay. In fact, payment for telephone mystery shops may start as low as five dollars.

However, telephone mystery shops are popular with many mystery shoppers because they are fairly simple, do not take as much time as a video mystery shop, and the work is completed from home.

Common Mistakes
Telephone mystery shops are fairly straightforward and easy, especially since you do not have to worry about working with equipment. Be sure you complete the mystery shop on the assigned date and, if specified, at the assigned time. Otherwise, you risk not getting paid.
In addition, always take notes, even if your shop is being recorded. The last thing you want is to have a phone call from an editor asking for clarification you cannot provide.

Sample Telephone Mystery Shop
Perhaps you have been assigned a telephone mystery shop that requires you to evaluable the service of a leasing agent with a local apartment community. Let’s imagine you do not have to record your call for this particular mystery shop. You first read through the instructions of the mystery shop. You are to pretend you are looking for a new apartment, and the goal is to see whether the leasing agent attempts to set up an appointment with you to see the apartment. If he or she does, you will then miss that appointment to determine if the leasing agent follows up with you. However, when the leasing agent calls you back, you are instructed to allow the phone call to go directly to voicemail.

Because the phone call is not being recorded, it is your responsibility to take notes during the conversation. Even if the phone call is being recorded, you may still want to take notes, so you can easily answer any questions on the shop report. You will still be required to fill out a shop report, in which accuracy is essential.

Note taking is particularly important if the phone call is not being recorded, especially if you do quite a bit of mystery shopping. In addition, if an editor contacts you with a question about your mystery shop, you can quickly and easily look over your notes and provide the editor with an accurate answer.

Telephone mystery shopping can be an enjoyable and an easy way to make extra money from home. To find telephone mystery shops, check out the Mystery Shopping Providers Association Job Board at

Video Mystery Shopping: Here’s How It Works

A rapid snow storm strikes the Midwest, stranding hundreds of motorists, struggling to keep warm in frigid temperatures on deadlocked highways, and transforming normally vibrant towns into ghost towns.

Have that image in your head?

Now, which would be more powerful – the written version of the sudden snowstorm or an actual video of the line of motorists stranded in their cars, desperately trying to stay warm?

Words can be powerful and can stir emotions just as video can and does. However, video offers an even deeper picture, especially with mystery shopping, than a written or a telephone account of a shopping experience. No matter how detailed and thorough a mystery shopping report is, you cannot convey everything in words – tone of voice and demeanor, for example.

Video mystery shopping has become increasingly popular in recent years because it provides an even clearer picture to business owners of how their business is being run. It allows business owners to see an entire shop from start to finish.

All types of companies use video mystery shops, particularly those who sell high end products, such as new homes and cars. A video mystery shop allows a business owner to determine whether employees are following company policy, if employees require further training, and what customers are seeing when they interact with the employees.

Most companies require that video mystery shoppers first gain mystery shopping experience before moving into video mystery shopping. Gold certification through the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) may also be a requirement for some video mystery shopping companies. In fact, some mystery shopping companies may require you to have proven video mystery shopping experience before you are considered for an assignment.

How It Works
Video mystery shopping is essentially the same as a traditional mystery shop. The biggest differences are higher pay for the mystery shopper, increased responsibility, and the use of video equipment. You will be given instructions for your video mystery shop and will be expected to follow them exactly, just as for any other mystery shop. You will record the shop then you will typically upload the video or send the video to the mystery shopping company within a specific period of time.

Mystery shopping companies generally provide mystery shoppers with video equipment to complete assignments, which means you will accept a video assignment and wait for the company to send you the equipment. Video mystery shopping equipment is generally very small – a tiny video camera connected to a wire that is hidden in a purse, a button, or a tie. You will be trained on how to use the equipment and, if you have questions, you should contact the scheduler or the video mystery shopping company directly.

However, shoppers who do a lot of video mystery shops with different companies may opt to purchase their own equipment, which could cost between $400 and $700 or more. Because video equipment is a significant expense, your best bet is not to purchase it until you are certain that you want to continue to pursue video mystery shopping assignments. Get at least half a dozen or more video mystery shops under your belt before you invest in video equipment. One of the best reasons for investing in video equipment, if you decide that video mystery shopping is for you, is the fact that you can accept assignments and complete them without having to worry about the lag time necessary for receiving the video equipment from the mystery shopping company.

Higher pay = more responsibility
Even if the mystery shopping company provides you with video equipment, it is your responsibility to properly take care of the equipment and to make sure it works. Before you ever head to a mystery shopping assignment, test out your equipment. Are the batteries fully charged (a common mistake among novice video mystery shoppers)? If not, charge them before heading out to your assignment. If your batteries die in the middle of an assignment, you’re out of luck. You’ll either be docked in pay or receive no pay at all.

You should also do a test run using the video equipment. Equipment is so tiny you can conceal it in a purse, a buttonhole, or a tie. Once you decide where to hide the video camera, you must make sure it works. Test it out. The last thing you want is to complete a shop, only to later discover that all you recorded were images of the floor or of the ceiling (another common mistake with novice video mystery shoppers). Business owners want to see their employees’ faces and their facial expressions, not the top of their shoes.

Practice is essential with video mystery shopping, which you will get plenty of when you accept assignments. However, consider accepting a traditional mystery shop, wiring yourself with the video equipment, and going for a test run. That will allow you to assess whether you have the video recorder hidden in a good spot and will give you an idea of what to expect for your video mystery shops.

Another common mistake is either directly or indirectly trying to get the employee to do what he’s supposed to do by asking leading questions. For example, you may be conducting a new car shop in which the employee is being evaluated on whether or not he tries to upsell you a custom package that includes a subscription radio service. Avoid asking questions or making inferences to a sound system, which leads the employee and jeopardizes the integrity of the shop, which can be seen on video.

Legal Implications
You may already be aware that some states do not allow video recording of a conversation unless both parties are notified that they are being filmed. In fact, 12 states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington) require that both parties consent to being videotaped. You can still complete video mystery shops if you live in one of those states provided employees have signed an agreement, in their employment contract or upon reading their employee handbook, in which they consent to being recorded.

Get started!
If you already have some mystery shopping experience, start signing up for companies that hire video mystery shoppers. A good resource at which to start is the Mystery Shopping Providers Association ( You can also learn more from such groups as the Video Shopping Network (, which offers information and a forum for video mystery shoppers.

Top 3 High Paying Mystery Shopping Jobs

Those advertisements you’ve seen proclaiming that you can make $50,000 a year and bring home a ton of freebies all by mystery shopping only a few hours a week?

Forget them.

A select few mystery shoppers can and have made $50,000 a year but it takes far more than a few hours a week and it is hard work. One of the best ways to increase your income as a mystery shopper is to score high paying assignments. Let’s discuss three of the highest paying mystery shopping assignments then look at how to score those coveted assignments, which generally requires you to have previous mystery shopping experience.

Video Mystery Shops
Video mystery shops are the same as traditional mystery shops except for two very important details: You wear video recording equipment that records the entire mystery shop and you receive a higher fee per shop.

With the higher paycheck offered for video mystery shops also comes more responsibility. You must ensure that you complete the shop to the exact specifications and that your shop records. If your battery dies in the middle of the shop or if you only record the floor, for example, you may only earn a partial fee or no fee at all.

Companies generally prefer that video mystery shoppers have previous experience and may also require that mystery shoppers hold gold certification from the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA).

Hospitality Shops
Hospitality mystery shops, which include hotel shops, are highly coveted assignments both because of their pay and for such perks as a free night at a hotel. A mystery shopper might also be assigned to evaluate cruises, spas, casinos, or other high end travel and hospitality services. Hospitality mystery shops often include both a flat fee and reimbursement. Coyle Hospitality ( is one of the most popular mystery shopping firms that specializes in travel and other high end shops.

Hospitality and other high paying mystery shops have strict limits on how often you can conduct the shop. You may only be allowed to complete a shop with a particular hotel, for example, once a year or, in some cases, one time and that’s it. If you live in a big city, like New York or Los Angeles, that may not affect your overall potential for earnings. However, if you live in a small town or in a rural area, you will have a much harder time consistently scoring the high paying mystery shopping assignments.

Home, Apartment, and Car Shops
Big ticket items – such as homes and cars – often net higher pay for mystery shoppers. You might score an assignment to drive the latest model of a popular car, or you might be sent to pose as if you are looking to move to a new apartment or to purchase a new home. Apartment shops can be fun, if you enjoy checking out complexes in your neighborhood. You generally must go for a tour of the complex, viewing different apartment options and asking plenty of relevant questions, just as if you really were looking for a new place to live. You must follow guidelines thoroughly and look the part. For example, you may be instructed to look for an apartment that does not allow pets. If you have pets, be sure you don’t have any fur on your clothes.

The shop itself is straightforward, but apartment shops generally require much more narrative, garnering the higher pay. EPMS Online,, is only one of several mystery shopping companies that send mystery shoppers to evaluate apartments.

How to Score High Paying Mystery Shops
No matter in what industry you work, you start at the bottom. Don’t expect to score high paying mystery shops in the beginning. You, like countless mystery shoppers before you, have to earn the right to those high paying assignments. Mystery shoppers who score high paying mystery shops have extensive experience, have built a reputation based on their reliability and good work, and have the keen eye for detail necessary for complex shopping assignments.

The good news is you can work your way up to those high paying assignments and it’s pretty easy to do.

Do your job well. Mystery shoppers play an important role in how a company conducts business by providing an accurate, objective view of a particular shopping experience. Follow instructions carefully (which is also essential if you want to earn your pay). Pay careful attention to details. Complete mystery shopping reports thoroughly and accurately, proofreading your written work before you hit submit. Take your job seriously, and you will begin to develop a strong reputation as a mystery shopper.

Complete all assignments you accept. Only accept those assignments you are absolutely certain you can complete on time. Completing assignments illustrates that you are a dependable, trustworthy mystery shopper. You begin to cultivate a solid reputation, which will lead to more assignments and, in time, to more lucrative assignments.

Accept last minute assignments. Shoppers often back out of assignments at the last minute. Some have legitimate reasons, such as illness, inclement weather, or even the death of a family member. However, some shoppers are just, well, flakes and cancel or simply do not complete a shop without informing the mystery shopping company. These so-called flakes put schedulers in a bind. You, however, can be the answer to the scheduler’s problem by accepting the last minute assignments, which often include a bonus. If a scheduler knows she can count on you to complete a shop, she will likely turn to you more often.

Get certified. MSPA certification isn’t mandatory for most mystery shopping companies. However, earning silver and gold certification certainly does illustrate you are serious about mystery shopping and you have knowledge about the industry and your responsibilities.
If you really want to score those high paying assignments, you have to work at it, building your reputation and becoming known as a reliable mystery shopper. It really is that simple: Gain experience. Provide a stellar writing sample when asked. Build a reputation with the companies for which you work and, most importantly, apply to work with those companies that offer the higher paying assignments once you’ve got some experience.

The 3 Best Mystery Shopping Companies to Work For

One of the first questions a novice mystery shopper often asks is, “What are the best mystery shopping companies to work for? How do I sign up? What are my chances of being accepted into a program? Is the pay good?” Breaking into mystery shopping is probably easier than breaking into any other industry, so you really just need to decide to which companies you are going to apply for mystery shopping assignments.

What are the best mystery shopping companies for which to work? Well, the term best is subjective. One mystery shopper may love About Face while another may prefer Jancyn. As you complete more mystery shops, you will find companies for which you like working and those you prefer to stay away from.

Your best starting point for finding mystery shopping assignments from legitimate mystery shopping companies is the job board at the Mystery Shopping Providers Association website.

In this article, however, we are going to discuss three of the best mystery shopping companies to break into and for which to work.

Amusement Advantage
Amusement Advantage is probably the best mystery shopping company to work for if you want to get out there and visit amusement parks, zoos, and other entertainment venues. Getting into the system as a mystery shopper with Amusement Advantage is relatively simple. Because of the extreme popularity of the mystery shopping assignments, however, grabbing a coveted mystery shop can be much more of a challenge.

The Amusement Advantage application is rather lengthy compared to some other mystery shopping companies. You will be required to fill out the basic information about yourself, such as name and contact information. You will also provide the zip codes for which you can mystery shop, whether you have children and their ages, and how often you visit entertainment venues such as amusement parks.

You must also answer questions in written format, including an eight to 10 sentence paragraph on a recent shopping experience. Some mystery shopping companies require applicants to provide a sample description of a recent shopping or customer service experience. Your best bet is to write a sample of a recent shopping or customer service experience prior to beginning to apply for mystery shops. You can then edit and tailor it as needed during the application process.

Once you are accepted into Amusement Advantage’s mystery shopping database, you can start searching for open assignments. Assignments generally drop at the beginning of the month and, due to their nature, they go very, very quickly. The good news is Amusement Advantage also allows you to apply to be a backup shopper, which means if the person assigned the mystery shop is unable to complete the shop, you take it over.

Because mystery shops go quickly, log in to your Amusement Advantage account daily. You never know when a new opportunity may appear. Once you have accepted a mystery shop, thoroughly read the instructions to prepare for your shop.

Amusement Advantage offers mystery shops that pay a flat fee and reimbursement-only mystery shops. However, the reimbursement is often worth it for mystery shoppers with children or those who enjoy going to amusement parks and other entertainment venues. Reimbursement may cover the cost of tickets, food, parking, and souvenirs, depending on the specific shop. Payment is offered by check, PayPal, or PayQuicker.

Be prepared to work if you accept a mystery shop with Amusement Advantage. You will be expected to interact with assigned employees and to visit the assigned areas of the venue.  When you fill out the assignment form, you will also be expected to provide narrative, including both positive and constructive criticism.

It is work but you will have plenty of time for fun, too. The reimbursement of tickets often makes the mystery shop worthwhile for those with families and those who enjoy going to amusement parks, zoo, children’s entertainment centers, and other entertainment venues.

Bare International
Bare International makes signing up for and applying for shops easy and is a favorite among some mystery shoppers because of their schedulers and generous reimbursement. Getting your foot in the door with Bare International, as with many mystery shopping companies, is fairly simple and starts with filling out an application.

The application process is straightforward, although you should expect to spend some time completing your extended profile, which is mandatory to sign up for open mystery shopping assignments. You will be required to provide demographic information as well as answer several questions in narrative form. Because Bare International is an international company working with mystery shoppers from around the world, the extended profile does have sections that can be bypassed by mystery shoppers in the United States.

Once your application has been approved, you can start applying for mystery shopping assignments. What’s particularly positive about Bare International is you can sign into your account and check for new assignments daily (or several times daily) and receive emails about the newest mystery shopping assignments in your area. To receive assignment alerts, simply check the “Get Project Offer Emails” in your profile. Before you can apply for an assignment, you may be required to take a simple test about your role as a mystery shopper with the company. Candidates outside of the United States may also be required to take an English test.

New mystery shoppers with Bare International will have to apply for and be approved for mystery shops. However, those shoppers who maintain a high score with the company can use the self-assign shop feature, which allows them to choose shops then perform them.

The typical mystery shop fee with Bare International ranges between five dollars and $35. Payment is generally issued on the 16th of the month following the date the shop was completed. Bare International pays by PayPal and by check. However, if you make more than $500 in one month, you will be required to be paid by check.

Shoppers often compliment Bare International on their friendly schedulers, their quick payment, and their generous reimbursement policy for assignments that require travel.

If you’re looking to break into mystery shopping for the first time, BestMark Mystery Shopping makes it easy. Assignments are easy to apply for and there are plenty of them.  In fact, BestMark claims to have more than 10,000 mystery shops, including in person and phone shops, available to shoppers each month.

As a new shopper with BestMark, you will have to be approved for each shop for which you apply, which can be frustrating to some shoppers. In reality, however, it’s really not a big deal. Log in to your account daily to check for new mystery shopping assignments. Be forewarned that shops go fast, and you must decide very quickly whether or not to apply for an assignment. By the time you apply for one assignment, you will find that many others have already been claimed by other shoppers. Quickness is key.

You simply have to click on the assignments in which you are interested. If you are a new shopper, you will have to wait until your assignment is confirmed. For each assignment, you must complete an orientation to ensure you understand the details of the shop. You cannot perform the mystery shop without first completing the orientation.

Make sure you take notes and thoroughly read through the assignment’s instructions. You must complete the assignment to the exact specifications or you risk having your pay docked or withheld altogether. Once you have completed the assignment, you will be required to fill out the assignment survey which is generally very straightforward with simple narrative.

Payment varies depending on the assignment. A phone mystery shop may pay several dollars while a traditional mystery shop may pay $17 or more. You may also be asked to make a small purchase, which will be reimbursed with the submission of your receipt.

You will be required to fill out a three page application that includes basic information, why you believe you would be a good mystery shopper for the company, and any other mystery shopping companies for which you work. 

BestMark is a good starting point, especially if you are just breaking into mystery shopping or are returning after a long hiatus. Get some shops under your belt to determine if you like the company. If you don’t, you now have some experience and can move on to other companies.

As you begin your mystery shopping career, you will start out with simple, traditional mystery shops, such as going to a grocery store and interacting with specific employees. As you gain experience and build a reputation, however, you will be able to apply for the higher paying, more exclusive mystery shops, including video shops and hotel shops. The key is to build a strong, positive reputation with the mystery shopping companies for which you work.

You will quickly discover that there are dozens of mystery shopping companies out there. We only discussed a few of the best – for finding assignments, for breaking in, and for offering fun assignments. Take your time as you fill out each application. Apply only for those mystery shopping assignments you know you can complete on time and, if you have a problem with completing an assignment, contact the mystery shopping company or the scheduler immediately.

Mystery Shopper Jobs: Here’s How to Get Hired

Get paid to shop!

You’ve probably seen that line many times when reading about mystery shopping or even in ads online and in the newspaper. People often have the preconceived notion that mystery shopping is nothing more than, well, getting paid to go shopping.

In fact, mystery shopping is work and is a very serious business. You are being paid to evaluate a business and its employees. Jobs could very well depend on the accuracy of what you report. As a result, you must take your job seriously and how well you do on the reports you submit will determine your future as a mystery shopper.

Mystery shopping is a relatively easy field to break into with no real educational or work experience requirements, but once you’ve gotten your foot in the door, it is up to you to build a reputation for being a professional, responsible mystery shopper.

Traits of a Successful Mystery Shopper
I had no experience mystery shopping when I started more than a decade ago. But, within a month of discovering the field and applying for shops, I was making a decent part-time income while working as a freelance writer the rest of the time. Mystery shoppers come from all walks of life and have different backgrounds. Some mystery shoppers make shopping their full-time career; others work-part time, and still others schedule shops as the need for extra money arises.

Mystery shoppers all have different backgrounds but all share similar traits for which mystery shopping companies look:

• Detailed-oriented. As a mystery shopper, you are the eyes and the ears of the business for which you are shopping. You must carefully read and follow shop instructions. You must pay attention and have a good memory. You must be extremely detail-oriented to succeed as a mystery shopper.

• Responsible. When you agree to perform a mystery shop, you are expected to perform that shop within the time frame and by the deadline assigned. If you cannot complete a shop, you are expected to contact the mystery shopping company as soon as possible to reschedule or to ensure the company finds another shopper to complete the shop.

• Ability to blend in. Unless you are completing a shop in which you will reveal your identity, you must be inconspicuous. You have to be able to blend in so you can be treated as any other customer would be treated. I once completed a restaurant shop and was later asked to shop the same location, although only several weeks had passed, because a mystery shopping company was in a crunch. The first time I got the real experience. The wait staff was helpful and friendly. The second time it was obvious, by the extreme attentiveness and friendliness I was getting, that they knew I was a shopper. I informed the company of my experience and did not do the shop again. (Many companies have guidelines for how often you can shop a particular location. Some only allow you to complete a particular shop every month, every few months, every six months, or even every year.) If employees know who you are, you’re not going to get the same service as the average customer and that defeats the purpose of mystery shopping.

• Strong communication skills. You’re going to communicate a lot – in person, sometimes on the phone, and in writing – as a mystery shopper. You have to be comfortable talking with people and asking questions during shops (the mystery shopping company generally instructs shoppers on questions to ask). You then have to be able to translate your shopping experience into a concise, descriptive narrative that the mystery shopping client will eventually receive.

• Proper equipment. You must have reliable transportation, a computer, and a printer with a scanner. Some shops also require photos, so it’s a good idea to have a decent camera. A scanner is necessary for shops that require you to make a purchase then submit the proof of the purchase (the receipt) to the mystery shopping company.

Certification: Is it really worth it?
If you’ve done any research on mystery shopping, you’ve likely already heard about certification or read about become silver certified or gold certified. The Mystery Shopper Providers Association offers silver certification and gold certification to mystery shoppers, which can certainly have its perks. Certified shoppers may be considered first for a position (applications typically ask if you are certified and ask for your certification number) or may be invited to job boards exclusively for certified mystery shoppers.

Certification is not required to work as a mystery shopper. Silver certification is free, but you must pay $20 to become a member of the Mystery Shopper Providers Association prior to taking a basic online test that illustrates you have an understanding of mystery shopping, how it works, and its importance. You must get at least 80 percent of the questions correct on the online exam to earn your certification.

Once you pass the silver certification exam, you will immediately receive a certification award (in PDF format) with your certification number on it. Keep that number in a secure place; you will need it when you fill out applications with some mystery shopping companies.
You must hold silver certification to move up to gold certification, which costs $75. Gold certification requires you to watch a recording of a live mystery shopping workshop and to take several online exams to test your knowledge and expertise of the mystery shopping industry.

The Application
Most mystery shopping companies ask for the same information as other businesses: Name, address, phone number, and education. Some mystery shopping companies will ask for your physical characteristics, such as height, weight, eye color, and hair color in case a company requests a mystery shopper with certain physical characteristics.

You will also have to designate how far you are willing to travel to complete a shop: 10 miles? 20 miles? 50 miles? You will have far more opportunities if you’re willing to travel a little further, but be realistic as you have to pay for gas and upkeep of your car.
Make sure you know the type of smart phone, camera, and computer (and operating system) you use as you may be required to share that information as well. Some mystery shops require you to take photos, so a decent quality camera is essential.

Fill your application out honestly and as completely as possible. If you don’t have any mystery shopping experience, just say you don’t have the experience. Everyone starts somewhere and mystery shopping is a fairly easy field to get into. Some companies even welcome shoppers with no previous experience, offering training on the company website.

Tip: Mystery shopping companies will often send emails with open assignments. Consider creating a separate free email account specifically for mystery shopping, so you don’t miss any emails. You can then create separate email folders for each mystery shopping company for which you work, so all correspondence is organized. Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail are three platforms that offer free email accounts.

The Writing Sample
Some mystery shopping companies require applicants to submit a writing sample. You might, for example, be asked to write about a recent positive or negative customer service experience you’ve had. The writing sample illustrates that you are detail-oriented and you know how to explain a situation in a clear, concise, and easy to understand manner. Before submitting your writing sample, proofread it or, even better, have someone proofread it for you. Mystery shopping companies need shoppers who are detail-oriented and serious about their role as a mystery shopper. A writing sample riddled with errors will show you are neither.

Hit Submit
Once you’ve completed the application, review it to ensure that all the information is correct and free of typos, spelling mistakes, or any other errors. Hit submit and wait for a confirmation email as to whether you’ve been accepted as a mystery shopper. It’s really a very simple and straightforward process. Acceptance by a mystery shopping company, which means you can apply for assignments with that company, can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

The beauty of mystery shopping is you don’t just shop for one company, so that means if you want to be busy and make decent money, you have to apply to shop for as many companies as possible then regularly apply for assignments with those companies. You can find mystery shopping companies at the Mystery Shopper Providers Association.

You’re Accepted as a Mystery Shopper: Now What?
Now that you’ve been accepted as a mystery shopper with a mystery shopping company, or several mystery shopping companies is more likely the case, you’re ready to start scheduling your first shops. As a mystery shopper, you must be assertive. The jobs aren’t going to come to you. You have to put in the time and the effort to find as much work as you want. That means going to job boards, such as the Mystery Shopper Providers Association Job Board, which features jobs including a link to the company with the open shops, and visiting the websites of mystery shopping companies that have a job board.

Check the job boards daily, or even several times daily, to make sure you don’t miss any new openings. If a mystery shopping company allows you to receive emails about open shops, agree to it. You’re competing against countless other mystery shoppers in your area, so you have to be on top of the game.

Shops go very quickly. I went to check a particular company’s job board. When I logged in, I saw dozens of jobs. By the time I had applied for one of those jobs, only a few of those dozens of jobs remained. Mystery shopping is competitive. If you receive an email about shops in your area in which you are interested, answer it right away. Don’t wait until later or you will likely miss that opportunity.

Persistence is key.
As a mystery shopper, you are your own boss. You are in control. You can break in with no experience, but it is up to you to build a strong reputation as a serious, professional mystery shopper.

Is Mystery Shopping a Scam? Here Are the Facts.

You’re thumbing through the newspaper when you stumble upon an ad that reads something like:

Get paid to shop! Work short hours! Guaranteed work! For a monthly fee, we’ll send you a list of the newest mystery shopping jobs available.

Keep turning the page.
Each of those phrases is a red flag that screams “scammer” trying to profit from a very lucrative mystery shopping industry. They want their cut of the proverbial pie by getting you to pay them money for information you can get for free and they’ll say whatever necessary to get you to open your wallet and give them your hard-earned money.

Those ads lure people with the promise of easy money for very little work. But, they’re selling lies.

Do you get paid to shop? You’re not really getting paid to shop.  You get paid to go into a business, appearing as a typical customer, and evaluate that business based on a set of detailed instructions given to you by a mystery shopping company. You are working, not shopping. Sometimes you will make a purchase, but what you purchase is often dictated by the mystery shopping company’s instructions.

Will you work short hours and make a lot of money? The fewer hours you work, the less money you will make. If an ad or a “mystery shopping company” promises lucrative pay in exchange for working only a few hours, move on. It’s a scam. Mystery shoppers make, for a typical shop, between $7 and $20 per shop.

Will a legitimate mystery shopping company guarantee you work? Mystery shopping is never guaranteed. When you sign up for a mystery shopping company and are accepted as a shopper by that company, you are still not guaranteed work. You have to apply for individual shops. Being assigned shops is never guaranteed in mystery shopping. By the time you get a list of “open shops” from a scammer, those that really exist will probably already be filled as shop assignments often go very quickly.

Do you have to pay to have access to mystery shops? You should never pay a mystery shopping company to register or to sign up with it or to have it send you mystery shopping assignment openings. Legitimate mystery shopping companies are paid by the businesses that hire them and the mystery shopping company, in turn, pays its mystery shoppers. It is not paid by mystery shoppers.

Mystery shopping is a very real and a very serious business with companies that hire thousands of independent contractors around the country to perform undercover evaluations of businesses. Legitimate mystery shopping companies generally do not advertise in newspapers. Rather, they place shopping assignments on their website or post them on reputable job boards, like the Mystery Shopper Providers Association.

However, you must be careful to do due diligence before you start working as a mystery shopper to ensure you aren’t trapped by a scammer.

Signs of a Scam
The company asks you to pay it.  Never pay a company to provide you with a list of mystery shops or mystery shopping companies. All of the information you need to apply for mystery shops with legitimate companies is available online for free. You can start your search at the Mystery Shopper Providers Association (MSPA), which many legitimate mystery shopping companies join as members. The MSPA also certifies mystery shoppers.

You are asked to complete a wire transfer. Some scammers ask mystery shoppers to complete a wire transfer “mystery shop” for their first assignment. The scam is so prevalent that even the Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning about the practice. Here’s how it works:

1.    The “company” sends you a check.
2.    You deposit the check into your bank account.
3.    You immediately withdraw the amount deposited and wire the cash to whomever the “company” instructs you to send it to.
4.    The check eventually bounces, and you’ve just lost the amount of the check you sent to the third party and you must pay for any bank service fees you’ve incurred for the bounced check

If you’re asked to wire money, you know in all probability you are dealing with a scammer. Don’t do it.

You are offered a complete listing of mystery shopping companies – for a fee. You don’t need to pay a company to give you a list of mystery shopping companies. A quick Google search will bring up plenty of legitimate companies. You can also find a list of companies at the MSPA’s website.

The company insists you must be certified – for a fee. Some legitimate mystery shopping companies require shoppers to become certified in how to complete a phone or an online shop, but legitimate companies do not charge for this certification. If a company insists you must pay to become certified to work for it, go somewhere else.

The Mystery Shopper Providers Association offers certification to its members, but certification is not a requirement to be a member of the organization nor is it required to shop for legitimate mystery shopping companies.

Red Flags: How to Protect Yourself from Scams
How do you know which mystery shopping companies are credible and which ones to avoid? You have to protect yourself. Remember that old cliché: If something appears too good to be true, it probably is. You’re not going to make a ton of money for a few hours of work a week. It doesn’t work that way.

If you doubt a mystery shopping company is legitimate, you can do several things:

1.    Check with the Better Business Bureau to find out if they’ve had complaints against the company and to determine if those complaints were successfully resolved. A company with numerous complaints, especially those that are unresolved, should be approached with extreme caution.

2.    Find out if the company is a member of the Mystery Shopper Providers Association. Be aware, however, that not all companies are members of the Mystery Shopper Providers Association and some companies claim to be members when, in reality, they are not. The MSPA lists member companies on its website. If a mystery shopping company claims to be a MSPA member, go to the MSPA website and check to verify it is, indeed, an actual member.

3.    Keep a list of the mystery shopping companies with which you are already registered, and keep that list updated. You may receive email ads that look perfectly legitimate from a mystery shopping company, saying you applied to it and offering work. Some also invite you to apply to their company. Be wary of such tactics.  I have a separate email account for mystery shopping, so I know when an email arrives in another account’s inbox that I didn’t apply to that company.

4.    Avoid companies that contact you first. A friend and prospective mystery shopper started receiving text messages from a mystery shopping company, encouraging her to sign up with the company and she would receive job listings monthly for a fee. She continues to get such messages from the same company, imploring her to shop. Legitimate mystery shopping companies do not use cold call emails and texts to recruit shoppers; they post on job boards and at the MSPA.

5.    Do your own research. Go online and see what people are saying about the company, keeping in mind that some companies pay people to post positive reviews. Dig deep enough, however, and you should find legitimate reviews, especially of those who have been scammed.
Mystery shopping is a legitimate industry, but as with any industry, you have to be careful of those who see a way to make easy money by targeting unsuspecting victims. If you follow the advice above, you should be able to avoid scams. Remember, though, you should always trust your gut instincts. If something doesn’t seem right, trust your feelings and seek opportunities elsewhere.

What is a Mystery Shopper?

Scenario One: You walk into a restaurant and are quickly greeted by a hostess with a friendly smile on her face. She informs you that you will have a short wait before a table is ready. Once you are seated, the waitress introduces herself and offers a smile while repeating the specials of the day. She is attentive throughout your meal, bringing refills of drinks before being asked and making sure everything is just right. You enjoy efficient, friendly service and leave the restaurant feeling satisfied with the customer service you received.

Scenario Two: You walk into a restaurant. The hostess is not at her station and you wait a few minutes before she arrives. She tells you that you will have to wait for a clean table but doesn’t give any indication as to how long of a wait. She doesn’t smile and begins chatting with another employee, ignoring you. You are led to your table 20 minutes later and the menus are dropped on the table before the hostess walks away. The waitress greets you with a forced smile and takes your drink order. You wait and wait for the drinks to arrive. When the waitress finally brings the drinks, she curtly takes your order and again disappears. You finish your drink halfway through the meal and have to flag down another waitress to get your refill. You don’t see your waitress again until she drops off the check. You leave, upset at the poor customer service and not sure you’re going to return to the restaurant again.

Most people have experienced scenarios – both the good and the bad – like above.

Which scenario do you want to experience when you go out for a meal? Just as important, which experience do you think the restaurant owner wants you, her customer, to experience? Everyone has a bad day, but poor customer service reflects negatively on a business. And, businesses live and die based on the product or service sold and the customer service its employees provide. Businesses that develop a reputation for having poor customer service won’t survive long.

Employees who know the boss or a supervisor is around tend to be on their best behavior, which means those in charge don’t always get a realistic view of what’s going on in their business on a typical day.

Mystery shoppers are the eyes and ears of business owners, helping them identify what their employees are doing right, what they are doing wrong, and what can be done to improve customer service overall, to ensure that scenarios like the second one don’t happen. Mystery shops take place in a variety of settings, most commonly stores, restaurants, and banks. Shops also occur at amusement parks, zoos, hotels, apartment complexes, car dealerships, auto service companies, and so on.

Businesses hire mystery shopping companies to perform evaluations of their business. Those mystery shopping companies, in turn, hire mystery shoppers to go into the business and, following a list of detailed instructions, complete the evaluation.

What is a Mystery Shopper?

Mystery shoppers are independent contractors, not employees. You pay your own taxes. You pay your own expenses: Gas, vehicle upkeep, internet service, and so on. You create your own schedule. You apply for mystery shopping assignments that fit in your schedule, and schedulers expect you to complete them. Failure to complete a shop as promised could result in you being banned from working with a particular company, so always make sure you can complete a shop by the deadline. (Exceptions are often made for inclement weather and emergencies, but check with the mystery shopping company for their policy on cancelations.)

Every mystery shopping assignment has different criteria: Some require mystery shoppers to answer yes or no questions on an online form while others require shoppers to write extensive narrative. Photos may be required. Shops take place online and over the phone, but the vast majority requires mystery shoppers to go to a place of business.

The mystery shopping company provides shoppers to whom they’ve assigned shops with detailed instructions of what time frame to complete the shop, what employees and what departments (if applicable) to evaluate, and when the shopper must submit the shop to be paid. Some companies require shoppers to complete mini-courses, followed by a quiz, before they can accept certain shops to ensure they are adequately prepared for the shop. In many instances, you will be required to view the form you will fill out after the shop so you know what information you will need to gather during your shop.

Tip: For the most part, mystery shoppers work alone. You may accept a restaurant shop that requires you to take a friend or a family member or an amusement park shop that allows for guests, but most shops require you to work alone. If you have kids, you’re going to have to leave them at home for the vast majority of shops.

You’re Hired: Your Role as a Mystery Shopper

You’ve just secured your first assignment as a mystery shopper. Now the real fun begins. To make it easier, let’s look at the process in steps.

Step One: Read the shop’s instructions and review the shop form, if available, to make sure you remember the criteria when you’re on the shop. If you have any questions, contact the scheduler who assigned you the shop immediately.

Step Two: Decide when you are going to complete the shop, ensuring it is by the assigned deadline. Create a calendar on your computer, on your phone, or on an old-fashioned piece of paper and make a note of all of your assignments and their deadlines.

Step Three: Prepare for the shop. Double check the business hours and make sure you go during the assigned timeframe for the shop. Dress as any other customer would dress. Your job is to blend in and look like the average customer. If your shop requires you to take photographs, make sure your camera or your smart phone is charged and you bring it with you.

Step Four: Complete the shop. Details are essential to a good mystery shopping report. If you’re writing notes on a piece of paper, do so as inconspicuously as possible so an employee doesn’t see you. Consider using your cell phone to take notes. With the popularity of texting, most people don’t think twice when they see someone in a store typing away on their smart phone. During a recent restaurant mystery shop, I texted myself the names of the hostess and the server, once they were out of sight, but I left the sound on my phone so it appeared as though I was texting with someone.

Once you’ve left the business you’ve shopped, you may want to drive somewhere nearby and sit down and write down more extensive notes, especially if you won’t be filling out the report for several hours. That way, you remember all of the important details.

Step Five: Fill out and submit the evaluation form. Complete the actual evaluation form as soon after you complete the shop as possible, so details are fresh in your mind. Shoppers will often schedule numerous shops in one day, so it isn’t always possible to run home and fill out the report. Just do it as soon as you can.

Answer questions honestly and thoroughly, referring to your notes. Sometimes answering honestly means getting someone into trouble, but it’s your job. I once completed a mystery shop in which one of the employees tried to engage me in a conversation in which he was downright racist, using very derogatory terms. Had I been a real customer, I might have gone straight to management and never returned to that business. As a mystery shopper, I relayed the information in my report.

Step Six: Wait for payment. Record the payment you’ve received, including total and date received, for your shop for tax purposes. Payment for a mystery shop can range from a reimbursed purchase to $20, sometimes more depending on the type of shop and the complexity of the shop. One company, for example, hires mystery shoppers to evaluate amusement parks. In return, the shopper receives tickets to the amusement park for the day of the shop and several additional tickets for the future (which the shopper can use for a fun day out), which is the compensation for the shop. Many shops have a flat fee, which is paid within a certain period (usually 30 days) via PayPal or a check. I’ve done shops where I was reimbursed up to $50 for dinner at a popular restaurant; the reimbursement was my payment. Some shops will require you to make a small purchase, for which you will be reimbursed, and you will also make a small fee for that shop.

Mystery shopping is a fun, rewarding career or job, whichever you prefer to call it, but it is work and it does requirement a commitment on your part. If you’re willing to invest the time and do a good job on every shop, you will find that you can make decent money while essentially running your own business.