• Savings Mom Answers: How to Be a Mystery Shopper

Answering Viewer Question: How to Be a Mystery Shopper  


by Stephanie Nelson      


March  2006    

Viewer question:  “I want to be a mystery shopper. What is the best site to join?”   


There are many good sites to join, but that is not all you need to know to get started as a mystery shopper.  I am not sure how much time you are able to invest in being a mystery shopper, but I can give you an idea of what being a mystery shopper entails and how to get started with credible mystery shopping firms.  Mystery shopping is also known as “secret shoppers”, “mystery customers”, “spotters”, and “employee evaluations.” 

What is Mystery Shopping?  Mystery shopping is a strategy used by companies to help evaluate their products and services in order to improve customer service.  Some statistics show that two out of three of the customers who stop doing business with a company do so because of poor customer service.  In response to this, many companies are taking a proactive approach to evaluate their own service and make necessary changes to prevent losing customers.  Mystery shoppers are actually hired and paid by companies to evaluate their products or services while posing as customers.  In exchange for some form of compensation, mystery shoppers provide a detailed report of their findings to give useful feedback to these companies.   


Who hires Mystery Shoppers?  Companies of all sizes, in virtually all segments employ mystery shoppers. However, rather than hiring shoppers directly, they tend to work with mystery shopping agencies who provide a database of potential shoppers.  Restaurants, department stores, grocery stores, hotels, cruise lines, and clothing stores hire mystery shoppers.  Even gas stations hire mystery shoppers to evaluate the cleanliness of their restrooms!  


What is an example of a typical Mystery Shopping assignment?  According to an article in Nation’s Restaurant News, 70-80% of fast food restaurants employ mystery shoppers.  McDonald’s has employed mystery shoppers since 2002 and uses mystery shoppers at 13,600 US locations with one visit per month, per store.  In exchange for a free meal, mystery shoppers take note of the front counter and drive-thru, the speed of service, the accuracy of their order, and the cleanliness of the restaurant.  They assess three menu items (a sandwich, fries, and a drink) and friendliness of the staff.  When the shopper gets home, they fill out an online report and email it to the company.  


Where do I find Mystery Shopping agencies?  As in any business, there are various types of agencies.  Reputable agencies will not charge a fee to sign up to be included in their database, although signing up is not a guarantee that you will be selected.  Your best bet is to sign up with several agencies to increase your chances of being offered assignments.  Skip the agencies that require you to pay a fee to sign up.  You can find a comprehensive list of credible agencies from the Mystery Shoppers Providers Association, which is a national organization of mystery shopping agencies and a training and educational organization for mystery shoppers.  You can find 150 mystery-shopping agencies listed on their site:  http://www.mysteryshop.org. The site also has a very informative forum where mystery shoppers of all experience levels share information and answer questions.  


How much are Mystery Shoppers paid?  Assignments may pay an hourly fee that can vary widely depending on the assignment, beginning at around $10 an hour.  Payment may also be in the form of free merchandise or services, or include both free services and an hourly wage.  Experienced mystery shoppers can attract very lucrative assignments, such as a free one- week trip to a golf resort in Hawaii.  Mystery shoppers with a good reputation can receive enough assignments to make a healthy salary and receive plenty of nice benefits if they want to make a full-time career of mystery shopping.  However, new mystery shoppers may start out getting very few assignments or be offered less desirable assignments, like evaluating the cleanliness of a gas station restroom at midnight!  



How do I become a sought-after Mystery Shopper to attract the best assignments?   



Because there are literally hundreds of thousands of people registered in the mystery shopping agencies’ databases and far fewer assignments, you need to stand out in order to get regular assignments.  There are several ways to increase your odds of getting multiple assignments, which will then allow you to be more selective by choosing only the best assignments.  Experienced mystery shoppers recommend that you:

  • Take the time to do your very best job filling out the service report after your assignment.  Make sure the information is complete and answers exactly what they asked.  Check for spelling and grammar accuracy.  Sloppy reports are not likely to lead to future assignments, and many new shoppers submit sloppy reports.  Therefore, your status within an agency will increase immediately if you make sure your work is top-notch.
  • Consider taking one of the courses offered by the Mystery Shoppers Providers Association (MSPA) to become certified.  These courses will teach you the skills you need to be a professional mystery shopper, and agencies look for certified mystery shoppers.  As I said earlier, hundreds of thousands of people are listed in the mystery shopping databases, but only 1,200 are certified by MSPA.  Certified mystery shoppers get better assignments more frequently because they stand out.  Although these courses have a fee, they are worth the investment if you are serious about being a mystery shopper.
  • Register with several agencies because no single agency would use the same mystery shopper for the same business over and over again.  Increase your odds of getting more assignments by increasing your visibility with more agencies.
  • Learn more practical tips and strategies from the experienced mystery shoppers on the MSPA’s discussion forum and from the forum at www.volition.com . 

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