Tuesday, September 15, 2009


As I do posts on various lists and here on my blog I am often asked about mystery shopping, how it is done and what you need to do it. Over time I will be giving more and more information as thoughts ramble through my brain. Today’s thoughts are getting started and what a person truly needs to be a mystery shopper.

First you need to sign up with legitimate companies I suggest you read the book “MYSTERY SHOPPING MADE SIMPLE” by Ilisha Newhouse. You can probably check it out of your local library. The information is slightly out of date, but the basic info is good. She lists several good quality mystery shopping companies.

An excellent website for legitimate companies is http://www.volition.com/mystery.html I am not affiliated with either of these sources in anyway, but use both often. I own a copy of the book, purchased it used—always the tightwad, and even though I’ve been mystery shopping for a long time and still learn something new constantly. The website has a free newsletter I recommend you sign up for.

When applying with a company to become a mystery shopper or merchandiser remember you are applying for a contract labor job. That means you are going to have to, at some point, give them your social security number. More and more companies will not even consider your application without it. So if you do not want to give it out, don’t bother to apply.

When you make over $599 they will send you a 1099 at the end of the tax year and you will be required to declare the income. If you do not want to do this, then don’t apply. You are contract labor and with that come all the self employment tax requirements. Be sure and keep good tax records of not only income but expenditures to do the shops.

You all have read “NEVER pay to mystery shop!” numerous times. However, there are a few instances that you do “pay”, sort of.

1. Certification, I personally am not certified, simply because I have not had the time or money to do it. It is my understanding that you will get more and better jobs if you get certified, but I’ve not spoken to anyone who has been certified so I personally don’t know if you do. I do know that every company I apply with ask if you are certified.

2. Purchase required, reimbursement given. These purchases are generally SMALL purchases. A hamburger, $3 at a home improvement store, $5 worth of gas or similar purchases. Your work orders or CPI will tell you exactly how much they will reimburse you for these purchases. Occasionally in the instance of a fine dining experience, a hotel stay or similar instances it will be higher. Again this will be reimbursed and is in your contract.

Who can mystery shop? Just about anyone, each company has its own rules and it’s very important you read and follow those rules. Some shops you have certain age restrictions. They often have a restriction about who can or cannot be with you when you shop. Most shops require you to be alone. You must adhere to that rule if it is stated. Some will require you to have a partner to do the job.

Wardrobe is also important. Most jobs I have done require you to dress business casual. Some specify the shirt should have a collar and buttons. You are a representative of the company that has contracted you and you need to dress per their requirements. If you are doing this full time, as I do, you need at least 2 such outfits. One to wash and one to wear is the minimum you can get by with.

Because we travel in a camper that has no washer I have several more outfits than that. They mix and match to allow me more flexibility in my work wardrobe. If you are doing fine dining meals or visiting a facility that would be “upper class” then you of course would need a nicer set of clothes.

Comfortable shoes are a must too. Many jobs require you to be on your feet for long periods of time.

You will also, occasionally need a photo ID. I’ve only been asked for this once, but if I had not had it I would not have been allowed to do the inventory I had been hired to do.

Equipment is your next big item to have. Below is a list of items needed to do a variety of shops:

1. A computer with an internet connection and a printer. It’s the electronic age and every company I work for assigns their work via the internet. You will need to print out the work orders, forms and much more. You also file your reports via the net 99% of the time. High speed internet is essential with some companies, but not all. If you are on dial-up you may have trouble filing reports that have a lot of photos with them.

2. Speaking of photos brings up the second piece of equipment you will need. A digital camera, NOT a cell phone camera. Most companies will NOT accept photos from a cell phone. You will also need to be able to transfer those photos from the camera to your computer in jpg format.

3. Reliable transportation. Companies do not want to hear you didn’t do job XYZ because your car wouldn’t start. Some jobs can be done doing public transportation, but most require you to have a reliable car.

4. A digital stop watch is required for many shops. You will need to be able to not only time minutes and seconds, but lapsed time as well. Many electronic items such as Ipods have this capability.

5. A cell phone, while not mandatory is a major plus. Many a time I’ve got out to do a shop and ran into something not included in the paperwork as to what to do. Such as the address given does not exist—had this happen two days ago. If you must vary from the prescheduled scenario you usually need permission to do so. Pay phones are becoming few and far between. Even if you find one the chances are there will be no call back phone number on it. So then you have a problem.

6. A notebook or clipboard to keep your paperwork and receipts organized while doing a shop. Whatever you do don’t want to lose your receipts and business cards you collect because you will not get paid without them.

7. Some companies require you to fax in a report. However, there are free fax sites you can use from the internet to do so without having a fax machine.

8. A paypal account and/or a checking account for getting paid. Some companies pay only by paypal, others won’t use paypal and only pay by checks, while others prerfer the direct deposit system. So you need to be prepared for all three scenarios. If you are concerned about the direct deposit system set up an account for mystery shopping only. For tax purposes this might just be your best choice all the way around.

That’s pretty much all you need. There are some things you will occasionally be asked if you have them to do a shop.

Where can you shop? EVERYWHERE, however in Nevada you must have a private eye license to do so. There are mystery shoppers all over the US and Canada, as well as in some other countries.

So that’s it. That’s what you need to mystery shop. If you have questions please feel free to leave them in the comments section. I will answer them as soon as I can. Please also feel free to sign up as a follower of my posts. As time goes on I’ll post more and more about the pros and cons of mystery shopping.

Jan who thanks you for stopping by to read her humble posts in OK


  1. Thank you Jan for this very detailed explanation. I have 2 questions.

    You talked about getting reimbursed for expenses but didn't talk about salary. Is there an hourly pay rate or per assignment fee? How does it work and can you give an idea of the pay?

    What happens to the product you have purchased? Do you send it to the company? Keep it? Toss it?

    Thanks again for this valuable info.


  2. Two excellent questions that I should have covered!

    Each company and each job is different on the pay. It will be in the original job offer, very plainly for each job. Generally it will run anywhere from $8-$12 per hour.

    Most jobs are on a per job basis. So if you do the job in under an hour your per hour rate would be higher than if you took say 2 hours to do it.

    You'll soon learn how long it will take you to do a certain type of job. I know a teller job generally takes me 15 minutes or less to do, but I schedule 30 minutes in my daily schedule--just in case of wait times. While a platform bank shop will take 30-45 minutes--I schedule and hour.

    Items you purchase are yours to keep. You are usually not allowed to return the item. However, some shops require you to make the purchase and then return it later to check out their returns customer service as well--be sure to include any extra fuel and time in your calculations on whether or not the job will be profitable for you on it--See my sometimes you have to do the math post-- I generally try to purchase something I actually need. Say a loaf of bread at the convenience store, or a board to repair my back porch with at the home improvement store. I've done some minor gift shopping for holidays in the past as well.

    Jan who hopes this answered your questions in OK

  3. Thanks for posting this (and mentioning it on the Cheap Camping group.) I really doubted whether their were legit Mystery Shopper jobs, but this sounds like a nice way to supplement future retirement income.

  4. I'd recommend doing it on a small basis first to see if it's for you and start establishing relationships with the schedulers now. A good relationship with your scheduler is worth it's weight in gold. Be aware the work is feast and famine. It's available right at the first of the month and then thins out bad by the end of the month. It's been working well for us so far, here's hoping it will work well all the way through the winter. Have fun, it can be a real interesting learning experience. Jan who has learned more about the operations of retail stores and restaurants than she ever imagined in and away from OK

  5. I used to work at Safeway. We were always dreading the mystery shopper. I got hit by one once and got 100%. She looked for time it took to notice her, did I greet her politely, did I offer a sample, was I able to solve a problem and did I offer to take her to a specific item. I remember wondering if she was a shopper because her requests were so "difficult." It was an interesting experience and I often wondered how does one go about getting a job like this. Thanks for your post. I don't think it would fit my lifestyle, but none the less, fascinating.

  6. Every company has you look for something specific. Timing is a big thing with a lot of the companies is timing, so is customer service.

    It's definitely not a job for everyone, the turnover rate on mystery shoppers is pretty high. I read somewhere that most don't make it 6 months. I've been doing it a little over 4 years. As time has gone on I have weeded out certain shops I don't like, so unless we are absolutely desperate for work, or a huge bonus is offered I don't do them. No one should do a job they don't like. Jan who thanks you for stopping by.