Car Handkerchief, Please
Sunday Stealing: The Current Meme

So You Want To Be A Mystery Shopper

I started mystery shopping in June, 2006, which means I'm coming in on my 7th anniversary in the business evaluation industry. Over the years, I have done thousands of "shops" in all types of industries throughout the United States, and I've been asked dozens of times for referrals, information, and of course, links.

In that vein, I thought I'd make a complete post here for anyone and everyone who is interested in getting into the business, along with an updated FAQ from any responses I get. If you have more to add, please feel free to comment below so I can include your information. Be aware that some links include my referral information; feel free to bypass that part of the link, but know that using it may get you an extra bonus payment if you use it!

(BEFORE you sign up with any of the companies below, be sure and read the entire post, including the FAQs and updates. Trust me; it's worth the time.)


Please use my email address if they ask who referred you to them: - thanks!

Be aware that companies come and go all the time. By the time this list is published, it could be out of date! Keep me informed by commenting on out-of-date listings or new companies you've joined. Thanks!

(a) Aawsm Stuff (USA, Canada, Australia) - I have no experience with them, but I plan to sign up ASAP. Mystery shopping as well as demo and merchandising opportunities.

(b) A&A Merchandising Ltd (USA, Canada, Australia) - I have no experience with them, either. Mostly retail assignments.

(c) A Closer Look - GREAT company to work for, but don't get caught canceling and/or being late on a lot of reports, because they will fire you. Hotels, restaurants, and more. Great for frequent travelers!

 (d) A Customer's Point of View (CONUS) - Haven't used me yet, though I've been in their database forever. Mostly transit and phone evaluations.

 (e) A Top Shop, aka iSecretShop - I haven't worked with them a lot but find them reliable when I do.  All kinds of shops available.

(f) AboutFace - I've done a lot of shops for them; they are very reliable and pay by the end of the following month. Recently, I've done carwash and optical shops for them.

 (g) All-Star Customer Service - new to me; I haven't signed up yet but will update this space when I have gained experience with them.

(h) Ann Michaels & Associates - Very reliable; I've done retail and quick-service restaurants for them. Extremely professional.

(i) Associate Consumer Evaluations (ACE) - Reliable; offer a wide variety of shop types.

(j) Amusement Advantage - One of my favorite companies! They pay quickly (sometimes <2 weeks) and offer fun shops like waterparks, bowling, carousels, and more. Great group of people to work with.

(k) Anonymous Insights - Can't remember if I've ever worked with them; if I have, it's been a long time. I'll update here when/if I do.

(l) Apartment Shoppe - New to me, I'll update here when/if I work for them. {Personally, I do not like to do apartment shops because they take forever and if you mess up, you risk nonpayment for all that time and hard work.}

(m) Ardent Services - Yet another new-to-me company. Will update when/if I work with them.

(n) At Your Service Marketing - they haven't offered jobs in my state, so I have no experience with them yet. Currently looking for shoppers in TX, OK, LA, AR, MS, KS, MO, NM & IA. If you're in one of those states, be sure and sign up.

 (0) Automotive Insights - work exclusively with the auto industry. Still new to me.

 (p) B. Business Solutions - New to me. Looks interesting; offer a variety of shops.

(q) Baird Group - They work primarily with the medical industry. If you've got to go to the doctor, may as well get paid for it, right?

 (r) Bare International (BAI) (worldwide) - The cream of the crop, I've done lots of evaluations for them and have never been disappointed. They have high expectations and the pay to match. Definitely one to watch.

(s) BDS Marketing - New to me; I'll update when/if I gain experience with them.

(t) Bestmark - another favorite of mine, they offer a wide variety of assignments and always pay reliably quickly. Sign up with this one!

(u) Bevinco (USA, Canada, Australia & NZ) - Serving the restaurant and bar industries, though I haven't worked for them yet. I'll update when/if I do.

(v) Beyond Hello - A very good company to work for, always professional and reliable. They do optical, retail, restaurant and more.

(w) BMA aka The Troy Dolan Group - They're okay, though I've found assignments to be few and far between. Neutral opinion on them.

(x) The Brandt Group - offers a wide variety of assignments; professional & reliable.

(y) Business Evaluation Services - Reliable and offer a good variety of shops. Be sure to join this one.

(z) California Marketing (all states) - Apartment shops, which are not my favorite, but they pay well. YMMV

 (aa) Campus Consulting - College towns as well as shopping centers and more. No experience with this one.

(bb) Capstone Research - No experience; will update when I do.

(cc) Certified Reports, Inc (CRI) AKA Market Force Information (MFI) - A great variety of shops are offered all over the map, and they pay reliably. I find they don't pay very high rates, and are actually at the bottom of the pay scale. If you do a lot of shops for them, it can be worth it, but fees ARE low. Self-assign and -reschedule, but you will get fired if you cancel and/or report late quite frequently.

(dd) CheckUp Marketing - Links to lots of Mystery Shopping, Work at Home, and other jobs. Can't verify reliability; let me know if you have experience with them.

(ee) Cirrus Marketing - They haven't had any jobs in my areas, so I haven't worked for them (yet). I'll update when I do, as I just applied for a coveted assignment with them!

(ff) Clear Evaluations - New to me; I've not signed up with them yet. Will update here when I have feedback.

(gg) Confero - Another one of my favorites, Confero is reliable and offers a wide variety of fun shops, including campus dining halls, quick service restaurants, and amusement park dining. Lots of "reveal" shops where you get to award prizes. Sign up for this one!

 (hh) Consumer Critique AKA MarketStat - Offer severa different casual dining audits, but I have NOT found them reliable for payment. I've had to hound them in the past for my pay, months after the shops were done =( so beware, though YMMV.

(ii) Consumer Impressions - Worth signing up with, they offer a good mix of assignments.

(jj) CRG AKA ProShoppers - No experience with them; I'll update when I remedy that.

 (kk) Corporate Research International (CRI) - Sign up with this one; they offer TONS of shops in a wide variety of retail and other locations. Lots of gas stations, pizza shops, and more. Commissions often go up as the month progresses, so wait it out if you're not in a hot market. Your rating goes up and down drastically as you complete (or not) your assignments. You must have a rating of at least 3.5/5 to self-assign.

(ll) Count On Us - I've just signed up with them, so no feedback yet. Will update.

(mm) Coyle Hospitality Group - another cream of the crop company, you will definitely want to sign up with them. Spa, cruise, restaurant, hotel, and more plum assignments are offered, but expect to write a high quality report or risk rejection. They have very specific expectations and you must follow them to a "T."

(nn) Creative Image Services - none in my area, so I have not worked with them yet. Financial services are their focus.

(oo) Cross Financial - New to me, they specialize in banking shops.

(pp) Customer 1st AKA Troy Dolan Group - see BMA above.

 (qq) Customer Impact - reliable and offers a variety of shops; worthwhile.

(rr) Customer Perspectives - reliable and worthwhile, they offer a variety of shops.

(ss) Customer Service Experts (CSE) - worth signing up with, they offer a variety of assignments and pay reliably.

(tt) Customer Service Perceptions - New to me, so I have no feedback yet.

(uu) Data Quest LTD - A newer company, they service a variety of industries. Check this one out and stick with them, as they're growing!

(vv) David Sparks & Associates (DSA) - New to me, so no feedback yet.

(ww) DSG Associates - they have a new platform, which I haven't used yet, but I've been happy and found them reliable in the past.

(xx) Ellis AKA EPMS - Solely apartment shops. I get TONS of harrassing-to-me emails from them, asking why I haven't shopped for them yet. I find it annoying. I haven't discovered whether they pay reliably yet, but soon I plan to start doing more apartment shops, so I'll update this space soon.

(yy) Excel Shopping & Consulting - Must email for access and must have Excel, mostly apartment shops. I have no experience with them.

(zz) Feedback Plus - a variety of industries are served; reliable and worthwhile. Sign up with this one.

(aaa) GfK aka CyberShoppers - A wide variety of shops offered and reliable pay. Sign up!

(bbb) Global Compliance - Another good one, worthwhile and reliable.

(ccc) Goodwin & Associates - retail, restaurant and more; I find them worthwhile and reliable. Sign up!

(ddd) Graymark Security - Another new one to me, this one sounds like one to join. I'll update when I have experience with them.

(eee) Greet America - mystery shopping, merchandising, greeting and other services are offered. I have limited experience with them, having done maybe one assignment years ago. Nothing negative stands out.

(fff) i-SPY - I have no feedback on them yet; I'll update when I do.

 (ggg) ICC|DS - Offers a variety of shops, mostly retail, and are worthwhile and reliable. Sign up!

(hhh) iMyst - Offers a variety of interesting shops, reliable and worthwhile. Sign up with this one.

(iii) Informa Research Services - I have limited experience with them, but nothing negative stands out. Give it a try.

 (jjj) Instant Reply - I have no experience with them; I'll update when I do!

(kkk) IntelliShop - a variety of retail shops, audits and more are offered. Reliable and worthwhile; sign up!

(lll) JM Ridgeway - I haven't been offered a lot of shops with them, but the ones I've had have been okay. Reliable, but not my favorite company. YMMV

(mmm) Jancyn Evaluation - I haven't worked for them yet; will update when I have more experience.

 (nnn) LeBlanc & Associates - specializing in the new home market; I have no experience with them yet.

(ooo) Locksley Group LTD - You must email for information; I have no experience with them.

(ppp) Maritz Research - I have limited experience with them, but I've found them to be reliable and worthwhile.

(qqq) Market Force Information (MFI) - 100s of shops offered in all kinds of industries, in most cities and states. The pay is low, but bonuses are frequently offered. Lets you self-assign and reschedule, but frequent cancellations and late reports are cause for dismissal. Unlike most Paypal-paying companies, MFI submits payments via direct deposit.

(rrr) Marketing Endeavors - Reliable and worthwhile, a variety of shops are offered. Sign up!

(sss) Marketing Systems Unlimited - I've just now signed up with them; I'll update when I have more experience, but they look promising.

(ttt) MarketWise - I've just now signed up, but they look good, too. Sign up!

 (uuu) Mars Research - Offers other market research aside from Mystery Shopping; check it out - looks interesting. I have no experience; will update when I do.

 (vvv) Market Viewpoint - Reliable and worthwhile; sign up with this one!

 (www) Mass Connections - You must email for more information; I have no experience with them.

(xxx) Measure Consumer Perspectives (MCP) - A variety of assignments are offered. Interesting and worthwhile; sign up!

(yyy) Melinda Brody - Apparently, they only work with new home buyers/builders, so I have no experience with them. If you're in this market, by all means, sign up with them. Report back if you have feedback to offer.

(zzz) Mercantile Systems - Well worth the time to sign up and search for assignments. Fine dining and other upscale shops are offered in a variety of markets. I've had great experience with them. They pay reliable and are great folks to work with. Sign up!

(aaaa) Mershimer Group aka Service Sleuth - Well worth signing up with, they offer a variety of interesting assignments and pay reliably. Join now!

(bbbb) Muscle Marketing - Aside from Mystery Shopping, also do audits, sampling, merchandising, and more. Must email for more information.

(cccc) Mystery Guest AKA GrassRoots - Lots of assignments available; only one registration per household allowed. Lots of restaurant shops; worthwhile!

(dddd) Mystery Shoppers - assignments available nationwide in a variety of venues. Worthwhile and reliable. Sign up!

(eeee) Mystique - A fun, fast-paying company with lots of interesting assignments. I've done the old-fashioned photography on the boardwalk with them several times, and they really listened to my feedback. Definitely one to join!

 (ffff) National Shopping Service - New to me, so no feedback yet. I'll update when that changes!

(gggg) National Shopping Service Network - No experience yet; will update when that changes.

(hhhh) Nationwide Services Group (NSG) - a wide variety of shops available, they are reliable and worthwhile. Sign up!

(iiii) Northwest Loss Prevention Consultants - works solely in the NW, so I have no experience. Let me know what you know about this group!

(jjjj) NSite - They haven't had jobs in my area, so I have no experience with them yet. Will update if/when that changes!

(kkkk) The Pat Henry Group (PHG) - a variety of services offered from mystery shops to merchandising and more, worth checking out!

(llll) Perfect Performance - offers a variety of assignments. You must contact for more information. New to me, so no feedback yet.

(mmmm) The Performance Edge - new to me, but worth checking out - they look interesting. Let me know if you have feedback!

(nnnn) Person to Person Quality - reliable and worthwhile; sign up with them!

 (oooo) Premier Service Inc - offers a variety of services, worthwhile and reliable. Sign up!

(pppp) Primo Solutions - no experience; will update when this changes

(qqqq) Promotion Network - Aside from mystery shopping, there are opportunities for merchandising, audits, sampling, and more. Check it out!

(rrrr) PROS - specializes in the banking industry. I've used them before, and they are reliable. Not my favorite kind of shops, but YMMV. Give them a try.

(ssss) PulseBack - Not open for registrations right now, but check back. I have no experience with them but will update if that changes.

(tttt) QAMS - I've done a number of assignments for QAMS and find them fun, reliable, and worthwhile. Definitely sign up with them!

 (uuuu) QACi - Mainly East Coast, hospitality-oriented, there are lots of good shops here. Sign up!

(vvvv) Quality Service Control - PacNW-based, so I have no experience with them. Let me know if you do!

(wwww) QSI Specialists - No experience for me, so I'll sign up and report back when that changes. Please let me know if you have anything to add here.

(xxxx) Quest for Best - I've done TONS of shops for them, and they are definitely reliable for pay. They offer a good variety of shops, mostly retail and fast food, and they pay well. Definitely one to look into, and they're a great group to work with, too. Thumbs up!

(yyyy) Reality Check - I've done a bunch of healthcare phone shops for them, and they pay well and reliably. Sign up if you want to pad your MS résumé.

(zzzz) Reflections - A good company evaluating the hospitality industry, it's reliable and worthwhile. Sign up!

(a5) Rentrak - specializing in the video/movie industry, they're a good one to add for check-padding and expanding your repertoire. Reliable pay.

 (b5) Restaurant Cops - All USA but Nevada, they specialize in what else? Dining shops. Another good one to join.

(c5) Retail Eyes AKA Shared Insight - A wide variety of assignments, they do some video evaluations. Be an undercover spy!

(d5) Rocky Mountain Merchandising - They specialize in the states west of the Rockies, so I have no experience with them. Let me know if you do, so I can update this listing!

(e5) Sales Quality Research Group - I haven't worked with them, but they specialize in financial services. I'll update when/if I work with them.

(f5) Satisfaction Services - a professional, reliable company with good training and many interesting opportunities. Sign up for this one!

(g5) Second to None - A variety of shops are offered, but I have not worked with them. I'll let you know once I've gained experience with them.

(h5) Secret Shopper - highly professional and recommended, they offer a wide range of opportunities. Sign up!

(i5) Secret Shopping Services (SSS) - I've signed up with them but haven't found any shops in my areas, so no experience to report. Worth looking into if you can find some jobs in your zones.

 (j5) Sensors Quality Management (SQM) - Based in Canada, they also have retail, hotel and dining shops throughout the US, along with occasional airline travel. I've worked with them for a long time and enjoy this company a great deal. Reliable and worthwhile, so you should sign up!

 (k5) Sentry Marketing Group - A great company with good training, interesting and varied assignments, and reliable pay,  you should definitely join this one!

 (l5) Service Alliance - I've only just signed up with them, so no experience to report yet. Looks like they mostly shop the midwestern and SW USA. Let me know if you have feedback to add to this listing, please.

 (m5) Service Check - specializing in retail, hotels, restaurants and more. A great company, but failure to complete shops and/or report on time will result in deactivation.

(n5) Service Connections - Certain states are covered but not in my areas, so I have no experience with them. If you fall in their zone, they offer a wide variety of assignments, so it's worth checking out.

(o5) Service Evaluation Concepts - "Brand Agents" specializing in a wide variety of assignments, this is a good, reliable and worthwhile company to join. Check it out! 

(p5) Service Excellence - I have good feedback for this company specializing in retail and other industries. Reliable and worthwhile. Sign up!

(q5) Service Impressions - Lots of fun and interesting surveys offered, reliable and worthwhile; definitely sign up for this one.

(r5) Service Intelligence AKA Experience Exchange - Another good one with lots of variety, they provide extensive training on how to complete their shops. Pay attention, and you'll do fine. I always get paid on time and wholeheartedly recommend this company.

(s5) Service Performance Group - Offering everything from fine dining to grocery to bowling and more, another good company to check out. Sign up!

 (t5) Service Quality - they have good shops, but I've found them to be few and far between in my areas; YMMV. Reliable, yes; worthwhile, I'm not so sure. You decide.

(u5) Service Research Corp - This one is new to me and reports to have mystery shopping as well as focus groups and surveys. I've signed up and will report back when I have gained some experience with them.

(v5) Service Sense - Yet another new one for me. I've just signed up and will update when I have something to add.

(w5) Service Scouts - I've never shopped for them, though I signed up long ago. I'll update when I have something new to add. Evaluating sports events and many more, it's worth checking out!

(x5) The Shadow Agency - specializing in video surveys of retail establishments; I have no experience with them yet but will update when I do.

 (y5) Shoptalk Service Evaluations - located in the PacNW, I have no experience with them. Let me know if you have anything to add here!

(z5) Shoppers, Inc. - I have done exactly one shop for them, but it was great, and I loved it. Not sure how often I'll work with them in the future, but definitely check this one out.

(a6) Shoppers' Critique - I've been with them a long time and am pleased with this company. The evaluations are straightforward and simple, provided you follow the guidelines. Reliable and worthwhile, you should sign up for ths one.

(b6) Shoppers' View - I've been a shopper with them for ages, but I don't know that I've done any shops for them yet. Seems like right now, they're focusing on funeral services, which is really not my cup of tea. We'll see. In your area, shops may differ.

(c6) Sinclair Customer Metrics (SCM) - another favorite of mine. I've done lots of shops for them and have always been pleased. Definitely sign up!

(d6) Spies in Disguise - A variety of industries are represented, and they reimburse/pay quickly. Definitely worth a look!

(e6) Superior Product Pickup Service - You must email for more information; I can't vouch for this company as I have no experience with them.

(f6) Texas Shoppers Network - Based in - you guessed it - TX, they reportedly have shops across the USA. I have no experience with them yet, so I'll update when/if I do.

(g6) TrendSource - Sign up for this one; it's another good, reliable and worthwhile company with lots of shops across a broad range of industries. They don't pay fantastically well, but it's decent, and they do occasionally offer distance pay. Thumbs up.

(h6) Walmart - You must email for more information; I have not done so.


Now that I've compiled an exhaustive list of current mystery shopping companies for you, you'll want to know many things about the job, I'm sure.

Here we go:


(1) How do I get started in mystery shopping?

Sign up with each and every company listed above, whether it sounds like they have jobs you're interested in, in your location, or not. Situations change, schedulers switch to new companies, and you just never know. It's time-consuming at first, but in the end, you'll find it was worth the time spent joining every single company.

(2) How can I save time signing up for all eight billion companies you listed?

I have a few recommendations. First, use a form-filler such as Roboform or one you might already be using. You do NOT need to pay for Roboform; I've been using it for 7+ years with no problems whatsoever, so in my opinion, it's completely safe. Just type your information in all the categories listed on each tab one time, create a master password, and then use the service to fill in that information on application after application, page after page. It's so worth it.

Secondly, whenever an application asks you to write a short essay, save it to Word. You'd be surprised how often that same essay question comes up on these applications. Mostly, they're looking for a writing sample to verify that you're technically literate and capable of turning in a well-written report, so you do want to do your best work. Copy and paste the appropriate essay into subsequent applications, and you'll save a ton of time!

Finally, I recommend setting up either a separate email account just for your mystery shops, or setting up two specific folders within your main email account. Label one "Mystery Shop Companies" or something, to keep track of all those acceptance emails and assigned passwords you'll get, and label the other "Pending Mystery Shops" for all the incoming offers and assigned shops you'll be sure to get. Then go to your filters and set up the terms so those emails go straight to the proper folders, or else you can transfer them manually.

(3) I've signed up for all the companies in your list; now what happens?

The short answer is: it depends.

For mystery shopping companies on the Sassie platform, as well as Prophet and one or two others, you'll get emails whenever there are jobs in your designated areas of interest. The larger the radius of your desired zone, the more offers you'll get.

On the other hand, some shop companies use their own platforms, and instead of sending emails out with open opportunities, you'll need to actually go to those sites periodically (maybe the 1st and 15th of the month, maybe every week) to check for jobs. A Closer Look is one such company. They usually release new jobs between the 15th and 20th of each month, so be sure and keep an eye on it for the plum jobs.

(4) I've applied for a shop; does that mean it's mine to do now?

Not necessarily.

Some jobs are "self-assign," and you'll get an automatic confirmation (if it's on the Sassie platform) after you've applied for it and possibly selected your shop date. If it's on the Prophet platform (ICU Associates, Quest for Best, etc.), then you'll need to pick your date and will immediately see the shop added to your home page. You may NOT get an email confirmation for these Prophet shops, so be sure and write them down right away so you don't forget about them.

For non-self-assign jobs, you'll submit your application and then wait for an "acceptance" email. If you get the job, the subject will include something like "ACCEPTED: (job title here)" and all the pertinent information for when and where to conduct your shop. If you're not accepted, you'll get a "CLOSED" email, or maybe nothing. Don't be disappointed. Eventually, you'll get that highly-desired shop, but you have to start somewhere!

 (5) Okay, I'm assigned to a shop. What do I do now?

First, check to see whether you're required to confirm your acceptance of the shop. If you are, and you don't confirm, it may still be reassigned to someone else. Once you've done that, write the shop down on your calendar and/or add it to your phone calendar. Forgetting to do so is no excuse for missing a shop!

Next, see if the acceptance email details any shop specifics; in almost all cases, these details will override any discrepancies in the general shop guidelines, so be careful and pay attention to these. For example, the general guidelines for all Burger Hut shops may say all shops can be done M-F from 4-9 PM, but YOUR acceptance email may specify Thursday only from 5-8 PM. The email overrides the general instructions.

Now, read your general guidelines for the information on how to conduct the shop. These guidelines are full of information, so it's a good idea to peruse new-to-you shops when you first get assigned to make sure you're able to do everything listed. I recommend reading them again they day before or day of your actual assignment, so the information is fresh in your mind. Information may include a specific scenario to present ("I'd like a chicken sandwich," or "I need a new color printer," for example), a specific department(s) to evaluate, and more. In the case of "reveal" shops, in which you often award prizes, the criteria for success are detailed as well. In short, the guidelines are imperative; you MUST read them, and you MUST follow them, or you will probably not be paid for your shop.

If you need to, print out those guidelines, and then click on view/submit to see the actual shop form.  You can select "Print" to get a copy of that as well. Eventually, with practice, you won't need to do quite so much printing, but at first you will. Remember, ink, computer, printer, and paper count toward your business expenses when tax time comes, so keep receipts!

Once you have read all your forms and know exactly what to do, it's time to perform your shop.

 (6) What do I do on my mystery shop(s)?

Go to the correct location on the right date at the proper time. That's key.

If you're supposed to bring a date, or kids, or any other guests, do! If not, try and shop alone. The more distractions you have on your shop, the harder it will be to remember all the details afterward. Sometimes jobs depend on the results you report, so you want to be observant and have a keen eye for detail.

If you have a smartphone, you can take notes when appropriate and make it look like you're texting someone. Just play it cool and don't be obvious. The last thing you want to do is give away your status as the mystery shopper. If anyone ever questions you, just drop back into your normal persona, finish the assignment as quickly as possible, and get outta Dodge! Sometimes, if they remember you as the shopper, you don't get paid for your shop. That's no fun!

You'll want to remember and note the time you entered and exit the location. Almost all shops ask for this information.

Many shops, especially restaurants and retail stores, now ask what was on the right and what was on the left of the store/restaurant you visited. If you can't write/text that, snap a quick picture of the exteriors for a record.

The rest of the shop will depend on the type of establishment and your scenario. Most shops are looking for these things:

(a) Customer Service - Were you greeted when you entered? Were you offered assistance? Did they smile and make appropriate eye contact? Did they ask questions to determine your needs? Did they walk you to the items you were looking for and, later, follow up to make sure you found what you needed? Was your table server attentive and timely with drink/food/check delivery, and did s/he pick up and return your payment promptly? Did anyone offer a pleasant parting remark? All of those things are standard.

(b) Maintenance - Was the exterior of the building clean, including lot, landscaping, and sidewalks? Were doors and windows free of smudges? Inside, were floors, tables and chairs clean and well-maintained? Was the merchandise neatly arranged? Were the bathrooms clean and fully stocked with all necessary supplies? Did you observe any immediate safety hazards? Did all associates appear to be following safety guidelines (especially important at amusement and water parks)? And so on.

(c) Salesmanship - Did your server mention a specific Appetizer? When you ordered a generic alcoholic drink, did they try to upsell to a premium alcohol brand? Did you get a tour of the menu, with the daily specials detailed? Was dessert offered? Were you offered coffee or an after-dinner drink? In a store, were you told about special sales and promotions? Did the associate attempt to add-on to your purchase by suggesting additional items, either on the sales floor or at the cash register? For fast food shops, were additional items suggested after you finished ordering? Was the combo offered, and larger sizes mentioned? All of these are examples of salesmanship that you'll want to note in your reports.

(d) Management - Most shops want to know whether you were able to discern who was the manager. Did they keep the restaurant/store under control? Did they visit your table? Did they comment on your order/purchases? Did they make you feel welcome? What did they do throughout your evaluation?

(e) Integrity - For bar shops and others where you must pay cash, you'll be asked about cash integrity. Was the cash register always kept closed between transactions? Did you receive the proper change for your cash payment? Were tips placed in a tip jar or mixed in with the cash register? Did anyone make change from the tip jar? Did you receive a whole ticket (for entertainment venues)? Were tickets required for all attractions? Where did they put used tickets? And so on.

As you can see, mystery shopping is not the "fluff job" some people think it is. It can be a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of work. And it's important work. Jobs, bonuses, reprimands, raises, prizes, and training often depend on the reports you submit. You must always pay attention on your shops, report accurately and honestly, and never falsify your information. Locations getting a bad review will often pull the video from your visit to verify what you've reported, and some people will claim that you were not truthful. It doesn't happen often, but keep your notes, be truthful, and stand your ground!

(7) Phew! Okay, I did my mystery shop. Am I finished?

Nope. Now you have to report the results! All shops will give you a reporting deadline. If you find you cannot report your results in their timeframe, be sure and email your scheduler and ask for an extension. Try to limit these requests.

While you write your reports, it's important to use proper spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Not doing so will probably get your report rejected, and you won't be paid or reimbursed. Do your best, and make sure to spell-check before submitting every report. The best writers get the best grades, generally speaking. If your writing isn't up to par, and you don't think you can improve, then mystery shopping may not be the job for you.

Once you submit your results, check back at least twice a day for the next few days to make sure no edits are required. If the report is returned to you for edits, you usually have a short turn-around time to clarify or add anything the editor requests. You don't want to ignore those emails; after all, you've put so much time and effort into this job already, so you don't want to risk not getting paid for the shop.

(8) My report is done, and it got accepted. What do I do next?

Keep shopping! Apply for more jobs that interest you and are financially feasible on a regular basis.

Keep records. Every calendar year, I start a new record that includes this information for each assignment (you can print this one out, use Word or Excel, or figure out your own method, but keep records!):

- Mystery Shopping Company for that job

- Date of the shop

- Shop location (name and city, street, state as applicable)

- Out-of-pocket cost to you to complete the shop (including any shop charges, tolls, shipping fees to mail items back on the rare occasion, parking fees, etc.)

- Mileage to and from the location

- Expected reimbursement and fee

- Actual payment received

- Date paid

These records will be invaluable in not only keeping track of whether you're being paid for all the shops you performed but also for doing your taxes, so be diligent.

(9) I'm overwhelmed. Is this worth it? Anything else I need to know?

Relax. It's okay to be nervous at first. This is real work; don't let anyone tell you otherwise! Mystery shopping is serious business that doesn't get the respect it fully deserves. Take pride in what you do, and educate the naysayers.

Depending on where you live, mystery shopping may or may not help pay the bills. You might choose to do it as a hobby and only pick the 'fun' jobs like bowling, amusement parks, and other things that interest you. In the case, your goal might be to just break even or even just get paid to try new things that you might not otherwise have done.

Or, like me, you might choose to make it more of a career that has to help pay the bills. That means picking up some of the more tedious, boring shops, in between the fun ones, to help pad the paychecks that will come in the following month. It's up to you; work your business the way that works for you.

Each company reports your income to the IRS separately. If you make over $600 annually for a company, which includes your fees earned but should NOT include your reimbursements, then they will report. Anything less than $600 will not be reported, so it's up to you to do the right thing come tax time.

Be organized. Keep all your notes until at least after you're paid for the shop. Keep all your receipts in a file, whether digitally scanned in to your computer's documents or in a folder in your desk. Mark those computer records according to the name of the location and the date. For example, if I shopped Burger Hut in Pensacola yesterday, I'll name the file "Burger Hut Pensacola 051013" so I know exactly where to go if questions arise. Scan your business cards for non-purchase shops the same way.

(10) Do I need to get certified? Does it make a difference?

In my opinion, you should definitely get silver certified with the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). When I signed up in 2006, it only cost $15.00 for the silver certification, but it opened a whole new world of shops available to me. It was definitely worth it. Looking at the MSPA website, it looks like it's free? I'm not sure that's right, so correct me if you find out otherwise. If it IS free, though, what are you waiting for??

Gold certification cost $100 in 2009 when I got mine, but now it's $75 according to the same website.  Once you've been mystery shopping for a while and have gotten serious about it, then and only then would I consider going gold. You get access to more of the choice assignments, and it looks better, but only marginally. If you want to up your game, go gold. If you're happy with silver, stay silver.

(11) How do I find more shops?

Well, you can wait for the emails from each company detailing the opportunities they have in your designated areas, or you can be more proactive and go for more.

 The MSPA has a job search page here. You can search by many different parameters to find what you're looking for.

Check out the Volition Mystery Shopping forum for more information on companies, jobs, and more related to your new profession. (Look all over Volition for many more great resources while you're at it.)

My favorite place to find shops is JobSlinger. Sign up for your free account and click on "Search" under tools. You'll find many jobs that way, as well as other useful tools. Take some time to see all that JobSlinger has to offer.

You can also download the JobSlinger and Shop Notifier Apps, among others that I rarely use, to be kept up to date with current shop opportunities.

(12) What if something goes wrong on a shop? What do I do?

Think on your feet. Act natural, like you're just a regular shopper, and think quickly. Do what you can to save the shop. They don't always go as planned. Sometimes we mess up. It's human. Don't beat yourself up.

Once, I went far out of my way to do an apartment mystery shop. I made up a fake name and information, thinking I was supposed to do that, until I got there and they requested my ID! Not only did I not have the fake person's ID, but I couldn't do the required apartment tour and remainder of the assignment without that ID. I had to leave and abort that mission.

It happens to the best of us. But some shops can be saved if you keep your wits about you and come up with a saving scenario. I couldn't possibly list all potential issues here, but be aware that (a) things don't always go as planned and (b) we can't always save every shop.  Explain to your scheduler, forgive yourself for the blunder, and let it go!


I hope this comprehensive review of mystery shopping answers all your questions about getting started. Feel free to share this link anywhere on the web that you like, but remember to give proper credit to Smellyann Strikes Again when you do, please. Any questions? Comment below.

Happy shopping!