Mystery shopping, or secret shopping, is a process or a tool used most often by the companies in the service industries to evaluate the quality of the service they offer to their customers.
Mystery shoppers are normal everyday folks hired to perform this task. As part of a mystery shopping assignment, mystery shoppers pose as regular customers and avail the services offered by a company.
After the assignment, the secret shopper is required to submit a detailed report (often within 24 hours) evaluating the service of the company. The report by the mystery shopper will provide an impartial assessment of their services to the company.
In addition to the customer service and quality of service aspect, the companies can also evaluate their staff’s compliance with government regulation and company policies.
Mystery shopping is also used for market research by competing businesses. The other aspects evaluated through mystery shopping include, employee integrity, cleanliness or other condition of a facility, the quality of the product served, gender or racial discrimination etc.
Industries that use Mystery Shoppers:
Most people think that mystery shopping exist only in the retail world such as restaurants, bars, department stores and shopping malls. This is far from the truth. In addition to these traditional sectors, the following industries also engage mystery shoppers.
- Amusement Parks,
- Apartment Communities,
- Banks – For example, to find how long it will take to open a new account? Or to find if the tellers are offering information about the the other financial products by the bank etc.,
- Call Centers,
- Car Dealerships,
- Car Rental Companies,
- Casinos and other Gaming Industries,
- Commercial Leasing Companies,
- Cruise Ships,
- Educational Institutions,
- Franchise Operations (Packing and shipping stores, Tax Services etc),
- Government Agencies – Yes our government also engage mystery shoppers to evaluate certain services provided by the government – Eg: DOT – Department of Transportation, Libraries, National Parks etc.,
- Golf Clubs,
- Gyms and Health Clubs,
- Hair Saloons,
- Health Spas,
- Home Builders,
- Hotels and Resorts,
- Investment Companies,
- Music Concerts,
- Movie Theaters,
- Parking Garages
How much money can one make as a Mystery Shopper?
As you may already know, mystery shoppers don’t earn a salary. They are paid per assignment. From the low end, you can make $10.00 per assignment and it can go up to $500.00 for high value assignments.
The money you make will depend on the number of assignments you do and the skills and knowledge you have to land on high value assignments. There are news reports showing some of the mystery shoppers earning thousands of dollars per year. However, typically you can expect to earn a few hundred dollars a month, as long as you follow the below secrets for becoming successful in mystery shopping assignments.
In addition to regular shopping at a physical location, mystery shoppers are also engaged in on-line shops (to evaluate on-line shopping experience), purchase and return shops (to evaluate the efficiency and experience in returning merchandise) and telephone shops (to evaluate call center service).
Listed below are the time tested secrets of becoming a successful mystery shopper.
- Never pay for getting a Mystery Shopping assignment:
- Attention to detail:
- Good communication skills – written and verbal:
- Industry Experience:
- Be selective when accepting new assignments:
- Weigh the costs and leave those low value assignments to Rookies:
- Track your expenses accurately for your taxes:
- Track your earnings:
- The secret for getting high value assignments quickly:
Like any industry, there are con artists in the mystery shopping industry also.
There are companies that will ask you to pay a membership fee for listing your name in their mystery shoppers directory or they will claim that they will find mystery shopping assignments for you.
The rookie, wannabe mystery shoppers are often preyed by these con artists.
Please remember, there is nothing mysterious about Mystery Shopping. These are regular jobs which you can directly apply and receive assignments without the need for any middlemen.
Finding Legit Mystery Shopping Jobs
To find legit mystery shopping jobs, we have compiled the list of some of the best mystery shopping companies. Please review our directory of legitimate mystery shopping companies which doesn’t require you pay any money for getting mystery shopping assignments.
This is one of the most important quality for a mystery shopper. For your service to be valuable to the company hiring and paying you, you must provide enough actionable details in your report so that the company can use that for improving their service or the customer experience they provide. If you have experience in the retail or hospitality industry, that would help you in this area, since you know the ins and outs of retailing, you will know how to focus your attention to the most important aspects.
As you know, your report after your assignment is the value you are adding to the company how hired you for the assignment. So ability to effectively communicate in writing your feedback is very crucial for your success. This will also result in you getting repeat assignments from a company. Often times, after they get your report, if there is an area where they need additional information, they may call you to get more details about your assignment or report. On such occasions your verbal communication skills also would be tested.
Your communication skills will also be useful during the shopping assignment to successfully complete your task.
Pick those assignments where you have some experience.
For example, if you want to do a mystery shopping assignment at a golf club, you should have some knowledge about the golfing industry. Also you should have played a few rounds of gold – otherwise it will be difficult to add value in your assignment.
Another example, if you don’t go to bars or feel uncomfortable around alcohol, then don’t take a bar shop as your assignment.
Accepting new assignments indiscriminately is a mistake committed by many rookie mystery shoppers. By selecting assignments without consideration to your skills and experience, you may make a few additional dollars in the short-term. But in the long-term, you may either burn-out due to low quality assignments or reduce the chance of repeat assignments due to the poor quality reports you submit as you are selecting industries where you don’t have specialized knowledge.
Instead of this, if you are selective and screen new assignments for suitability and alignment with your skills, soon you will be recognized for your knowledge and expertise in the area. Once you are recognized for your expertise, you will start receiving higher value assignments in alignment with your industry knowledge and skills.
Many new comers to the mystery shopping world come with fanciful eyes, thinking that they can make easy money while simply shopping. This is not true. Mystery shopping is a real work and you should have a keen eye to add value. At the same time, there are numerous low value assignments where it may not worth your time to take the assignment. For example a $10.00 assignment where you have to drive 40 miles, to do the assignment may not be worth while for you.
In this particular case, if you multiply 40 miles with $0.53 (the federal government mileage rate per mile for the year 2017), you will see that it will cost you $21.20 just for the fuel and the wear and tear on your car. So by taking this assignment you will be losing your time as well as $11.20.
So, our suggestion is to leave such low value assignments to rookies.
If you are making some money through mystery shopping, come tax time, you are responsible for paying taxes on that income. So make sure to keep a log of all your travels and other expenses incurred for your shopping assignments. Any vehicle mileage used for mystery shopping which is not directly and specifically reimbursed by the mystery shopping company may become a tax deductible business expense for you. So make sure you keep a log of all your mystery shopping trips and the corresponding mileage to deduct the mileage expense during the tax time.
All reputable mystery companies will pay you in time. Still due to the multi-step nature of the work – approving of the assignment, you doing the actual shopping for the assignment, submitting your report, the company reviewing your report etc, it will generally take 45 to 60 days for the company to send you the payment.
If you track all your assignment details on a spreadsheet, then when you receive your payment, you can record that in the spreadsheet. In case you didn’t get paid by the company, then this spreadsheet will help you to follow-up with the company about the nonpayment.
If you are serious about Mystery Shopping and would like to land on higher value assignments quickly, then you should explore taking the Mystery Shopper Certification by MSPA Americas (Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America). You can buy their entry level certification course for $25.00 from their website.
Having this certification will set you apart from the Rookies. The certificate will testify that you are a serious candidate for the assignment compared to non-certified candidates. Many reputable companies with high value assignments will only schedule the assignments with certified shoppers. Later, as you start making more money through your mystery shopping assignments, you can take more advanced certifications offered by MSPA.
Do you have any additional mystery shopping secrets or tips to share?
If this post was valuable to you, or if you have additional secrets to share, please comment below.