What is Mystery Shopping?

By Cathy Stucker – The Mystery Shoppers Manual

Mystery shoppers evaluate customer service, cleanliness and quality at all kinds of businesses. The mystery shopper reports are used by businesses to recognize star performers, determine training needs, monitor whether procedures are being followed, identify missed sales opportunities and even, in some cases, as one factor in determining raises and bonuses.

What Kinds of Businesses Use Mystery Shoppers?

Secret shopping programs are used in many businesses, including retail stores, restaurants, hotels, banks, apartment complexes, movie theaters, automotive sales and service, spas, salons, and just about everywhere else that does business with the public. Even government agencies may be mystery shopped.

What Do Mystery Shoppers Do?

Mystery shoppers visit businesses and act like normal customers. However, the mystery shopper has been given a list of questions that they are to answer in a report completed after the visit. These questions may address issues such as how long they were in the business before they were greeted, if suggestive selling techniques were used, whether or not they were thanked, if the location was clean and well-maintained, etc.

A mystery shopper should not let anyone know that they are conducting the evaluation. They simply appear to be a customer, doing the things typical customers do, such as asking questions and making a purchase.

Later, the secret shopper will complete a report form (usually online) to answer the questions they were given prior to the visit.

How Much Do Mystery Shoppers Get Paid?

Pay for mystery shopping is generally by the job, not by the hour. The amount a shopper receives for completing an assignment will vary, based on the time required to complete the shop and report, any special skills needed, and other factors.

Secret shopper pay may be a flat fee, a reimbursement for a required purchase, or both a fee and reimbursement. For example, compensation for a restaurant mystery shop may be reimbursement for meals for two people (the shopper and a companion) or it may also include a small fee, such as $5 to $10.

New mystery shoppers will usually see shops paying the lower ranges, starting at $10 – $20. With just a little experience, more interesting and lucrative shops will become available.

Do not underestimate the value of reimbursements. Although at the low end reimbursements may cover only a small, token purchase, on some assignments the reimbursement will pay in full for salon services, a car oil change, a hotel stay, attendance at a professional sporting event, or dinner for two at a fine restaurant. Shoppers may even have the purchase of eyeglasses or contact lenses covered, in full or in part.

The total amount a shopper will earn depends on where she lives, the number of shops he is willing and able to do, the type of shop assignments accepted and the quality of the shopper’s work. With some experience, many part-time shoppers make $500 – $1000 a month or more, working a schedule of their choosing.

Who Hires Mystery Shoppers?

Most businesses with secret shopping programs do not directly hire their own shoppers. They hire mystery shopping companies who run the programs and select shoppers. Many mystery shopping companies are members of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.

How Can You Become a Mystery Shopper?

The first step is to apply online to mystery shopping companies. Never pay a fee to apply to any mystery shopping company. Legitimate companies do not charge you to apply. There is a list of nearly 200 legitimate mystery shopping companies at http://www.mysteryshoppersmanual.com/mystery-shopping-companies. Although you do not have to apply to all of the companies listed, applying to several (perhaps 10, 20 or more) will help you to find more mystery shops faster.

Take time with your applications. Answer every question. Mystery shopping companies value shoppers with good spelling and grammar skills, so proof your application carefully before submitting it.

The application may ask a number of questions that seem personal, things such as if you have children and their ages, your age, your family income, what kind of car you drive and more. These questions are not asked simply to be nosy. It is likely that the mystery shopping company has clients requiring shoppers with certain characteristics for their shops. By answering these questions, you will be certain to learn about shops for which you qualify.

Some companies send notices of available assignments via email, while others ask that you visit their job board to see what is available. Read the shopper information at each web site to discover how they notify mystery shoppers of what assignments are available.

Your first mystery shops will probably not be glamorous and you will not get rich. However, if you do a great job on those first shops, you will see more and better assignments.

How Can You Learn More About Mystery Shopping?

The Mystery Shopper’s Manual, provides lots of great advice and tips for becoming a successful professional shopper.