Most mystery shoppers were not born as mystery shoppers. It took them practice and perseverance to get it right, so it was smooth and professional. We often wish someone would have “told us” what to DO and what NOT to DO when we first started out. But we learned the hard way. Hopefully what we learned was not repeated on the next shop.

Here are a list of the Do’s and Don’ts of mystery shopping.

Do follow Guideline Instructions.

As a shopper going to the wrong location at the wrong time or going to the wrong location at the right time, either one can get your shop thrown out. If the shop requires you make an objection and you fail to do so, the client has paid for you to object on the sale and wants to see the associate’s reaction to the objection.

Don’t Ask Highly Detailed Questions of the Employee.

Unless the client says he wants you to ask very detailed questions, don’t sound like a mechanical engineer, when you ask for the pump design specifications of a rotodynamic single shaft pump for your submersible water pump, in your 10 gallon aquarium container. Act like a normal customer would. This means most customers would not know most (or much) of the workings of an aquarium pump and you should act like you don’t either.

Do Comment on “No” Responses.

If you fail to explain why you said no to an answer, this short-changes the client and withholds information the client needs to know. Such as, were you greeted? No? What happened? Why did the associate not greet you? This enables the client to coach the employee, to better greet the customers. This helps to improve on the customer-experience.

Don’t use information from previous shops.

It might be tempting to some shoppers who have a route of 9 gas stations to cut and paste the interaction they had with the cashier. Don’t do it. Type each report individually. The client deserves and wants a unique report from each gas station. Not to mention if they see you are cutting and pasting answers, which is falsifying the report, even if 9 cashiers at 9 gas stations all greeted you with the same greeting. Don’t do it.

Do provide supporting documentation requested.

Make sure you provide all requested documentation. From the receipt to the business card, to brochures and pamphlets. All of these help the client verify you were there, who you talked to and what they offered you. Without these forms of validation, it will be much harder for you to be paid. Now provided, sometimes the associate has no business card, no brochures, and can’t provide a receipt. In all cases, before you head to this particular shop, (and others) imagine they don’t have the required documentation and plan accordingly. Take pictures of the location. Take pictures of the front door, which show the locations name, hours and phone number. If this is all you have, submit it. If your shop is declined after all that, you may want to reconsider working with that particular mystery shopping company.

Don’t use vague answers in describing an interaction.

Answers such as, “The employee was nice.” How was he nice? What did he do? How about, “The employee smiled warmly as he greeted me, shaking my hand in a confident manner.” The client wants to know if he shook your hand and made eye contact while doing so? Often the employee at the front, is the first person you see/customer sees and the client wants to know if they made a positive impression on their customers at the location.

Do change your profile information as needed.

Changing your address, phone number and email on your profile when you move, ensures you will have work. If the mystery shopping company can’t contact you, they might deactivate you after a certain period of time. Not to mention, that if the editor has a question for you about your report, and they can’t reach you, the shop is often declined without further clarification. If something changes about your personal information, make it a habit to change the information within 48 hours.

Don’t cancel a shop if you can reschedule.

If you must cancel a shop, do it early. That way the scheduler can repost the shop for another shopper to fill. If you have an emergency, notify your scheduler at once. Even if you have to take a ding on your account, it’s better than being deactivated or punished for not doing the shop. If you can, always reschedule a shop. Sometimes, this is not possible, as it’s the last day the shop that it can be performed. Sometimes things happen, weather, a disaster and you can only apologize to your scheduler and hope points or score will not be deducted.

Do use SpellChecker or some spell checking program.

We all make spelling errors. We are tired. We have many reports to do. We just don’t see the error through our blurry eyes. Sometimes the program will automatically detect spelling errors. Sometimes they don’t have a functional spell-checker on their site. Just try to re-read what you wrote a few times. If you have a spell checking program, use it.

Don’t have “Obvious Contradictions” in your Report.

“The server was friendly” and then later you click “unfriendly” on the radial choices. It’s a mistake. It happens. But the client sees contradictions, gets confused and your whole report goes in the toilet bowl. They wonder what you were thinking? Thankfully, we had editors who read your report before being sent to the client. Sometimes your contradictions can cost you points. Or, in some companies, actually ($) money deductions. One company takes $1 for every contradiction and time they have to contact you, to address a discrepancy. Don’t let that happen to you. Check and recheck your report to make sure it is accurate.

Do ask for a bonus.

There are companies that seem surprised when you ask for a bonus, or tell you they don’t offer bonuses. There are companies that tell you to “name your price” but apparently your price is too high. They don’t accept your offer. They lowball or completely decline any further offers. Like most negotiations, just aim a little high and come down some so you both meet in the middle on price.

Don’t Double-Dip without Permission.

Oftentimes, a shopper will report that they “DID” double-dip on 2 shops but never asked permission to do so. Not a good practice. Double dipping is where you have two different assignments, at the same location (let’s say Home Depot) for two different mystery shopping companies. In one assignment, you are required to purchase a can of paint (+observations) and in the other assignment for the other company, you are required to purchase insulation (+observations). You think it’s okay to grab the insulation and then get the paint and report for each company. It may not be okay. The client has paid you for his observations and you are doing double-duty ops. If you just ask first, then, if given the okay or go-ahead, then this is not a problem. If it IS a problem and you are found out, you could find yourself not working for that particular company anymore. And, as we all know, schedulers can report back to one another what you did and you find yourself not working at all.

Do request an itemized receipt, not just a credit card receipt.

Some shoppers make the mistake of accepting a credit card receipt instead of an itemized one. The itemized one shows what you purchased and the price of each, in great detail. A credit card receipt just shows the final charges, such as price and taxes, for instance. If you are required to use your credit card, for a dinner most servers hand you an itemized receipt and you should immediately put that in your wallet. Then later, she will hand you the credit card receipt. Always make a habit of pocketing the itemized receipt so your shop will be accepted.

Don’t burn bridges with mystery shopping companies.

It seems to make sense at the time. You have been slighted by a once-favorite mystery shopping company. You are angry. You call the client. You call the restaurant. You call corporate. You complain to anyone that will listen. You file a BBB complaint. You threaten to sue. You post on mystery shopping forums, about how you were treated. You leave verbatim emails that any smart scheduler can figure out who you are.. You are furious with the offending mystery shopping company and everybody is going to know about it. STOP. Think about what you are doing. You can get blacklisted in a New York second as a trouble-maker who did not move on, who did not move forward. Learn to walk away from future trouble. You have that ability.

Do believe in “Time Management Skills.”

You have 9 shops today, soccer practice, a doctor appointment, little league try- outs, a play recital for your youngest daugher, laundry, carpet cleaning guy coming at 4:00 p.m.. You find yourself having time for most of your shops amazingly.but when it comes to reporting your shops, you are exhausted. You have to rest first and make dinner. The kids need help with their homework. The dog has to be walked or your carpet will get soiled. You still haven’t had time to get to those reports. You fall into bed and wake up when the sun is coming up. All your reports! You need to enter all your reports! Will you get them in time? No. You got half in and the other half are late. Now, you are in trouble. You decide to keep entering and suddenly the reports disappear off your board because you went passed the time limit and now they are gone! You need help! You call the scheduler. They can’t help you. You always extend yourself this way. They dump you as a shopper. Take a deep breath. Write down your priorities and start over fresh. Decide what is the most important thing to you?


Some shoppers like to use caps. They don’t realize it’s like shouting and quite annoying! Make sure you don’t use caps or get rid of the habit if you DO. Some companies like all CAPS. They want your report done that way. They have a program that turns your report into ALL CAPS. Unless it is specified, don’t use CAPS in your reports.

Do Secure your Receipts.

Nothing is more awful than a windy day and your receipt goes flying out the window! You try to compose yourself as your car careens off the freeway and into a ditch. You just missed hitting the off-ramp pole. You jump out of your car and try to chase the receipt, dodging semi-trucks and gasoline trucks. You finally are able to grab the receipt! You hold onto it like a million dollar lottery ticket. You find a safe place for it. Just remember to find a good spot to put your receipt so it does not fly out the window next time Many shoppers take a photograph of their receipt with their phone. This might be a good idea for you. No receipt, NO Pay, but not always. There are variances. Too many of those and you get deactivated.

Don’t “take notes” in view of associates.

You’ve seen it. Warnings for shoppers not to park their car in front of the mattress store, 4 feet from the front door, filling out their paperwork, after they finish the shop. But you see and hear about it from other shoppers. Mostly newer ones who don’t think the mattress guy is watching them after a lengthy shop with no sale. Or worse, they bring their paperwork in the store, with their pencil and try to fill out the forms when they think no-one is looking. Don’t do this. Ever! You will get caught and the client is not going to pay you if you became quite “noticeable” during the shop. If you must, ask to use the restroom and furiously text to yourself what you need. As you become a more experienced shopper, you won’t need to do that, except for few other shops like the restaurant shops, where you must time everything, from drinks, to salad, to meal to check and dessert.

Do be careful about labeling someone as fat, short, pregnant or obese.

You want to get a full description of your target. You write that she was pregnant (but she was not pregnant). You write down that he was short, fat and bald. The associate reads your report. He is offended and hurt. He does not see himself in that way and wonders who gave you the power to describe him in that manner? Some reports only want hair color and height. Some want build, such as “heavy, average or slight” each report is different. The guidelines usually tell you how to describe the associate. Please stick with those. The associates DO read your reports.

Don’t draw attention to yourself.

When you are a new shopper, it often feels like everyone KNOWS you are the shopper. It’s nerve-wracking at first but one day you realize nobody knows you are a shopper because you are GOOD! But sometimes, shoppers get too obvious, too dramatic, and too memorable. The last thing you want to be is THAT GUY that everyone laughed at. The guy who made a scene and was real clown. He dressed in bizarre colors and made a total fool of himself. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Dress like a normal customer would dress for that assignment. (If you are car-shopping for a Lexus, dress the part and act the part of someone who can afford a Lexus) Be like the customer. What would the customer do? In most cases, the client wants you to react like a normal customer. With the exception, some dining shops do NOT want you to let the server know your meal was horrible but instead, report back to the mystery shopping company instead. Some companies want you to complain if you have a real issue and get it corrected immediately.

In closing: There are many more Do’s and Don’ts, in the mystery shopping world, such as leading the associate to get the answers you are looking for or the target ones in the guidelines that tell you what to look for. Let the associate lead the visit. It does not help him if you say he did something he did not do. That is where his counseling or coaching comes in with his employer. But most of all, have fun and keep shopping!


Originally Published in Mystery Shopper Magazine, March 2016 Edition