Top Secret Tips of a Mystery Shopper

Published on August 28, 2015 By Lauren

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    When you’re looking for more ways to make a little money, becoming a mystery shopper can be a great fit.  Many people have heard of mystery shopping, but don’t really know where to get started or what to expect from the experience.

    1.) It’s important to start your journey with a reputable company that has a solid reputation.

    MSPA-NA (formerly known as the Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America) is a great place to start gathering information, according to Kate Horrell, finance coach at  She also recommends visiting the forums at to get the inside scoop on any company you’re thinking of working with. “By reading through the posts at the Volition website, you can learn more about what sort of jobs each company offers, their requirements, and pay practices.”

    Another great resource is  Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, owner of highly recommends Bestmark.  “I’ve used them for a few years and their customer service is great. They are a legitimate company as well.”

    2.) After you’re linked up with a reputable organization, you need to have reasonable expectations.

    The good news is that mystery shoppers aren’t paid for their experience or past history of work.  Each job sets its own flat fee that’s the same whether you’re an expert or a beginner.

    “Phone call and online mystery shops are around $3 to $5. Restaurant mystery shops are around $25 to $100, and so on,” reports Schroeder-Gardner.  “Phone call and online mystery shops tend to take around 5 minutes, and around 10 minutes to complete the survey afterward. Restaurant mystery shops take around one hour (or however long it takes you to eat) and around 30 minutes to complete the survey afterward.”

    Those times can improve as you gain experience.  “Good mystery shoppers shave that time down considerably by doing multiple shops together or planning their shops around their regular daily routine,” reports Horrell.

    3.) It’s good to decide how much time you have to accomplish each task from start to finish before committing.  

    When you’re considering a job, include your time to travel, experience, and report back with your feedback.  This might mean waiting for service or getting stuck in downtown traffic; it might mean time for dining.

    Find the shops that work for your needs, desires, and schedule.  Sure, you might love another “free” meal at a restaurant, but you might find it a better use of your time to review the “free oil change” at the auto shop.

    4.) You’ll want to consider if the fee and reimbursement levels are worth your time investment.

    Sometimes you might receive no fee at all but a hefty reimbursement range.

    Kate Horrell gives wise advice about the difference between the fee you get paid for your review and the reimbursement you receive.  “Most companies pay via Paypal.  Some companies will pay within days, for other companies it could be 30 to 60 days.  More importantly, you are usually spending your own money on the purchase, to be reimbursed with the payment.  If you can’t afford to be without the money, you need to pick your jobs or your companies carefully.

    Both of our experts agree that the flexibility and benefits are the best part of mystery shopping.

    Kate Horrell’s top tips are extremely valuable to consider before diving into your mystery shopping career:

    • “There is a learning curve to writing mystery shopping reports, and it isn’t for everyone.  You need to be able to remember a lot of details without taking notes.
    • “If your report isn’t accepted, you won’t be paid or reimbursed.  Bad mystery shopping will cost you money.
    • “Start small!  Completely your first job, and get feedback, before assigning yourself to a slew of jobs.”

    Michelle Schroeder-Gardner has these final thoughts to share:

    • “My favorite shops were the ones that were at very nice restaurants. I loved being able to receive free drinks, delicious food, and more, all for free.”
    • “The main con is that sometimes the surveys take a long time to complete. Surveys can also be quite tedious to do.

    What are your tips for a mystery shopper?  What would be your number one tip for people just getting started?

    mystery shopper

    Thanks so much to our experts for their insights. Kate Horrell talks about money and life at Michelle Schroeder-Gardner blogs at the personal finance site


  • Tip: Do read the briefing carefully and do exactly as you’re told. If you don’t understand a part of the instructions, don’t hesitate to call or email the mystery shopping company and ask for assistance / further explanation.

  • i am very interested in becoming a mystery shopper I have always wanted to know how this works i really want to b a part of this team. I feel I can give very good feedback. I love to go out and I’m always the one one who sees the good and the bad of everyplace.

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