mystery shopping 101

Mystery Shopping is a marketing technique used by companies and research agencies to measure the quality of sales, services, products, employee satisfaction, or regulatory compliance. It is conducted to better understand customer experiences. 

Mystery shopping reveals the gap between Customer expectation and Customer Experience.

Mystery shoppers perform various tasks such as checking out a book, visiting a restroom, asking questions, or checking the user-friendliness of a website, and then submitting an objective and correct report.

Mystery Shopping can be used in any Industry. The most common establishments are Retail Stores, Hotels, Restaurants, Movie Theaters, Banks, fast food Chains, Gas Stations, Healthcare centers, and Govt agencies.

Mystery Shopper creates value in learning customer experiences. They help identify the gap between customer expectation and customer real experience. Staffs play a vital role in good customer experiences. A better experience leads to more awareness about the brand and increases loyalty towards the brand.

Mystery Shopping 101 is your ultimate guide to starting a career in mystery shopping. This guide has been divided into 6 parts and from starting mystery shopping to creating connections.

Mystery Shopping 101

  1. How To Start Mystery Shopping
  2. Doing Mystery Shopping
  3. Getting Paid
  4. How to Standout
  5. Getting Certified
  6. Create Connections
  7. How to Start Mystery Shopping

1. How to Start Mystery Shopping

While starting out it is important to stay organized and up to date with the latest technology. Some of the key components while starting Mystery Shopping are:

  • You are an Independent Contractor but not an employee of the company. You work as a vendor partner for the company.
  • While signing up as a Mystery Shopper you have to share your Personal Information like name, address, phone no, Payment Information, SSN (Social Security Number) for registration and tax purpose. It is safe to share the information with the companies.
  • Mystery shoppers never pay to get or conduct jobs rather companies pay them. 
  • Mystery Shoppers can create a separate business account(optional) to receive all payments. It keeps everything safe and separate from your personal transaction.
  • It is wise to create a dedicated email id for your mystery shopping jobs. Use it to sign up and receive different job invitations.
  • In the beginning, do not sign up for more than 5 mystery shopping companies, choose the best and the most reputed ones. You can find the best mystery shopping companies listed here.
  • MSPA also lists out the best mystery shopping providers list which you can follow.
  • Never pay to sign up in any mystery shopping company.
  • Once you have undertaken a number of mystery shopping jobs you can sign up for more companies. Take the initial time to learn the basics of conducting evaluations, reporting, getting paid, and more.

Creating a Mystery Shopper Profile:

It is essential to share your basic account information while creating a mystery shopping profile. It requires your

  • Name
  • Contact No
  • Email ID
  • Address
  • Social Security Number
  • Payment Info

Apart from this basic information you are also asked to give some more information like where do you shop, eat, play, what is your bank, and more personal preferences. The more the company understands you more the chance of getting a job. Once the shopper profile is complete you are ready to take on jobs.

doing mystery shopping
Doing mystery shopping the Right Way

2. Doing Mystery Shopping

When you are done with profiles, you are ready to start with your mystery shopping journey. Log in to your mystery shopper portal and search for jobs in your area or that interest you. Read all the details for that job like process, timing, payout, tools, or any specific requirements, etc.

If you fit in the criteria then hit on apply, start with one job and see how things are shaping up. Once your feet are rooted in the industry you can apply for multiple jobs and multiple companies.

Some points to remember,

  • Start with One Job at a time- Don’t overcommit from the beginning. Postponing or rescheduling creates a negative impression. So avoid doing such from the beginning.
  • Learn to qualify- You have to apply and get yourself qualified for a job. Each job has some criteria, some require completing a questionnaire. See if you fit all the criteria like any certification, your location, specific qualification, age. Etc.
  • Wait for Confirmation- Always wait for the confirmation email before jumping into the job.
  • Go through the Job Description Carefully- This is pretty important as it is your guidebook for conducting the job. It has the information that you need to do the job. Some jobs require specific photos to be taken in a different way, so things can vary. So it is essential to read the instructions thoroughly.
  • Always keep in touch with your scheduler or point of contact. Reach out to him if you have any doubts or don’t understand any p[art of the instructions.
  • Companies expect Mystery shoppers to be committed and reliable. Once you have scheduled to evaluate a store you have to keep your commitment. Rescheduling should be done only in case of emergencies. Excessive rescheduling will affect your profile negatively.
  • Keep clear communication with your point of contact at all times from taking up the job to submitting the final report.

If you are going to do this regularly and make some side income to support your family, sponsor a cause, or anything, you have to follow the above guidelines.

It takes commitment and perseverance to make any business work, so is mystery shopping.


Reporting is the final document from you to the company. It contains your observations, feedback, and more. You can’t go wrong because based on your observation company shares the final report with the client.

Some tips to make your reporting process smooth,

  • Always be objective about your observations. Companies want you to give your opinion based on your recent experience while evaluating the shop.
  • Reports must be free from grammatical and spelling errors. Some companies and assignments want you to write 500+ words as a part of the review. So you need to be spot on with your writing skills.
  • Editors will call you from time to time to check the consistency and authenticity of feedback and responses. Keep checking your emails for any of such communications. Some companies take 7 days to verify the results and you have to comply with the team.
  • Upload clean and proper photos as requested. Don’t send hazy or blurred pictures. Some companies want you to fix photographs on an A4 poster and send it.
  • Always save your data, reports, bills, receipts, and tickets, companies require you to store reports and bills up to 120 days of completing the survey.

3. Getting Paid

Getting your payment is the most important and fun part of Mystery shopping. You get paid for shopping, dining, staying in hotels, enjoying leisure rides, fun parks, and more. Always remember Legit Mystery Shopping Companies pay you not the opposite way.

Mystery shopping companies pay you for each completed job. These companies adopt different payment methods to send payments like,

  • Paypal
  • Direct Deposits
  • Check
  • Gift Cards
  • Points and more.

Different companies have different timelines for making payments and which can vary from 7 days to 90 days. For example

There are a wide variety of fees (from 4$-100$) involved in Mystery shopping. Different companies have different rates for various jobs. The fees basically differ on the basis of the nature of the job, time taken to complete it, the skills required, tools required (videos), and purchases (tickets, entry passes, products, or services).

The shopper fee has two parts A flat fee and a reimbursement(tickets, entry pass pr any purchases required).

Most jobs have well-defined job fees and instructions for reimbursements, so fees are always in the hands of the mystery shopper.

4. How To Standout

You can definitely make money from mystery shopping but what if you want to take this to the next level? What steps need to be taken to make it regular income.

If you fall in any of the below categories

  • If you are looking for a way to make some side income consistently month over month
  • You enjoy doing mystery shopping and want to continue doing it each month
  • You want to grow it as your business and make a steady income

Then you need to stand out and make it work every time, so what will you do,

  • Make a plan of your day, like if you are in a full-time job and you have free time during lunch like 12-2 PM or a housewife who has free time when kids are at school. Plan your day ahead, create a route, watch your time frame and keep organized.
  • By organized I meant keeping receipts, taking notes, taking pictures while you complete multiple shops.
  • If you keep it organized you will have better chances of completing more successful jobs.
  • Use tools more efficiently like cameras, smartphones, mobile apps. The traditional approach was to remember details(memorize), take photos in digital cameras secretly. But now smartphones do all of that you can take photos, take notes while on the evaluation. While some companies have launched mobile apps where you can track shops, create routes, fill details, upload photos, and any other details without leaving the store.
  • Know how to use the tools properly because it is a covert evaluation you should know how to turn off the flash, turn off the shutter sound while clicking photos.
  • Check photos, take extra photos, submit reports without grammatical and spelling errors.
  • Save your receipts, bills, tickets, entry passes for about 120 days.
  • Submit reports within the deadline. Some companies want you to report back within 24 hours of them being completed while others give you 7 days to submit reports.
  • Be in touch. Always communicate clearly with your scheduler or Point of contact.

These little things matter a lot and this is what separates a mystery shopper from a professional mystery shopper.

If you follow the guidelines, submit the data correctly and in time the best thing that will happen is you will be recognized. That is a level up for you, you will be offered some temporary jobs as editor or scheduler. These can lead to a full-time job with the company.

5. Getting Certified

This is the only area where mystery shoppers pay i.e to learn specific courses and get certified. Some jobs and some companies look for mystery shoppers with a specific certificate. 

MSPA is the Institutional body that overlooks the Mystery Shopping companies and professionals, conducts these courses.

But what are the advantages of completing the courses and being certified?

Here are the advantages of these certificates,

  • Learn new skills
  • Be the Preferred Choice for Many Mystery Shopping companies
  • Makes your shopping record stand out in the crowd
  • You become a better mystery shopper


There are 3 core courses that need to be passed in order to get into the next level specialty courses and these are,

  1. Intro to Mystery Shopping
  2. Professional Report Writing
  3. MSPA Professional Responsibility and Ethics

For all courses under MSPA, you get 4 attempts in a year to pass the exams with a minimum of 80% marks.

The specialty Courses are,

  1. Quick Service Restaurants(QSR)
  2. Casual and Fast Casual Dining
  3. Fine Dining
  4. Brand Standards Auditing
  5. Luxury Shops
  6. Telephone and Auditing
  7. Hotel and Resort
  8. Property Management
  9. Banking and Finacial Institutions
  10. Automotive Ⅰ
  11. Automative Ⅱ
  12. Retail Ⅰ
  13. Retail Ⅱ
  14. Retail Ⅲ
  15. Airport Ⅰ
  16. Casinos

The benefit of taking these specialty courses,

  • You learn the history of the industry 
  • You learn how things work inside the institution/store/outlet
  • All the things that are in trend
  • Daily problems and challenges faced by the manager
  • When you think like them you see things more clearly and can identify more critical details

The other 3 stand-alone courses are,

  1. Gold Certification
  2. Video Mystery Shopping
  3. Video Shopping Ⅱ (Interactive Workshop, Practical Class)

6. Creating Connections

Creating connections is essential if you want to move ahead on the ladder. Once you have some flashy certificates and you win the confidence of mystery shopping companies that is the moment you start making connections. You become a recognized shopper for the company and you get better gigs than others.

With some years under your belt, you will receive calls from companies to become their editor or scheduler. When there is an opportunity available you might jump to a full-time job with the company.

So always be committed, reliable and earn some certifications to move that extra step towards a successful professional career in mystery shopping.


Can you really make money mystery shopping?

Yes, you can make money with mystery shopping, they pay between 5$ to 100$ depending upon the nature of the job. The more no of shops you can complete the more you can earn. One warning is you have to complete each shop successfully as per the guidelines given to you at the time of taking the job.

There is no limit on the no of jobs one can do so the sky is the limit. You get flexible schedules, good pay, free food, groceries, or fuel.

How do secret shoppers get paid?

There are many ways through which Secret Shoppers are paid worldwide and they are as follows,

  • Paypal
  • Direct Deposits
  • Check
  • Gift Cards
  • Points
  • Miles
  • Credit Card Reloads


Mystery Shopping is a great way to earn extra money doing what you already do. You can sign up to become a mystery shopper today to help you earn more income and have more time for the things that are important to you.

If you liked Mystery Shopping 101, please leave us a comment below so we know what else we can provide in the future.

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One Comment

  1. Excellent instruction!
    Helps to make things really clear
    Thanks a bunch!

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