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How to be a mystery shopper (top secrets revealed!)

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Editor's note: this blog post was originally written in July 2014 and has since been updated for clarity and with the latest information. Enjoy!

Earn money while you shop, go out for dinner or take a trip to the bank. Sounds good, right?

Mystery shopping is a great way to earn extra cash and do something a bit different with your time.

If you've ever wondered about the joys of being a mystery shopper, you're in the right place.

First things first...

Birds eye image of five brown paper shopping bags

What is a mystery shopper?

A mystery shopper (sometimes called secret shopper) is someone who helps companies assess how they are doing, in the eyes of the customer.

Normally associated with retail or hospitality, mystery shoppers go into the designated shop, restaurant, cafe etc. to see how staff perform, whether they meet customer service expectations and where staff training needs to be focused.

Mystery shoppers can also be asked to report on in-store presentation and to give a general insight into how it is run.

Why do companies need mystery shoppers?

Mystery shoppers provide a 'real' insight into the business, one that companies would be unable to ascertain themselves.

To ensure that customers keep returning, businesses need to focus on their customer service to ensure it is up to scratch and reflective of the company.

Mystery shoppers are a great way to get impartial advice direct from the consumer, helping them to improve.

Why should I do mystery shopping?

When done correctly, mystery shopping is a fun way to earn a bit of extra cash for what you already enjoy doing.

It's important to know that you're not going to make a second income from mystery shopping and be able to leave your current role. To get the best from mystery shopping, you should see it as a fun way to earn a small bit of money, or a way to get free meals, coffees etc.

By mystery shopping, you're also in the knowledge that you are helping companies get better by improving their customer service.

Brunette woman wearing red jumper and black coat looking at iPhone with reflection in mirror

Who makes a good mystery shopper?

The simple answer is... everyone!

If you've got a spare couple of hours, you can fill it with mystery shopping. Lunch hours, in between classes, after work, weekends etc. Because of the varying nature of mystery shopping, jobs can be given for all sorts of times - even at night!

Mystery shopping is part-time and flexible, meaning you can do it around your current role or your studies. If you're heading off to University, mystery shopping is a great way to fill those hours between lectures.

Similarly, if you work part-time, are on maternity leave or are retired, mystery shopping is a fun and flexible way to earn a bit of extra cash.

What do mystery shoppers do?

Surprisingly, mystery shopping isn't just about shopping!

A wide range of work is available for mystery shoppers, from buying a particular product or eating in a restaurant.

Mystery shoppers could be asked to behave in a certain way, or purchase items from car dealerships, banks, fast food chains or healthcare facilities. You could even find yourself on a flight to another country and be asked to comment on the service given by the air staff.

Two ladies dining at a busy restaurant

How much do mystery shoppers get paid?

The question you've all been waiting for!

Work varies with mystery shopping, as does pay. It's not a reliable source of steady income, rather a bit of fun that can earn you extra cash here and there.

Some agencies pay a set daily rate for a job, or you get paid with the products that you receive. For example, the contents of your shopping basket, a free pizza delivered or a stay in a hotel.

It's worth checking out reviews of agencies to see what other people have been paid to check it suits your expectations.

How do I become a mystery shopper?

I'm glad you've asked!

There are lots of different sites you can use to become a personal shopper. The more you sign up for the better, as the more assignments you'll likely to be given.

Top tip time!

While there are many legitimate mystery shopping websites out there, be aware of the less than legit ones.

If any ask for a fee upon signup your best bet is to avoid. Majority of mystery shopping sites do not charge for signing up!

Check out reviews and research the company first in order to ensure that it's genuine.

And if you're in any doubt, take a look on the MSPA website to see if it's featured. If it's not part of the Mystery Shopping Professionals Association, steer clear!

Retail Maxim is a popular mystery shopping agency with clients in retail and hospitality. Assignments often go fast, so you need to be on the ball to snap them up. Discover what they expect from their shoppers, the services they've provided in the past and jobs near you by visiting the site or giving them a call.

Tern offers a huge variety of jobs to undertake, some even from the comfort of your own home. They're dedicated to improving the customer experience across a number of industries and you can help by signing up to be a mystery shopper.

To find out more follow the link above to their website and get going today.

If you're under 20 then this is a great mystery shopping service for you.

Serve Legal are an ID compliance testing service. Basically, they check that people who look like they should be getting ID'ed, are.

This can be in supermarkets, bars, betting shops - anywhere where you need to be of a certain age to purchase a product.

Serve Legal is a great part-time, flexible role that you can undertake at University or other studies. Why not check it out now?

Market Force has over 400,000 mystery shoppers across Europe and Northern America and it's easy for you to join this growing number! They have a wide variety of assignments, completing over 100,000 every month.

Help businesses improve their customer experience by signing up today for free.

GBW Mystery Shopping operates in over 100 countries worldwide, so you'll likely find assignments near you!

Jobs can be scheduled for lunch breaks, between classes, at night, on the weekend or whenever you find a spare hour. 

Find out more and sign up for free today.

As the name suggests, Mystery Dining is about... mystery dining.

Pay visits to high-street restaurants and get your meal for free by providing a detailed and objective report.

If you love eating out why take a look now?

Man and woman shaking hands

How can I be a good mystery shopper?

With more and more people taking on mystery shopping as an extra source of income, it's important to make sure your skills stand out above the rest.

So how can you make sure you're a great mystery shopper that agencies will want to book again and again?

  1. You'll need a good memory. Always keep a mental note of your experience and write it down ASAP. The information you provide is crucial for the job and so it's important to remember every detail.
  2. Sign up for lots of agencies. When getting started in the world of mystery shopping try and sign up for as many agencies as you can. You'll build up your portfolio of mystery shopping work and gain experience in lots of different fields, giving you an edge over other candidates.
  3. Always keep your receipts. Even if you don't think you'll need them again. Some agencies ask for you to pay with your own money and then be reimbursed later, meaning you'll need your receipts to prove your spends. You wouldn't want to forget and not get paid!
  4. Try and mystery shop regularly. Where you can, try and sign up for mystery shopping jobs as regularly as possible. Agencies will see you as a reliable candidate and you'll build up your knowledge and experience quicker.

Get started with product testing

If you want to dip your toe into mystery shopping with something a little less daunting, why not give product testing a go?

This is when companies send out products (for free) to be tested and reviewed by regular customers just like you. All they ask for in return is your honest feedback.

Products tend to be full-sized so you're really getting a good deal by signing up. Plus, it'll give you practice in giving detailed feedback for when you begin your mystery shopping!

Get started by signing up for these product testing trials:

  • Glamour Beauty Club - previous products have included a Maybelline lipstick, Hawaiian Tropic Suncare, ELEMIS Superfood Day Cream and Kat Von D makeup.
  • Phillips Home Testing- for electrical goods like toothbrushes, coffee machines, electric razors and more.
  • The Insiders - campaigns vary but are generally household/pet related. Previous campaigns have been Purina Go-Cat, Josh Wood Hair Colour, Nair Hair Removal Cream and Arm & Hammer Toothpaste.
  • BzzAgent - this is a word-of-mouth product testing site - as well as giving a review you're supposed to share your thoughts with your family/friends on social media. Previous products have been a Braun Epilator, Nivea Moisturiser and Marc Jacobs Perfume.
  • Home Tester Club - campaigns tend to be household/hygiene items and previous campaigns have been for Sanex Deodorant, Miracle-Gro Plant Food, Colgate Toothpaste and Palmolive Shower Gel. 

Pros & cons of mystery shopping

If you're still undecided, here's my quick summary of the pros and cons to mystery shopping:

PROS:

  • Fun way to earn money doing the things you already do.
  • Way to test out new products/places for free.
  • Work can fit around your current job or other commitments.

CONS:

  • Not a steady income and you won't earn big money until you've been doing it for a while and have built up your reputation.
  • Can be competitive to get jobs - you need to be on the ball with applying for jobs.
  • It can take a while to receive the money you've spent/that you've earned, so be prepared for that.

Are you a mystery shopper and have even more tips to share? Please get in touch!

Alex x