Getting Started in Mystery Shopping

Mystery Shopping to Improve Customer Service

If two or more companies in the same area offer the same product or service for a similar price, how do you decide which one gets your business? I believe the answer is Customer service.

Many businesses use mystery shoppers as a way to assess and improve their customer service and their employees’ performance. I got started with mystery shopping several years ago at Shoney’s restaurant in Maryland. Mystery shopping is a fun, easy way to make a little extra money.

Who Gets Mystery Shopped?

Many different businesses get mystery shopped on a regular basis. I cannot name the businessnames for confidentiality reasons, but these businesses exist in various industries, including fast food restaurants, sit-down restaurants, office supply stores, electronics stores, post offices, fitness centers, bridal stores, bowling alleys, entertainment stores, jewelers, banks, grocery stores, apartments, amusement parks, parking garages, convenience stores, hotels, gas stations, car dealerships, cellular outlets, and retail outlets.

What Do You Do on a Mystery Shop?

There are various types of shops including purchase and return, fee-only, and reimbursement-only, and also some shops where you ask a few questions but don’t spend any money.

Each mystery shop has specific goals. When you are assigned a mystery shop, your instructions will give you a scenario, and detail the measurements, timings, dates, time of day, locations, and pay rate. Not all locations for a chain will get shopped, and not all will get shopped by the same MS company.

How Do You Find and Sign Up for Mystery Shops?

One way to find a list of mystery shopping companies is to go to the Mystery Shopper Providers Association (MSPA) website, which is at MSPA represents both mystery shoppers and mystery shopping companies. They offer educational tests where you can become Silver-Certified mystery shopper, and conferences where you can become a Gold-certified mystery shopper. They also have an annual conference. However, I have seen few cases where being certified gave an advantage to you for the number of shops you could receive to work.

You are notified about potential shops by signing up on the various websites, and then reading their emails. Once you apply as a mystery shopper on a company’s website, there are 2 ways you can be assigned for shops: (1) Via a phone call or email from a scheduler, and (2) By assigning shops to yourself online at the respective company’s website.

Sometimes schedulers offer you bonus pay when a deadline is looming (esp. at end of month) to get the shop done within a brief period time, such as 24-48 hours. If the shop is not completed and correctly reported by the mystery shopper, neither the shopper nor the scheduler gets paid for the shop.

How Often Do You Get Paid, and How Much?

Shops pay anywhere from reimbursement-only to $5, $10, or even $100 per shop, depending on the client, the scenario, and level of difficulty. I’ve even received a small fee with reimbursement for one night’s stay at a hotel.

Companies pay on different pay cycles, which range anywhere from bi-weekly to monthly, and up to 4 months. Companies use PayPal, check, or direct deposit.


When you pick a store location, make sure you know where it is, and that you feel safe, especially if you have to do the shop at night.

Do your research. Not all companies are reputable. Get references before signing up and working for a company. Check whether the company is a member of the MSPA. I have worked a few jobs where I never got paid or reimbursed.

Never pay a fee to sign up for a company. Who pays any other employer to hire them? I wouldn’t.

Mystery shopping is low-commitment, fun way to make some extra change, visiting businesses you already go to every day. Your reports and comments for your mystery shopping experience are read by managers and used to assess and improve their company’s customer service. If you’re interested in mystery shopping, you can visit to start, or you can leave a comment with your email where I can send you a spreadsheet with reputable websites where you can get started.


3 thoughts on “Getting Started in Mystery Shopping

  1. Hi Daree,
    Can you please send me the spreadsheet with the websites that hire mystery shoppers?

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