Friday, November 14, 2008

Mystery Shopping & Secret Shopping - Your questions Answered

"Mystery Shopping is the practice of using shoppers who have been specially briefed to anonymously evaluate customer service, operations, merchandising, product quality, and in special cases, employee integrity." - Mystery Shopping Providers Association

Not a week goes by when I'm not asked about mystery shopping. It's either "How can I become a Mystery Shopper?", "Is it true you can get paid "$500 a week going SHOPPING?" or "Isn't secret shopping just a big scam?" If you've read my previous mystery shopping posts about Dining out as a secret shopper and going to the Movies as a mystery shopper, you know that I've been doing this job for a VERY long time. The companies that I list are legitimate Mystery Shopping companies and are members of the MSPA (Mystery Shopping Providers Association).

Today I'm going to attempt to answer those three questions as best as I can.

How Can I Become a Mystery Shopper/Secret Shopper?

It's as EASY as signing up with Mystery Shopping Companies to become a shopper. I have and will list companies that I've shopped for on this site from time to time. Many of these companies have their own niche. For example: Shopping company #1 may only perform restaurant evaluations, company #2 may have you go into retail stores and have you purchase items (and then return them later) and company #3 might send you to the post office to send a package. Most mystery shopping companies have a variety of clients that they handle, so it is to your advantage to sign up with as many of them as you can. Remember that signing up to shop is like sending them your resume, so make certain that it is professional and reflects your skills. The MOST important question that you will be asked is to DESCRIBE A PREVIOUS DINING (or retail) EXPERIENCE. If you can't WRITE, then you probably won't be hired, so this question is CRITICAL. They are looking for details. What you shouldn't say is - "We went out to eat at ### restaurant and the food was good."

Your first assignment? The next time you go out to dinner, become aware of the service, atmosphere, cleanliness and the food. Come home and write a paragraph or two describing your experience. Keep it stored so that all you have to do is cut and paste it into your mystery shopping employment application the next time you're asked about your writing and observation skills.

Is it true you can get paid "$500 a week" going SHOPPING?

No, you probably WON'T make $500 a week. In most cases you won't be paid at all. Most dining mystery shops (and some hotel shops) are reimbursement only. So, be prepared to foot the bill yourself and wait 45 days to get a reimbursement check. This doesn't mean that you CAN'T make $500 a week, but it's not easy. At the height of my mystery shopping career, I made a lot more than this. I also worked 8-10 hours a day, 7 days a week. The "average" rate of pay goes something like this:

Retail Shops $3-$20
Restaurants $0-$15
Fast Food: $3-$10
Gas Stations $3-$5
Movie Theaters $5-$10
Hotel Shops $0-$125
Apartments/Homes $20-$50
Banks: $15-$125

Isn't secret shopping just a big scam?

On Tuesday I read a story on a forum that I frequent, that one of the members had been scammed after signing up and PAYING for mystery shopping information. They had signed up with a supposed mystery shopping company, placed all of their information on the secret shopping website and VOILA, they were offered a job. Unfortunately, the "JOB" was a check scam. Had the person done a little investigating (which is what mystery shoppers really do), he would have found out that this "company" had done the same to many people. Please, if you have ANY doubts regarding a mystery shopping company, you can check the MSPA to see if they are a member.

Here are a few of my FAVORITE companies to work for:

Focus on Service - shops a favorite casual steakhouse & is ALWAYS looking for new mystery shoppers Focus on Service

A Closer Look - primarily shops restaurants in both the casual and fine dining categories (although I've seen OTHER shops that they've listed as well) - You must be EXTREMELY detail oriented and very comfortable writing in depth reports (do not expect to just have a checklist report). A Closer Look

Feedback Plus - you'll find a variety of shops ranging from restaurants to retail here. Feedback Plus

Be sure to check out Mystery Shopper News for secret shop and merchandising lessons and LEADS!

Don't expect Mystery Shopping to replace your current job or career (at least not yet). It's a great way to supplement your income with some VERY nice perks. If you have any questions, feel free to use the comment section or send me an e-mail and I'll attempt to answer you the next time I post about secret shopping.


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Anonymous said...

Why do you have a link to a site that asks for $34 to sign up?

Anonymous said...

Which link, please? I am also interested and would appreciate any insight. I need a job to make money- I don't need to spend money. :-)

Anonymous said...

How do I sign up?

Anonymous said...

Good idea, but the Google adwords ads on the page lead to Mystery Shopping scams. You need to be warning people about those, NOT promoting them.

Send people to the MSPA's website or - not the scams.

Anonymous said...

ok? I am confused. Can we get someone to help us out with the right company to go with... doesn't is all google ads...
Were in a crunch right now. And this would be something perfect for me to do even with my 2 year old!

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher and am looking to make some extra money this summer. What companies would you suggest signing up for? I have two small children so I would be taking them along for the ride.

Anonymous said...

I found a website that has a long list of mystery shopping companies that do not charge any fees. It is

I used to do mystery shopping when I had more free time. It is a great way to earn some extra money.

Zippy said...

This is NOT a scam. For the Mystery Shopper Providers Association you need to go to

For those looking for MORE mystery shopping companies, there is a box on the sidebar with clickable links to other articles, or you can go to to see my list of articles as well.

The companies that I write about in my posts will have you doing REAL customer service evaluations. You should not have to pay someone to sign up to be a mystery shopper.

Unfortunately, I have no control over the ads that google puts on my site. If the link takes you to a REAL secret shopping company, that's great - if they ask you for money - don't do it. Keep checking back at Champagne Living. I'll be listing more legitimate secret shopper opportunities in upcoming posts.

Madeline said...

too bad they don't have any for people my age. Alas, a year and a half more...

Anonymous said...

Hi Zippy,

I was wandering if people who live outside the US can also be involved in this. Please, let me know!


Anonymous said...

I would like to find out if people living in Canada can be involved with this.

Please let me know!

Thank you.


Anonymous said...

I have been a closer look mystery shopper for some time .. they have not had any new shops in the last 6 months, just the same places. They are, however, very good about paying promptly and will work with you on your first report to get what they want. You have to be EXCESSIVELY detail oriented.

Zippy said...

There are PLENTY of mystery shopping companies that handle the US, Canada and just about everywhere else. Stay posted as I'll include international leads in the future. In the meantime check out as they often have international leads.

Zippy said...

Madeline - if you are under 18 you'll often find leads for companies looking for teens to buy cigarettes, etc. My son started mystery shopping when he was about 16 years old, so it can be done. I'll stay on the lookout for shops for teens JUST for YOU.

Anonymous said...

It's true that you can only DREAM of making $500/week. I've been doing it since October 2008, and my best month saw about $1000, BUT it included being reimbursed for hotel stays, so it wasn't real "income."

Sorry to say that as of late, the pickings have become really slim, and there is not a lot of money to be made because so many people jump at the first opportunity they see, which could be a $5 shop. The mystery shopping companies know this, and they intentionally low-ball the shoppers to increase their profits. I would advise anyone considering this to:

1) take your head out of the clouds and stop dreaming of doing easy work for big bucks. This is NOT what mystery shopping is about.

2) realize that there is actual WORK involved. If you don't like sitting at a computer typing reports, following explicit directions and memorizing details, this is NOT for you

3) also realize that it is somewhat of a gamble. You may or may NOT get paid, depending on the quality of your reports. I have done over 100 shops, only been shafted once. You also have to wait, wait, wait, and wait some more to get reimbursed at times, and there have been some companies that have folded, leaving the shopper on the hook for the bill (and subsequently NOT geting reimbursed). PLEASE don't gamble w/ your rent/lease/mortgage payments to enter this arena.

4) keep good records of everything that you do, from phone calls to on-site visits.

5) research, research, RESEARCH! Know exactly what you are doing before you embark in this journey.

I DO hope I scared some of you, because I see the same thing over and over: people hear about it, think it's an easy way to make money, but run from the actual effort it takes to be good in this business. If you want easy money, enter a sweepstakes, play the lottery or marry into a rich family.


Thank you for pointing me in the right direction.

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