GG requested a post explaining how to get started as a mystery shopper a few weeks back, and with some time off over Christmas week I finally have a few minutes to write up this Mystery Shopping Primer.
First off, decide if you want to be a mystery shopper.
The idea of shopping for “free” and getting “free” meals and other goods seems like a no brainer, but bare in mind that just because money (likely) won’t exchange hands in this deal, it still requires a great deal of work. Mystery shoppers are hired by companies to spy on their workers and make sure that while the big boss isn’t looking, employees are following the rules and doing a good job. This means that you’ll have to interact with people, and if they’re not following the rules, you’ll have to be a paid tattletale. How do you feel about being a spy? Don’t mind it? Think it sounds exciting? Ok, here’s what you need to get started:
1. Find mystery shopping companies that offer shops in your area.
If you live in a big city, chances are there will be a firm with local shops. Don’t be discouraged if you live in the boonies, though. There are plenty of mystery shopping firms that hire mystery shoppers to check on shops far removed from major metropolitan areas. They might be a bit harder to find, but they do exist.
2. Don’t Get Scammed!!!
Don’t sign up for any sites that require you to pay a fee in order to get information on these companies. If you do a Google search for mystery shopping, you’ll likely find yourself on one of these pages that promises to reveal the secrets of mystery shopping if you pay a few bucks. Don’t fall for that. MyMommyBiz has a list of over 200 supposed mystery shopping firms. When you find a few that seem reputable, do a search for them on the Better Business Bureau website to make sure there isn’t anything obviously wrong with your choices. ***beware, there are lots of mystery shopping scams on the Internet. If the company asks you to cash a check and then wire them the money, DO NOT DO THIS. The check will bounce and you will be responsible to pay for the missing funds.
Each company has its own specific sign-up process. Most require you to fill out some short test to prove that you have a brain and that you’ll be able to do the job. My experience as a mystery shopper is limited to working for one company called Coyle Hospitality. I don’t remember the specifics of the Coyle Hospitality sign-up since I completed it a long time ago (and it’s likely changed since I applied), but I do remember it being quite thorough. A lot of times, the company will ask you why you want to be a mystery shopper. I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong answer to this question. Just be honest, and make sure to answer the questions that have right or wrong answers correctly. SecretShopper.com‘s application has all of the answers to the questions on the top of the page, and then the quiz posted lower down. It’s easy to get the answers right, but you can also see how someone who is incompetent for the job would easily just guess at the answers and not get picked.
Unfortunately, the few legit mystery shopping companies get a lot of applications and it takes a while to hear back regarding whether you’ve been accepted into one of the coveted mystery shopper slots.
5. You’re In. Congrats!
If you’re “lucky” enough to get chosen, you’ll likely be greeted with more information to study before you are allowed out on a shop. I recommend reading this information thoroughly, as you’ll seriously regret not paying attention to it after you’ve completed a shop and you’ve failed to do it properly.
6. Apply for a Shop.
Most of the companies either post available shops on their sites (behind password-protected doors, of course) or send out an e-mail about shops in your area. Some, like Coyle, post all the shops once per month and send out an e-mail letting shoppers know that the assignments are up. Sign up for your choices are soon as possible, because the shops worth doing won’t last long.
7. Wait, again.
Depending on the company and how popular the assignment is, you might get the shop the next day, the next week, or you might never hear back regarding the specific shop. Tough luck, try again. That’s how these companies roll. You just have to keep trying and eventually you’ll land your very first mystery shopping experience.
For the first time in your life, the thought of shopping or dining at a fine restaurant will cause you great anxiety. You will have a long list of things you have to do, say, ask and remember. If you mess up, what’s the worst that can happen? It depends on the company. Coyle ranks your submissions on a point system up to 20. If you score below 16, you’re pretty much fired. With Coyle, you have to foot the bill up front for your meals, spa experiences or hotel stays. They say they reimburse just about everyone as long as you turn in your completed report, but it’s definitely nerve-wracking to think that if you mess up, you might have to be responsible for that $300 hotel stay. Thus far, I’ve only done fine dining shops, and I’ve been paid back for each assignment on the 25th of the month, as promised.
9. Fill Out the Paperwork
Here comes the hard part. After you’ve stressed out about following the instructions and remembering your communications with employees, you get to return home and spend the next couple of hours slaving over your computer, trying to put together an accurate report for the company. Trust me, it’s not that easy. I spent over five hours working on my last report about a horrible dining experience I had, and in the end I scored a 16. What did I do wrong? Well, you have to note the times everything happened, and put the same times on a few different pages in your report. It’s easy to accidentally write a slightly different time on one page of the report and, even after thorough fact checking, still make a mistake.
10. Submit Your Work, and Wait.
Usually you’ll hear back within the next few days to a week about your report. Either they’ll ask for more information, or you will be told that your report is complete. This means you’ll be reimbursed for your shop. Hallelujah!
If you’ve shopped with any other companies, I’m curious to hear about your experience with them. What kind of shops did you do?
The only other company that accepted me kept trying to get me to do a gas station shop in Oregon for about $15. Being that I live in the Bay Area, I kindly declined (well, actually ignored) that opportunity.