Mystery Shopping 101: What To Expect and How To Get Started
When I began staying home with my daughter three years ago, I searched high and low for opportunities to bring in income for my family. After a few months, I discovered mystery shopping through a friend and fellow blogger, Being Cheap Is Easy. Now, I am hooked!
First things first though, what exactly is mystery shopping?
MYSTERY SHOPPING is a tool used externally by market research companies, watchdog organizations, or internally by companies themselves to measure quality of service, or compliance with regulation, or to gather specific information about products and services.
Mystery shops can include a wide range of places such as restaurants, hotels, gas stations, phone stores, bowling alleys and movie theaters.
Personally, I love that it’s flexible in that you are able to choose your hours, it gives my family an opportunity to try new places, and occasionally, we even make a little profit from it.
Find a Reputable Mystery Shopping Company
There are a slew of mystery shopping companies out there to work through and finding the ones that are most popular in your area can be tricky. Some I personally use for southeastern Michigan include Goodwin Hospitality, AboutFace and BestMark, but I would highly recommend browsing a trusted website such as the Mystery Shopping Providers Association first to read more, find shops that sound of interest to you, and sign up through their accredited websites. Always watch for scams! You should never enter credit card information or pay a monthly fee for legitimate opportunities.
Once you find a site you like, you will be asked to complete a writing test, usually describing your latest dining experience with 500 words or less. From there, you will need to fill out paperwork with your email, mailing address and more.
Important Mystery Shopping Factors to Consider
Before you select your first shop, there are some important factors to consider:
- You will be expected to pay for items upfront. Most companies do not pay you for 30-45 days after the shop is performed; so do not take this on if you do not have a steady source of guaranteed income.
- Consider the costs before choosing a shop. Many shops require that you purchase something specific (for example: two alcoholic beverages, which can add up quick). Just know you may burn through your shop money quick paying for things. It’s better to think of it as a heavily discounted night out versus a night of making profit.
- You will need to track all expenses and profits on your own. If you earn more than $599 during the year through reimbursements and profits, you will need to fill out a 1099 form for the mystery shopping company and claim any profits in your taxes. With that said, you will need to provide your social security number prior to applying for your first shop.
- You will need a PayPal ID. All of the mystery shopping companies I have worked with have paid me through PayPal, so be sure to have an account activated (it’s free).
- Printer and scanner access is needed to perform shops. You will fill out online forms and upload receipts. Additionally, you will likely get a lot of emails, so be sure to read them as often as possible to apply for the best shops.
- When you’re out shopping, you will need to remember details. I suggest reading your questionnaire in advance to prepare. (Example questions: Did your server wear a name tag? If so, what was their name? Were the counters wiped down and the napkins stocked?) I like to discreetly make notes in my phone as needed (especially with names so I don’t forget them!).
Overall, mystery shopping can be a fun source of income, but I wouldn’t suggest you quit your day job to do it. Still, if you love experiencing new places, have a passion for writing, and are looking for a discounted or free night out, it’s worth a shot!
Have you ever been a mystery shopper? What was your experience?
ABOUT the AUTHOR
Lauren Weber is WAHM social media manager who blogs at Mrs. Weber’s Neighborhood, where she shares about her life with two little gals, as well as tips, recipes, and fun happening around Southeast Michigan.