Mystery Shopping 101

I’m asked frequently about my hobby of mystery shopping so I put together some pointers that I have no problem sharing.  Unfortunately, due to the competitive nature of mystery shopping, many shoppers keep things tight to the vest and don’t share anything at all.  I don’t really worry about competition for two main reasons.  The first reason is most folks will glance over the list and nothing more will be done.  One or two may actually do a shop before deciding it isn’t for them.  The second reason is simply, I am a very good mystery shopper and you would have to be some sort of super star to affect my ability to get paid!
Contractually, I cannot list which clients are represented by the various companies for which I shop.  And why would I? Like many others, I’ve done my homework and found the companies that offer shops in my area that suit my fancy. I will share one of the biggest secrets for mystery shopping. . . YOU HAVE TO SIGN UP FOR MANY,  MANY,  MANY, MYSTERY SHOPPING COMPANIES TO INSURE YOU HAVE AMPLE OPPORTUNIITES.  Think of it this way, each MSC (Mystery Shopping Company) has their own book of clients.  One may shop Burger King and Capital Grille and another one may ship Ruths’ Chris Steakhouse and Abercrombie & Fitch.  If you are only signed up for one that offers a McDonald’s shop, you won’t even know about a shop at Jiffy Lube that’s right next door offered by another MSC.  You could knock both out in a single visit if you were a shopper for both companies.
Something to remember – NO MSC should require you to pay a fee.  You’re working for them!  It is common, however, for you to have to come out of pocket to make a purchase and wait to be reimbursed.  Some shops are a reimbursement only, others reimburse you and pay you a little extra on top of it.  The good news is you pick and choose which shops are right for you.  Some shops require a reveal and you have to get the manager’s signature.  No big deal, I simply prefer not to do that kind of shop but there is money to be made doing it if that’s your cup of tea.  There are numerous phone shops and customer service scenarios at phone and internet shops, not my thing but they are legit!
Once you are signed up with them, religiously check the “Job Boards” as they are updated frequently.  Word of advice, if you cannot follow very detailed and specific instructions or if you have a hard time sticking to strict timetables and deadlines then this undertaking is most likely not for you.  Mystery Shopping is so much more than going out to eat and getting a FREE MEAL.  In fact, nothing in life is free.  If you are to be reimbursed $150.00 – $200.00 for two adults dining out, you should expect to spend a couple of hours filling out the report afterwards.  Reports for the smaller fast food restaurants typically only take about 10 minutes to complete.  You get much faster as you get used to the reports.
Curious what I’ve been able to accomplish?  

  1.  I’ve taken the family bowling on several occasions where bowling, shoe rental, plus a large Pizza, beer, and sodas were included.
  2.  Attended countless movies with the bride where the ticket plus concessions were reimbursed.
  3.  Purchased over $500.00 of reimbursed Pandora jewelry products that I was able to give as gifts to my wife
  4. Bought a $180 soccer ball in Las Vegas (Don’t laugh, I got fully reimbursed and sold it on eBay for pure profit)
  5. Shipped numerous eBay parcels via the US Post Office on secret shopping missions worth about $15-$20 PROFIT each.  Remember, I buy abandoned storage lockers so I sell on eBay a lot. I’ve already charged the customer for the shipping.  These types of shops are very profitable to me.
  6. Shopped Six Flags, World of Coke, & the Georgia Aquarium where tickets, parking, and meals were included.
  7. Ate TONS of food at places from McDonalds to the Capital Grill and Ruths’ Chris plus just about everything in between.  Even Ruths’ Chris in Hawaii while on vacation. . . that was $200.00 we didn’t have to budget for!
  8. Pretty much bought a new wardrobe from Tommy Hilfiger and Columbia over the course of a year.
  9. With 5 cars in our household, I haven’t paid for an oil change or tire rotation out of pocket all year.  In fact, I sometimes profit $25 above reimbursement!
  10. Completed several full-service car wash shops where they clean and detail the vehicle.
  11. Attended a Pro Basketball game – Club Level seats Philips Arena with food and adult beverages included.
  12. We’ve averaged $500 monthly in groceries for over five years now. Our best month was $807.00 in (May 2015). 
  13. A buddy of mine and I played 18 holes at a country club golf course, made a reimbursed purchase at the pro shop, enjoyed reimbursed beverages from the golf cart gal, and enjoyed a reimbursed lunch at the club grill.
  14. Conducted a scripted Tax Return Inquiry at H&R Block – Less than 1/2 hour visit and report and was paid $150.00 – no money out of my pocket!
  15. I’ve conducted some credit card inquiries – these do require a retailer pulling a credit report or checking your credit score.  If you are getting ready for a major purchase, you may want to pass on one like this.  I did one and was paid $75 with no money out of my pocket.    
  16. For a couple of seasons in a row, I’ve shopped the venue of our local NFL team. Typically I get 6-7 home games each year. They leave two tickets for me at “Will Call”, mail me a parking pass for each game, and even reimburse for most of the food and drink enjoyed at the game!
  17. I travel so airport shops are a win-win for me. Most airports have numerous shops with different MSC that can be shopped while you’ve got access past security. Since there are less frequent flyer shoppers, these shops tend to pay a bit more. *Plus if you’re traveling for work and on an expense account, you can double dip by pocketing the reimbursement!
  18. Recently, while on a trip to the west coast, I came across a shop for an adult venue. I didn’t take the assignment as I figured that would be a hard sell to the bride. THREE LAP DANCES???? Oh boy. They’re out there.

  The list above is just a few of the perks to the job of Mystery Shopping.  The key is you just have to be diligent and sign up with as many MSC as you can. 

HINT:  Most will ask for a writing sample on the application.  Simply factually critique a recent dining experience you’ve had.  Mention server by name, mention times (i.e. – “Our appetizer arrived just under six minutes from the time we placed the order.”), basically recap your dining experience without mentioning your likes and dislikes.  Once you have created this writing sample, save it somewhere that you can easily access it.  That way you can copy & paste it on other applications without having to recreate it each time you apply with a new MSC.

There’s forums for mystery shoppers, too. You can log on, post questions (within reason), and even get the names of many legit mystery shopping companies. One that comes to mind is here. Please be considerate and don’t ask questions like, “Who shops Kroger?” or “Who should I sign up for to do a shop for a movie theater?” Seasoned shoppers just aren’t going to give you those answers. Not only because they’ve done their homework and figured it out for themselves but it’s simply against the contracts we sign with each MSC.

It’s not rocket science. . . most of the time the corporate entity simply wants to insure that the franchises are following the standards that they’ve set. That’s where we come in. There are guidelines in the shop instructions that are usually very clear and easy to follow. A mystery shopper clandestinely gathers and reports the requested information objectively and without opinion. Just the facts, man! Now, Get Off That A$$

Published by John

My wife & I travel quite a bit. Both for work and for play. Everywhere we go, we look for places the enhance our hobby of mystery shopping. In fact, a few years ago our other hobby of buying abandoned storage lockers was lucrative enough to send us to the Big Island of Hawaii for a week! While there, we conducted a mystery shop at Ruths' Chris Steakhouse. We were reimbursed over $200! That's a pair of Benjamins we didn't have to budget for during our vacation. We hope to compile other money saving opportunities we've enjoyed on this blog.

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