Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shopping

With the economy in the tank and few hopeful signs on the horizon, most of us are looking for ways to stretch our dollars.  One way that I’ve found to do that is by mystery shopping.

I’m a mystery shopping expert if I do say so myself – I’ve been doing it for over 20 years, since I got out of college.  I remember one year even getting my Thanksgiving dinner by doing a mystery shop (it was at Lee’s Famous Recipe, but hey – it was free!).

Basically, mystery shopping involves visiting a store, restaurant, hotel, etc., and making observations.  These observations vary widely depending on the company you are shopping for.  Generally, you will then return home and file a report online about your findings.

If you’d like to get started, the best place I can steer you is here.  Volition is a great site for mystery shopping, with a comprehensive list of mystery shopping companies (and yes, it’s huge.  I recommend taking maybe 30 minutes per day and going through the list, applying at as many as you can.  There is no way to know which companies have shops in your specific area without applying) and an excellent forum on mystery shopping.

A few thoughts on mystery shopping:

  • It is exciting – over the years I’ve “shopped” many places, including McDonalds, Arby’s, Wendy’s, Sonic, Panera, Biaggi’s, Olive Garden, Ryan’s, Red Robin, Hacienda, Burger King, Dairy Queen, TCBY, various cell phone places, Gymboree, Ann Taylor, Old Navy, New York &Co., Holiday Inn, Comfort Inn, Kroger, Meijer, Holiday World theme park … I could go on.
  • You will not get rich.  While there’s really not an “average” shop, you might get paid about $7 plus a meal at fast food places, or perhaps $30 reimbursement at a casual restaurant.  Often you need to purchase a specific meal, and many times if I bring my family I will not even have all my expenses covered.  Non-food shops might pay $10.  Some require a purchase (usually reimbursed up to a certain amount, but not always).  A few shops require a huge amount of narrative (one place even wanted the ice water at the restaurant described; I kid you not).  I view shopping as a way of getting to “shop” at a reduced price, and as a way of treating myself to something that I normally wouldn’t splurge on.
  • This is said often, but bears repeating:  Do not sign up with any company that requires a fee.  I have never paid to sign up for any mystery shopping company.

Just a note:  please don’t ask me which company shops a certain business.  Mystery shoppers sign agreements with each company promising not to divulge this information.  Additionally, companies change their mystery shopping firm (or drop using shoppers altogether) frequently.  So, the company that handles Papa John’s shops may change next month.

One other tip is to contact local businesses and see if they’d like you to “shop” for them.  I tried that with a local chocolate shop.  While they don’t pay me, they provide me with gift cards to their businesses.  I’ve been able to use these to get nice gifts for the kids’ teachers.

Enjoy shopping!  If you have a question, leave it in the comments and I’ll try to respond there.  Despite the effort and (sometimes) low pay, it works for me.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t have done it for over twenty years!


13 thoughts on “Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shopping

  1. We actually get mystery shopped in our industry too! It’s a great learning tool.

  2. I have been shopped but never did the shopping. I signed up for one place once, I forget which, but the details they wanted me to remember without making notes was ridiculous. My brain fog can’t handle it. LOL

  3. Hi there! 🙂 Thank you for visiting my blog. This is intriguing. I started to dabble in mystery shopping a few years ago, but I can’t believe you’ve been doing it for so long, wow! It sounds like such a fun way to make extra money and get some free goodies too!

  4. Get outta here! I have never known anyone who was a mystery shopper. Thanks for sharing the info. I don’t know if there’s any opportunities in my area, but I would love to check it out. I love shopping anyway! Thanks! Oh, and yes…that’s my mom and I in my header. She’s 80yrs old now and still going strong! Nancy

  5. Thanks for sharing this. I only shop through one company now, but it is nice to check out some other options.


  6. Could you please get back to me, I am interested in which company shops Hacienda. I love their food and have been doing shops for a while now but cannot find their MSP

    Thank you

  7. Hi! I would love to find out which companies are the best to sign up and work for. Thanks

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