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How to start mystery shopping

“I would LOVE to get paid to shop, how do I get started?”

Explaining to someone what mystery shopping is all about is not easy. This is the hardest thing I do, BUT I love teaching new people how to mystery shop. So…this is what I try to tell people who are wanting to get started.

First things first, this is a job. It can be fun, it can be part-time or full-time, but you are providing a service to a company. You do need to be reliable, organized, and on time. You will not be successful if you don’t see this as a job.

“What is mystery shopping?”

Mystery Shopping is a HUGE industry with hundreds of companies that have hundreds of clients. Just to make it easy, let’s break down the positions. MSP are Mystery Shopping Providers, or companies that offer mystery shopping jobs. Clients are the stores, facilities, businesses that hire MSPs to evaluate their business. Shoppers, auditors, evaluators or any other creative name a company wants to give you, are you guys. As a mystery shopper you will apply for a job that is posted on job boards or sent in emails. You will visit, call, or inquire based on guidelines provided by the MSP. You will pretend to be a customer. Your purpose is to gather as much information as possible. This could be anything from the cleanliness of a facility, the names and descriptions of staff, the way someone sells you something or the efficiency the service is provided. You will be told what to pay attention to. Once you have completed the assignment, you will fill out reports. These reports help clients see what is going on with their locations.

Types of jobs available

There are different objectives for using a mystery shopping company. Mostly, clients hire MSP companies to find out how their business is doing. Generally, these businesses deal with customers in some way. A lot of times clients want to know the level of service that is being provided, how knowledgeable staff is, how clean facilities are or verify employee standards.

Typical Mystery Shop

Typical Mystery Shops are what you will see most of the time. These shops require you to behave as a typical customer. You will report back with all the aspects of your experience. This could be customer service, cleanliness, quality, and sales skills.

Reveal Shop

Reveal Mystery Shops have you behave as a typical customer up until a certain point (which is in the guidelines). Once that point is reached you, reveal yourself as a shopper. Usually, this is to offer a reward or to prevent the shop from going any further.

Competitive Shop

A Competitve Shop is the same as a typical mystery shop and is used to compare the performance of the client’s competitors. This could be for pricing, service or sales. Usually, you will complete the shop at the client’s location as well.

Compliance and Pricing Audit

Compliance and Price Audits can be completed without the location knowing but most of the time you will announce yourself and you will be allowed in areas of the location that customers do not have access to. This can be done for food and safety standards.

Phone and Internet Shop

Phone and Internet Shops are done from the comfort of your home. You will present yourself as a typical customer and inquire, either online or over the phone about a client’s product or service. These are done to see the response of the staff.

Video and Audio Recordings

Some mystery shops require video and audio recordings for their assignments. These typically pay more and require you to have your own equipment. Clients prefer these shops for accuracy and context.

The secret to success in the mystery shopping world

NEVER pay to sign up for a company. All sign up is free and they will send you emails asking to do a shop. If it’s not close to you or isn’t something you can do then delete the email. You are not obligated to do anything until you sign up for it.

READ the instructions before signing up for a shop. Make sure you understand what they want from you so you do get paid. If you do it wrong you won’t get paid.

The legitimate companies will have you sign agreements and will ask for your social security number. If they have a platform, they paid big bucks for it and aren’t a scam.

Mystery shopping companies will NEVER send you money first. Not for anything. If you come across a company that is going to send you money, they are a scam. Think about it. As much as there are mystery shopping company scams, there are even more mystery shopper scammers. If we paid up front for things, there is no guarantee it will get done or we will see our money again.

What to know

When you decide to mystery shop, you are an independent contractor. You do not work for mystery shopping companies, you work with them. You provide a service. Mystery shopping can be done in any city, in any state or even many countries. In order to make money, real money, you will need to sign up for as many companies as possible. This part scares most people, but it is the biggest part of getting as many job offers as possible.

Characteristics of a Shopper

You should be observant, reliable, timely, organized and detailed. Many things you will learn as you go but if you are not disciplined, you will fail. You must also remember to be professional at all times. This includes in your emails, on social media and at an assignment. 

Things you will need

A few simple things you will need are a computer (with internet), phone, and transportation. There are ways around some of these things but plan to eventually get them. Other items you might need are a scanner, printer, recording device, and camera.

Being prepared

First, I’m going to tell you what you are going to need to be a successful mystery shopper. You can do it however you want but these instructions are meant to help guide you. 

You can also join  Facebook Groups to get more information
IMSC Mystery Shopping MSPA IC Members Only
Create a Gmail account

          Gmail is free and easy to set up. You will get a lot of emails per day. You don’t want to mix your personal email with it. The emails you get are blasted out from the companies you signed up for. MAKE SURE YOUR EMAIL IS SIMPLE AND DOES NOT EXPOSE YOU AS A SHOPPER.

Create a PayPal account

1. If you don’t have a PayPal account, get one. If you have one, add the new email you just created to your PayPal account. Most companies pay using PayPal. The ones that don’t will send a paper check or direct deposit.

Create a Bookmark Tab

As you sign up for MSP companies, you will need to keep track. I suggest creating a bookmark tab and adding all your companies. Also, make sure you try to keep your passwords similar or autosave. There will be a lot!

Create a new file

On your computer, in Documents, I suggest creating a file for Mystery Shopping. Within that file you may need sub-files for receipts, guidelines, and photos. You will start accumulating things you want to save.

Use a Google Calendar

Until you start doing shops you won’t need this but it’s good to already have it ready. Because Google is one nice bundle I use Google Calendar to keep track of my shops and my day to day stuff (appointments, practices, days off, ect).

Create a Google Sheet

I use Google Sheets to keep track of all my jobs and pay. I include: the job, the MSP, the date, the amount I spent, the amount reimbursed, the amount for pay, the total, the date they paid, and how they paid (PayPal, check, direct deposit).  I separate my months.

Where to get jobs

Once you are set up, you are going to want to look for jobs. There are several opportunities available. Many MSP companies use one of 3 main platforms for mystery shopping. Sassie, Shopmetrics and Prophet. Others use their own platforms. Another HUGE source are MSPA-North America and IMSC. Sign up with as many companies as possible. The more companies you sign up for, the more work you get, the more money you make. 

Now What?

You are pretty much ready. You have all the pre-shopping stuff done. You found some jobs to apply for. Now what? Here’s what to expect from this point on.



That new email address you just signed up for and all the companies you just signed up with? Be ready for tons of emails, daily. This is a great way to see what’s available without looking at job boards all the time. Delete the ones you aren’t interested in. Apply quickly for the ones you are.



Apply for shops, but don’t assume you will get assigned to all of them. Some companies are self assign and some you have to be approved. Don’t over apply for the same day but apply to what you think you can do. Keep an eye on your email, and notifications. Shoppers who have a good history of accurate, well-written evaluations get chosen first.  Make sure you communicate with your scheduler if you need to cancel or reschedule the date. Most schedulers are very understanding.



Clients are specific about what they want evaluated. Once you’re assigned a shop, you’ll be given information on their requirements and performance standards. It’s critical to understand exactly what kind of tasks and feedback are required for any given shop. DON’T wait to read the guidelines the day of the assignment. Make sure you know what you are in for.



Whatever you are assigned, there will be a report to fill out. Some reports are massive and some are super quick. Either way, complete the report and submit it. Make sure you are accurate. Make sure you have all the details. The MSP and client were not there with you and are asking YOU to paint the picture of your experience. Your reports do get rated based on various factors (lateness, grammar, acurracy, missing details). 


Get Paid

Every company is different when it comes to pay. You have to understand that shops need to be completed, the client has to verify the shop, the client gets invoiced, MSP have to get paid and then they have money to pay shoppers. This is why some dates are further out. As long as you’ve done your job, you will get paid. Check to see when companies do pay. Most have it posted on their website. 



Repeat. Doing this often will give you the money you are seeking. With some experience you have other options. You can start route shopping, where you extend your shopping radius. There are some shoppers that even travel all over the country doing mystery shopping. You can get into scheduling or editing for a company. Once you’re working in those positions, you could become a project manager or higher. There are many possibilities in this industry. Gain the knowledge and experience and you can do anything.