9 Surprising Things I Learned as a New Mystery Shopper

I started mystery shopping two weeks ago after reading an article about it. I have a day job and am just looking for a bit of side income and a way to pay for lifestyle things so I can take that line out of the household budget. When starting something new, I tend to obsess and immerse myself, try to learn as much as I can, and then come up with a strategy from there. So far, I have completed 24 shops, including cell phone shops, grocery stores, a few phone calls, a couple of retail stores, a movie theater, and a couple of restaurants.

Here are the top nine things that surprised me about mystery shopping!

1. You gotta have hustle!

Setting yourself up as a mystery shopper is not easy. There’s not one resource out there to look for jobs. There are dozens- maybe even hundreds. There are a few platforms that aggregate them together, but even finding them is not simple at first. Reading past threads on Mystery Shop Forum helped a lot, but it’s also about digging and finding which MSPs in your area have the jobs you want.

2. Coordination and organization are key!

Getting the jobs is just the first step. Keeping a calendar, keeping a spreadsheet of upcoming jobs and past jobs, and keeping a folder of receipts is also essential. Knowing where you are going to be on any given day becomes a very important step. I vow to never again find myself visiting the same shopping center three different days in one week. Knowing which MSPs gave you which jobs so that you go to the right platform to fill out your reports is important too! And finally, making sure you have everything filled out and submitted so you get paid!

3. You won’t make millions, but you can add value to your life in ways that make sense to you.

I’ve done several grocery shops because there were shops available at grocery stores I go to anyway. I had to go to the mall to exchange my own cell phone, so I scheduled a couple of shops while I was there as well. My husband and I love to go out to eat, so doing dinner shops is a no-brainer. Some people do mystery shop full time, but it seems there are a lot of people like me who are looking for a mix of pay and reimbursements for things they would do anyway.

4. Know your worth and what’s worth it to you!

There are lots and lots and LOTS of shops on the job boards that don’t pay much or don’t even reimburse you for the costs of the shop. As a newbie, I am taking low-paying shops just to get my foot in the door, but I still have my limits. I don’t ever eat at a certain fast-food chain so I am going to going to out of my way to eat there for a paycheck in the single digits. If you like this certain fast-food chain, more power to you- it’s a free lunch. I generally won’t take shops where I have to pay out of pocket because the fee or reimbursement is not enough to cover the whole cost, but I broke that rule to go to a new theater with a lot of buzz around it to see a movie I would have seen anyway. Shoppers need to personalize your mystery shopping experience to things that are worth it to them, but that’s what makes it a great part-time gig. Rather than going to a mall and punching a clock, I’m going to the mall when and where I want to and doing jobs hand picked by me.

5. Reading is fundamental!

Every shop has a different list of criteria they are looking for. Some have scripted questions you need to ask. Some have apps where you can do the survey immediately after leaving the shop (discreetly of course). However, most usually have surveys you need to fill out when you get back home, sometimes hours later. I was surprised how much detail goes into some of the shops. It’s been challenging for me to remember all of those details and it’s causing me to have to really improve my memory. I’ve forgotten my “lines” a couple of times and it’s difficult not to panic, but you don’t really get a second chance. I found printing the guidelines and carrying them in my purse, just to look at in the privacy of the bathroom and make notes, helps a lot. I’m starting to think of stalls with baby changing tables as my new office.


6. A little acting never hurt either.

In addition to the scripted questions, sometimes you are expected to play a certain role. The most common role is the “passive customer” who sits back and lets the associate make suggestions, offer upsells, and generally make the first move. On one shop I was asked to be “talkative” and given a list of borderline annoying questions to ask. On another, I was asked to be “reserved” and see if the cashier responded accordingly. I was completely unprepared for this part of mystery shopping and it’s been challenging for me since I’m usually an open book!

7. Writing skills are of the essence!

Your English teacher was right. You will use that stuff again. You have to be very precise. Spoiler alert: I actually was an English major, and I think I have decent writing skills. Yet I’ve received quite a few editor’s notes on shops that seem very nitpicky. I get it, though! The client wants what they want!

8. It’s addictive!

I can’t stop looking for jobs and completing jobs! I did mystery shopping gigs daily, straight for two weeks. I found that between my day job and mystery shopping, I had to give myself a little break on the 15th day. And I have to be careful not to let searching for jobs eat up my whole morning at my day job!

9. It’s kind of exciting!

Once you get all the details memorized, your “character” down, your schedule straight and your GPS set to the right location, it’s kind of exciting to be walking into a place with a secret purpose. It’s fun to have these things to look for and goals to meet, and even more fun when you get to shop for yourself “for free” as well. It’s even more exciting when the employees do a great job and you can write a glowing report.  Knowing that you are helping give them props where props are due is satisfying. Well, maybe it’s a little fun to describe in detail when an employee was rude or dismissive as well.

Your Comments:

  1. Diana Khader says:

    This is an amazingly helpful article! Thank you so much for all the great tips and a look into your experience as a mystery shopper… I hope everyone that is new to this work..reads it. It’s valuable information… 🙂