Jeb Stewart

The Essentials: How I Earn $4,000 a Year as a Mystery Shopper

Would you like a part-time job that you decide where you go, the hours you work, and the industry you work in? Of course you would.

According to Job Monkey,

“Statistics have shown that as much as 90% of customers who are unhappy will not say anything directly to the service but default immediately to competition. Repeat business is perhaps one of the most important aspects to a thriving company and therefore mystery shopping helps to examine this.”

“Additionally after price the greatest factor between competitors is customer service. Mystery shopping helps monitor that service. Statistically speaking 69% of customers will leave a business due to poor customer service. Therefore, customer service is an incredibly important factor for businesses to measure.”

Personally I have been a mystery shopper for over 30 years, and earn over $4000+ annually plus food, and gifts. Even though my shop selection has changed over time, mystery shopping is an industry that spans time, gender, and generations.

Today I will expose essential items you will need as a new or existing shopper. These items will save you time and make you money in doing so.

Initially all shoppers require a quality (6 MP or greater) device be it a camera, smart phone, or tablet.

Next you should decide the type of mystery shops your focus will be upon…strictly money-making, free gifts, free meals, etc.

Keeping in mind even “free” items you may have to wait 30 to 60 days to be reimbursed (via direct deposit or Paypal). Many shops require you to write narratives, which I like, but many shoppers do not…so you must decide if this is part of what you enjoy. Also if you can create a route with your shops, it will save travel time and effort.

Mystery Shopping Essentials

  • Designated Email, Different from Personal Email (Keep it Professionally Named)
  • Password Manager
  • Office Program
  • Online Master File
  • Offline Filing System
  • Picture Editing Program & Labeling System
  • Virtual Office with Vital Links

Let’s begin our journey with the basic email account. With the advent of alias email accounts (up to 10 per account),mystery shoppers should never use their personal account as their mystery shopping account. I have mine filtered into a separate folder within my personal email account under the alias. Potentially companies sell email accounts and scammers send items that are best deleted if you know who they are coming to and for what reason. This will encourage quick replies to scheduler questions as well.

Next, in today’s online world a password manager is vital. Any given year I may deal with 20 to 30 companies, and each require you to establish accounts with them. The best in the industry, Last Pass is free to use.

When online mystery shopping began there was only one office program, Microsoft Office. Now, programs such as Libre Office and WPS Office are comparable or better and free of cost. I utilize WPS because I can work on several documents on the same page. Simple spelling or punctuation errors will get reports rejected or sent back.

Any mystery shopper will tell you doing the same shop at different locations will garner you more money in a shorter period of time. You learn how to do the shop once (with possible variables) and can use your own notes as a reference for multiple shops. This is why I keep a Mystery Master File online. Companies like Box, Media Fire, and others will house your files, pictures, receipts and allow reference anywhere you have internet access.

Keeping names of employees, management or companies you have mystery shopped will save you the embarrassment of being discovered as a shopper, and help you decide if you want to take a potential job in the future.


You can keep a list online or in your offline files, which you need for taxes and accounting purposes. Most companies will pay on a regular basis, but it is nice to know if they are paying you the right amount in a timely fashion.

We have touched on the need for quality photos and a place to put them, but what about sizing and labeling them? After searching and apply programs to thousands of photos, I have found FastStone Photo Resizer ideal for this purpose as a free program. Most computer systems will aid basic cropping and flipping photos, but many companies want specific sizes or labels for their end clients. FastStone is easy to use and takes up little space on your computer.

Finally I would like to mention the need for a homepage such as, Start Page, My, and Homepage with your mystery shop links that are easy to update. Personally I use Protopage because I can customize my homepage. It can have a separate tab for Work, Home, and the search bar can include Dictionary, Thesaurus, and Google Maps, which is helpful when finding shop locations.

James Edward Montgomery is a professional mystery shopper and company brand ambassador. With over 30 years experience in both fields he writes from practical experience and hails from the SW Virginia area.

Your Comments:

  1. Lee Burkfield says:

    I would like to know more bout this setup for a job

    • Posted By Jacob Jans, Editor says:

      Lee — Do you have a specific question? What have you done so far, in terms of mystery shopping?

  2. Lester Mae Green says:

    I have tried mystery shopping before and I would always get a check that I could not cash. Why!! because it was not legal. And the companies stated that they did not hire mystery shoppers.
    So, how is this company differ?

  3. Ellie Sierra-Venegas says:

    Very interested .

  4. Jeffrey Lynn Neal says:

    Im very interested.

  5. Jeffrey Lynn Neal says:

    Im interested

  6. Dianne Ward says:

    I would love to be a secret shopper for Symposium restaurants in and around Kitchener, London area. I have done this job before. This is for Canadian assignments.

    Thank you
    Dianne ward

  7. Charlene Winfield Johnson says:

    Will you send me information about this product. I am fine now but do not want the return of this problem.

  8. Dana Jones says:

    I’m very interested in becoming a mystery shopper. please send me more info on how to apply.
    Thank You, Dana Jones



  10. Jeffrey Lynn Neal says:

    How do I get started? What do I need to do?

  11. Nancy Heilman says:

    I have done Mystery Shopping in the past and am very interested. Please contact me.

  12. Rick Grossman says:

    Your biggest concern is finding a legit company. You will find listings on this system. Start by reading the message boards. When you are ready, sign up with an agency. You might log on to that agency’s system or a common platform such as GigSpoy. ‘ ;

    If you sign up with GigSpot, you will; see a variety of agencies. To work with any of these, you will need to fill out separate applications. Take the training that agencies have….some is generic and some specific to a certain shop.

    Begin to use Gigspot to search for shopping assignments. Read what you can about as many as possible, but do not sign up for any. Consider the lower paying jobs to demonstrate your cooperation. Then place a call to the scheduler and introduce yourself. Ask for their recommendations for your first shop,

    Then go sign up for it and hope it is assigned to you. Take a day to read the instructions. and another to do the shop and write it up. Don’t take another until you hear back.

    This will take more of your time than you imagined. It is a confusing world and no one is going to hold your hand.

    Best wishes.

  13. Jackie beyers says:


    Can you send me companies web sites in the Colorado City, Texas 79512 area. I’ve done this type of work in Lake Havasu City, AZ 86406 for four years. Transferred to Thailand but back in the USA again.

    Thanks, Jackie

    • Rick Grossman says:


      If you were applying for a job, would you ask other people to get you the clothes for the interview, research the company, and to go to the interview? And do you think a stranger would do that for you? You’re asking an editor or writer to do research for you. If you are innterested in doing this, you have to do the research yourself.

  14. Cheryl Smith says:

    James, I commend you on 30 years of mystery shopping. This lets me know that males are valuable in this industry as well. Kudos to you and your experience. I am so surprised and overwhelmed at this industry. Your article is awesome. I took lots of notes. I learned quite a lot. Only four years for me. Thank you.
    Please continue to share your ideas with the MS community.

    • James Edward Montgomery says:

      Thanks, I hope everyone can garner something from my writings. I hope to share more insights in the future on this forum.

    • Rick Grossman says:

      I’ve worked with many agencies and taken lots of jobs. I’ve never felt I was ever rejected for my gender, but have felt some have been cautious on my first job for an agency.

      There are jobs that have appropriate gender restrictions and others that don’t specify, but I decided not to apply for. Likewise, I’ve seen ads that request shoppers of a certain age, income level, those who current customers of a business, or familiarity with a product. These have always been clearly stated and have always seemed appropriate to me.

      MSCs are often desperate for shoppers, and are frustrated with shoppers who are both reliable and capable of fulfilling the job on time, accurately and with little supervision. Yet, the pay is abyssmal for the time required. So they suffer while they constantly recruit, beg for people to take jobs, smother people with emails, pay to be on multiple computer platforms, spend time and money editing reports, etc.

      Despite the difficulties, I think one MSC is going to take a different approach, choosing slow growth, and a smaller profit margin and pay more to shoppers. They will then develop a cadre of shoppers where they can select from the best and never need to worry about having someone to do a job.

  15. Ann Cofield says:

    I’m interested. Please send me information in what your look for as a mystery shopper,for instance in a restaurant.

  16. tim martin says:

    Great article.