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Mystery Shopping 101
Learn What Mystery Shopping Is And How It Works.
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What is mystery shopping?
Mystery shoppers go into businesses as customers. They interact with employees, make a purchase and possibly a return, then fill out an evaluation form describing what happened during their visit. Or, shoppers may be asked to video tape their experience. Mystery shoppers get paid for providing this service as an independent contractor in virtually all cases.

What kinds of businesses use mystery shoppers?
Any business which deals with the public may use mystery shoppers-stores, restaurants, banks, hotels, salons, home builders, apartment complexes, gas stations, casinos, auto dealers, auto service centers, movie theaters, health clubs, pet stores, amusement parks, optical providers and more. You can get paid to get your hair cut or your eyes examined, have dinner, go to the bank, have your car worked on or fill up the gas tank, watch a movie, get your dog groomed, and lots of other things you like to (or have to) do.

How much will I earn?
That depends on you. Many shoppers do this in their spare time, and earn $100, $200, or more per month. Some consistently earn more-often a lot more. It is not unusual for a part-time or spare-time shopper to make $500 or more per month. Some shoppers work for a large number of companies, or are full time with one company, and make their living this way.

It's not easy, though, to be a full-time shopper. It will probably require that you work with a large number of mystery shopping companies - perhaps 10-25, or more. You will have to juggle lots of assignments with different requirements, due dates and report formats, so you must be very organized and disciplined. Full time shoppers tell us that they can consistently earn over $40,000 per year.

What is the typical pay like for a mystery shopping assignment?
The pay for a mystery shop (including purchase reimbursement) may range from about $10 or $20 on up to $50, $100 or more. Fees will depend on the time required, difficulty, etc. The time required to complete a shop and fill out the form may be a few minutes to an hour or longer. Below we've provided some general information to use as a rough guide. Keep in mind that this is just a very small list of the different types of assignments that exist.

ASSIGNMENT TYPE PAY REIMBURSEMENT TIME (to shop) REPORT (pages)
Retail Stores $5 - $35 Small purchases 15 min 1-2
Apartments & New Homes $20 - $50 None 30 min - 2 hrs 2-10
Haircuts $10 - $35 Cost of the haircut & styling 1 hr 2-4
Fast Food $5 - $10 Cost of the meal 30 min 1-2
Restaurant $15 - $50 Cost of the meal 1-2 hrs 2-5
Supermarket $5 - $10 Small purchases 15 min - 1 hr 2-4
Gas Station $5 - $20 Small amount for gas or purchases 15 min 1-2
Bank $10 - $50 None 15 min - 1 hr 2-4
Furniture or Appliance $10 - $15 None 45 min 1-2

What are the requirements to be a mystery shopper?
You can be any (adult) age, male or female. You may be employed, self-employed, unemployed, retired or a full time homemaker. You need to be observant and able to follow directions. You must be reliable. You don't have to have a degree or any special training or experience, although experience in customer service (such as having worked in hospitality or retail) is helpful. The mystery shopping companies will provide any training you need. Companies often use the Internet to recruit shoppers, make assignments, and complete reports. Internet access is becoming a necessity to work with most mystery shopping companies, but there are still some which don't require it-especially some of the small, local companies.

How do I apply to be a mystery shopper?
In most cases, you won't be hired or contracted directly by the business you're mystery shopping. You will be an independent contractor for a Mystery Shopping Company that has been hired by the business. Joining ShadowShopper.Com is a great first step. There are new mystery shopping companies joining almost every week, and posting independent contracting jobs to our members.

Are there jobs available in my area? If you live in, or regularly travel to, an area where there are national or regional chain stores, banks, and restaurants there are certainly mystery shops being done there. Almost any business that does business with the public may be mystery shopped, although most "Mom and Pop"-type businesses don't use mystery shoppers. New shoppers are being hired all the time as businesses begin new mystery shopping programs, programs are expanded, new locations open, shoppers move or quit, etc. Chances are that there are mystery shopping companies actively seeking mystery shoppers in your area. You can check your area by ZIP code by clicking here to go to the home page. NOTE: ShadowShopper employers add jobs daily, so check in often.

Jobs don't exist only in heavily populated areas. There may be more jobs in a major city, but there are also more shoppers competing for those jobs. In fact, you may find yourself in demand if you live in a sparsely populated area because it is often difficult to find shoppers in those areas. Do a good job, and you will be highly valued by mystery shopping companies and schedulers, who will give you as much work as they can.

Is the market saturated, or are there opportunities for new shoppers?
There is a lot of competition for mystery shopping jobs, but there are still opportunities for new shoppers. Mystery shopping companies must constantly recruit because businesses begin new mystery shopping programs, companies get new clients, current mystery shoppers quit or move to a different area, etc. Additionally, most shops must be rotated among shoppers. For example, if a restaurant is shopped twice a month, and the client requires that a shopper may not repeat the shop more than once every three months, the mystery shopping company will need at least six shoppers (and probably more) just to handle that one location.

What do companies look for when they hire shoppers?
Most importantly, they want to know that you are reliable, observant and able to follow directions. They will train you on how to mystery shop.

How long will it take to get my first job?
If you apply to several companies, you may get your first job within three to six weeks. Some shoppers have reported getting their first assignments the very same day they applied, but this isn't typical. The more companies you apply to, the greater the number of jobs you are eligible for and the sooner you will get an assignment. The more flexible and available you are, the more jobs you can get. Most of the time, you won't hear from a company unless they have a job for you. Don't worry if you don't hear from some companies right away, or ever. It's probably not personal, they just don't have a current need for shoppers in your area. Watch for email notifications daily! ShadowShopper's dynamic job notification feature will make sure you never miss job opportunities available in your area.

Is it ethical to work for more than one company?
Most companies understand that you will work for other companies. They know that they can't keep you busy all the time, and you want to work. Whatever you do, though, don't share information about one company with another, and don't share one company's report forms, completed evaluations, or other confidential information with another. Be professional and be discreet.

What will I do when I'm mystery shopping?
You'll be given specific instructions for completing your mystery shop, and the company will provide training (usually in writing or over the phone). They will gladly answer your questions, so don't be afraid to ask. They want you to be comfortable doing the shop, and they want you to get it right. While you are mystery shopping the business, you will be observing cleanliness, service, quality and other standards important to the business and its customers. Questions on the evaluation might include things like: Were you greeted within 60 seconds? Were the floors clean? Did the person who took your order suggest additional items? Was the salesperson able to demonstrate product knowledge by answering your questions? Was your food fresh and served as you ordered it? Did the cashier count back your change and say thank you? Was the rest room clean and fully stocked with soap and tissue? When you leave the business, you will enter the answers on a report form or write a narrative report describing what you saw. If performing video shops, you will be trained on how to use special video shopping equipment. It is fun and easy.

May I take my spouse, friend or child with me?
Sometimes, if it is a place they would normally go with you. For example, you might take your children to the grocery store or a family restaurant, but perhaps not a more formal restaurant. Don't take anyone else along if they will distract you from properly completing your assignment, or if you have not been told that you may. Remember you are a mystery shopper. If you have young children, don't tell them you're mystery shopping. You don't want them asking, loudly, in the middle of a shop, "Mommy, are we doing the mystery shop now?" Adults who accompany you must know that they are not to talk about mystery shopping or give away that you are the shopper.

Will the employees know that I'm the mystery shopper?
No. At first, you might feel like you have a neon sign that says MYSTERY SHOPPER blinking on your forehead, but they really won't know. If for some reason someone asks you if you are the mystery shopper, just say no or play dumb. "Mystery shopper? What's that?"

How do I get paid for my assignment?
The job scheduler will explain the payment procedure they use when you are hired for an assignment. Some companies pay you automatically when you submit your completed report and some will require that you submit an invoice. Once you've submitted your paperwork you'll typically be paid during the company's regular payroll cycle. Normally, you'll be paid between 3 and 5 weeks after you've completed your assignments. Sometimes it'll be quicker and sometimes it'll be slower. Additionally, most companies will pay you by check or PayPal, but a few use direct deposit.

Do I get paid for mileage?
Not typically unless you have to go to an out-of-the-way location. However, since mystery shoppers act as independent contractors you can get a great deduction by claiming all your mystery shopping mileage when you file your taxes. You can also deduct your home office, your computer, auto insurance & maintenance, postage, office supplies and hundreds of other expenses. Check with a tax professional to find out more.

Will I receive a 1099 or a W-2 form at the end of the year?
Unless you're an employee of an actual mystery shopping company you won't ever receive a W-2. In almost every case you'll receive a 1099 from the mystery shopping company. Companies are required to send 1099's to contractors who are paid $600 or more a year. Some companies though will send you a 1099 regardless of the amount they actually paid you.


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