Dayton Thrifty Family

Urban Homesteading in Dayton, Ohio

How to Become A Mystery Shopper

If you're interested in becoming a Mystery Shopper, you are probably confused as to where to start! Here I will give you all the tips and tricks I have learned as a Mystery Shopper, and some leads to get yourself started!

First a little about mystery shopping. There are a few different kinds of shops. There is traditional covert mystery shopping, reveled shops, audits, and merchandising to name the big ones. The shops are similar in some respects and very different in other.

Covert Mystery Shopping-

This is the mystery shopping that you remember from your days in fast food or retail. One day, your boss hands you a letter saying your store was "shopped" and you got a score of 95%. He then goes through with you what you did well, and what you need to work on. The first thing we all do is try to remember the shopper. If they were a good shopper, you think you remember, but you're probably wrong.

Now put yourself on the other side of that letter. Covert shoppers come to a store with a predesignated list of questions and tasks to evaluate. They make their visit, evaluate the employees, the merchandise, frequently make a small reimbursed purchase, and leave the store to complete their report on the visit. The things a client,or the company you are shopping, are looking for can very but they most always include the same basic ideas. Did the employees behave according to the corporate policy? Most importantly, in a covert mystery shop, the employees don't know they are being evaluated. You are the companies every day eyes. How do employees behave when there isn't a manager breathing down their back? Are they friendly, did they lead you through the sales experience as instructed? Did they handle returns appropriately? Are they in dress code?

Reveled Shops-

A reveled shop is much like a covert shop in the objectives are often the same. The main and important difference is at t he end of your visit you approach the management of the store to present your findings on the visit. These shops can be very rewarding if the employees preformed well. Who doesn't love to tell someone they did a good job! They can also limit you. Once you preform a reveled audit, you most likely can never return to the location as a mystery shopper. If you are allowed to return, it will likely be many months from your original visit. 


Audits are a type of reveled shop. Audits are frequently more involved, and more detailed, but not necessarily more difficult as you can simply ask your questions of the employees. Many audits are done to ensure a company is in compliance with signage or retail stock requirements. You may go to a store to locate a fixture of DVDs and take inventory. You may also visit to check that signage is present in the correct locations and is  in good repair. You may also visit a closed business to ensure all the material from a previous company has been removed from a location. 


Merchandising is a job that many mystery shopping companies also provide to their client. In a merchandising visit you are to locate, restock, assemble or maintain a product in a store.  Many merchandising assignments are made on a permanent basis. This allows you to build a relationship with the stores and the employees. The come to see you as a part of the team! A few of my regular stores even have a designated shelf of cart for me that they hold my materials for my until my visit.


Now that you know a little about the different kinds of shoppers, it's time to explore some of the companies. There are literally thousands of companies across the country that  provide mystery shopping services. Depending on your geographical area, your age, if you have children, your gender, and your willingness to travel, you will have varying degrees of success finding work. All companies that I have worked with consider you an independent contractor and not an employee. The difference here is taxes. You and only you are responsible for paying your own taxes. I am not an accountant, and laws vary by state, so please consult your tax preparer or accountant on the tax ramifications in your individual situation.  Another important difference is you have to look for work, work isn't assigned to you. Making mystery shopping a full time job is extremely difficult. The different pay schedules, and piecing together work from all the different companies make managing your schedule alone a full time job! If you are looking for occasional work, or extra money, mystery shopping is perfect for you!

Equiptment you need

Computer- a hard working, half way modern computer with access to the internet. I use my laptop. It is nice to take with you to enter shops on the road. Be sure to bring a charger or extra battery!

Printer - For printing out instructions and forms. You can try to do this without a printer, but you will regret it. Many shops like audits or reveled shops request you print out a pass/fail letter or an authorization letter to show the manager.

Scanner - you can take digital pictures, also, but bottom line, you will need something to digitize your receipts or other items to prove/verify your shop information.

Digital Camera -  a must must must. You will severely limit yourself if you don't have a digital camera. Many shops require pictures, and most require high quality pictures, so cell phone cameras may not cut it.

Digital watch with second hand or timer - some shops require you know how many seconds, like fast food. ALL shops require you document the time you entered and exited the building. You need to keep some kind of time peice on you at all times.

Your best friend, the cell phone - My cell phone was the work horse of mystery shopping. I used the clock for enter and exit times, I used the camera for covert photos (make it look like you are texting) I have used the notes to take quick and dirty notes. I have even called my own voicemail, pretended to be talking to a friend to record information of a shop! 

Voice recorder - I have never needed one, but many people swear by them. If the shop is very detailed, it may be worth it to have on in your pocket or purse. 

GPS - Not necessary, as you can get directions anywhere, or only go to places you know. However, if you start expanding your territory, or going to 3 or 4 places in a day, it's nice to know the best way to get where you are going next, or to get home after a long day!

Here is a list of the mystery shopping companies I check for work. I have personally worked for most of these companies. Some simply do not have work in my area, and I have not had the opportunity to take a job with them. Also, check out This is a forum and resource for mystery shoppers. There are many companies here, and many people that have done shops for the companies!

When you begin applying for mystery shopping companies apply for all that you can! Be sure you do some background work. Check out some reviews, read some threads on experiences. As with anything, there will be people who don't like a company, or give them a negative review for whatever reason. Use your good judgment and keep these tips in mind.  You should not be charged to sign up to be a shopper. You should not cash anything and forward money. I will mention that you are required to give your social security number. This is to report your earning to the IRS. If you are uncomfortable giving your SSN, I suggest applying for a tax ID number. A social or tax ID is the only way to be paid in the U.S. 

*TIP* Most companies require a writing sample about a recent experience at a restaurant or retail store. Save this narrative and use it more that once! It will save you a lot of time and writing! 

*TIP* Set up a separate email account for mystery shopping. Schedulers will send you notices when they create new jobs, and emails about urgent assignments. It can be overwhelming to sort through. If you use Outlook or ThunderBird, set up filters. If not, consider a separate account to separate work from daily emails.

Once you have applied to a few companies, you should start hearing back that you have been accepted! It's nice to keep a bookmark folder for easy access. You will be going to these sites daily checking for new work. You will notice that most companies use one of two formats for their interface, either Sassy or Prophet portals. I suggest saving your passwords in your favorite browser for easy log ins. It can be very time consuming to check every site every few days when you have to hunt for the website, try to remember your user name, and fumble with your password. If you have a bookmark folder, and passwords saved, two clicks and you're there! 

Day to day operations

First and foremost, get yourself a schedule. A planner, or calender, or whatever you like to use to keep track of your appointments. They will add up quickly and it's easy to be overwhelmed if you aren't prepared. Also, I suggest a filing system. For every company you take work from, make a file. When you are done with your shop, you can keep the paperwork for the required period of time, as well as the receipt. It is easy to be buried in paperwork, and overwhelmed by all the the assignments. 

Now that you have your office set up, it's time to start finding work. I will take you through my typical day.

First, I brew coffee (very important step!) and check my email. Many times schedulers will send emails for shops that they need done today or shops that have bonuses! If I am able to do the shop and I'm interested, I sign up for it, either by going to the site, or responding to the email, and mark it on my schedule.

After emails are checked, I look for work. I have my sites organized into folders in my bookmarks. I have found 10 sites per folder works well for my browser. I click 'open all' and the 10 tabs populate my browser. Then I start with the first log in and check the job board. If I see a job I like, that I am able to take, I assign myself or request the assignment and write it on my schedule. I like to write the location of the shop, the company assigning the shop, and the pay in my schedule. So an entry would look like this.

 Dale's Dead Bug -SnoopySpy - $10

After I have checked all the sites I focus my attention on my assignments for the day. I go to each of the sites that I have an assignment for, read up on the job, print any information, and enter the address and phone number into my GPS and the address in Google maps. I enter the address in both places so I can see geographically, the route I need to travel to minimize drive time. There is no reason to go to Chancellorsville, then Canton, then back to Chancellorsville when you can just rearrange the order, doing the 2 Chancellorsville shops first, then heading out for Canton. After I have read up on my assignments, printed my paper work, entered the address and phone numbers in my GPS, I plot my course. Using Google maps as a visual, I decide the order I will do my shops. I write all of this on a separate piece of paper for taking notes, organize my paperwork for the shops and head out the door!

After completing my shops and returning home, it's now time to enter the shops. I organize my notes, paper work and receipts, return to the sites and enter the required information! 

Now I'm done for the day and ready to start it all again tomorrow!