Mystery Shopping Demystified


You don't need a trench coat and an undercover I.D. to succeed at mystery shopping!  All you need is just a little time, attention to detail, and the desire to visit local community businesses. If you ever dreamed of being paid to shop, it's closer to reality than you may think.  Mystery shopping has boomed over the past 10 years as a way for businesses to track customers' service experiences and hone marketing data.  

How Mystery Shopping Works

You are paid a flat fee to visit the business, posing as a customer and discretely completing a series of steps as directed by the business.  After the shopping "experience," you are typically asked to write a small report or complete an outline on your findings, submit it to the business, and then get paid! 

If you are asked to purchase an item, some companies will reimburse you for it and allow you to keep the item.  Otherwise, if the company does not reimburse you for the item, you can return it for a full refund. 

Mystery Shopping Example

You might be asked to secret shop your local community bank to determine if customer service is up to snuff. The instructions indicate that you need to see if the teller makes eye contact with you, calls you by name, and thanks you for your business. Additionally, you are asked to make sure the teller also attempts to cross sell a product or service during your visit.

During your trip to the bank, you make a mental checklist of what the teller did and didn't do. When you return home, you are given and outline to complete that will tell the bank if the teller met the customer service requirements. 

Consider Mystery Shopping if You Stay Home

Mystery shopping is a fantastic way for stay at home moms to make some money.  The majority of the shopping experiences allow you to shop on your own time and pace.  In some instances, you can bring the kids along too. Some moms find mystery shopping extremely convenient because they usually "shop" the stores or businesses that they would usually visit anyway. 

Mystery Shopping is Part Time Work

Be leery of websites that claim you can make an extreme amount of money as a mystery shopper.  Usually it's between $10 and $25 for one shopping experience.  Mystery shopping works well for someone interested in making some extra cash or being able to partake in the shopping experience.  For example, many restaurant mystery shops pay for dinner in return for your service evaluation!

Do Your Homework Before You Shop

Unfortunately, like some work at home opportunities, there are scams to avoid. Be sure you register with a reputable mystery shopping website such as the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.  Look for red flags such as if the mystery shopping company asks you to pay a fee in order to join or ads that tout hundreds of dollars can be made as a full time mystery shopper. 

Stay at home moms who want to make a little extra cash can really benefit from becoming mystery shoppers--who wouldn't want to get paid for shopping? 

Gina Ragusa is a freelance writer and mom from sunny (and sometimes not) South Florida. Her 15 year experience ranges from writing about banking to tattoo parlors. Read more about her adventures at

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