secret shopperShopping and getting paid for it? It might sound like a dream come true if you enjoy spending time at the mall for fun. Or maybe it sounds too good to be true?

Believe it or not, there are thousands of companies around the world that are willing to pay regular people simply to shop in their stores or eat in their restaurants. In some cases you may come away with not just some pocket cash, but a free meal or merchandise too.

What is a Mystery Shopper?

Service-oriented companies, like retailers and restaurant chains, like to keep tabs on how well their employees are doing their jobs. Specifically, they want to know whether customers in their establishments are getting great service. So they hire “mystery shoppers” to help gauge this. A “mystery” or “secret” shopper is a regular customer, just like you, who is sent in to an establishment to test whether customers are getting the kind of service they’re supposed to get.

The mystery shopper is typically sent into the establishment with a list of instructions. Things that are frequently asked for by the sponsoring company (usually the parent company of the establishment) include:

* Checking for store cleanliness.

* Testing how observant, helpful, friendly and accommodating the staff members are.

* Determining whether there are enough staff members available to meet customer demands and offer help.

* Asking a staff member for help locating a product and evaluating the kind of help you are given.

* Tasting a particular food or foods.

* Making unusual requests and seeing how staff members handle the requests (i.e. asking a deli clerk if you can have a sample of a particular meat or if you can have a volume/bulk discount on an item).

* Evaluating the speed and efficiency of the service you receive.

* Judging whether there is adequate parking, enough shopping carts to go around, etc.

What Does the Mystery Shopper Do?

The mystery shopper simply goes into the establishment and goes about business like a regular customer. The idea is to take the list of instructions and complete each task given without drawing too much attention to oneself.

Once the instructions have been completed, the mystery shopper completes a transaction and leaves the store. At home, he or she must fill out an evaluation covering all of the things asked for by the sponsoring company.

The sponsoring company may provide you with some spending money, depending on the situation, especially if you’re asked to purchase something specific and/or expensive. Otherwise, you’ll receive your pay upon completion of the assignment and submission of the required evaluation.

Mystery shopping occurs every day in a variety of stores and establishments all across North America. In many cases, these jobs take one hour or less to complete. Some can even be completed in conjunction with your regular shopping tasks, so little extra time is actually required at all. Additionally, many sponsoring companies allow you to choose what stores or types of establishments you want to patronize.

How to Become a Mystery Shopper

Applying to become a mystery shopper is best completed via the Internet. There are a number of Websites devoted to recruiting mystery shoppers. Most are simply “middle men;” that is, agents who work on behalf of multiple companies to find and hire mystery shoppers to test those companies’ products/services. Some reputable mystery shopper recruiters in North America include, and

All you have to do is fill out an application. For this tutorial, we will use as an example. However, most of the mystery shopping recruiters that are online have a similar sign-up process, so these steps will generally apply across the board:

1) Go to and click on the link that says “Become a shopper.” You’ll be re-directed to the company’s directory of regions page.

2) Locate the country and state/province where you reside and click on it. You’ll be re-directed to the corresponding page. On this page you’ll see a directory listing all of the cities and areas where Bestmark requires mystery shopping. Take a minute to look at this list and determine whether one or more of these regions is within close range to where you live. If so, locate the “Sign Up” button (near the top of the page) and click on it. This will take you to the application page.

3) Fill in the blanks on the application form. You’ll need to supply your name, address, email address and phone number(s). Once finished, click “Submit.” You’ll be taken to a second page of questions to answer. Fill out this page entirely. Click “Submit” when finished. You’ll be taken to another page of questions regarding your demographics.

4) Answer all of the questions pertaining to demographics. This information will be used to determine what would be the best stores/establishments to assign you to. Once finished, click on “Complete.”

Your completed application will be submitted for review. If you qualify, you’ll be notified by email. This usually takes a few days (but may take more or less than that.)

If you qualify, you’ll be sent a list of opportunities in your area. You are not obligated to accept every opportunity that is sent to you. However, it’s a good idea to commit to doing at least two or three assignments per month in order to remain in good standing with the company. The more assignments you complete, the more assignments you’ll be sent.

A Few Important Points to Note:

You’ll probably find several legitimate mystery shopper companies on the Web. However, you may run across scams too. It’s not always easy to distinguish between the two. One sure-fire way to pick out a scam very early on is when a company asks you to pay a fee to become a mystery shopper.

There are plenty of mystery shopper agencies that are free to apply to, so there is no need to pay any company anything at all to be a mystery shopper. Avoid any company that asks you to do this.

Whatever company you are thinking of signing up with, make sure you read and understand their terms of service and rules. Look particularly for information on how you’ll be paid, what types of assignment opportunities will be sent to you, and what their expectations are (if any) in terms of how many assignments you are expected to take on.

It’s also important to note that not every company pays its mystery shoppers in cash for every single assignment. Some pay with store gift cards. Some offer free product. This particularly common when mystery shopping in restaurants: you may receive a free meal instead of a fee. Be sure that you understand the terms of each individual assignment that is sent to you so you won’t be disappointed in the end.

Hope this helps,

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(3) comments

Hillary Thompson says:

October 27, 2011 at 12:59 am

Thank you for this information. The concept is quite practical. This is some sort of a QA officer hired at random. I find this interesting but is it possible to earn through this scheme on a long term basis? Or is this good for only one transaction per company?

Scott says:

October 27, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Hi Hillary:

I think you could make income on a long term basis. You would need to check with each Mystery shopping company to learn how they pay.

Seinfeild Hardin says:

November 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Hi Scott,

I really admire your posts specially this one. I had a great Black Friday experience and i realize how much profit shopping malls could earn if only they get the most number of bargain hunters. I see the point of assessing their shops through mystery shoppers who could be independent assessors. I will surely love this job. But do you know of any website providing us the quickest link for me to communicate the personnel in charge of hiring mystery shoppers?


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