How To Get Started In Mystery Shopping

You have completed your research and understand that mystery shopping is a legitimate source of extra income in exchange for completion of an assignment (shop) according to the instructions. In other words, you do a job as an independent contractor and you get paid. Ready to give it a serious try? Do not pay for a list of mystery shopping companies and never pay to do a shop!

First of all, set up a free email account dedicated to your mystery shopping endeavor. I recommend Gmail but there are others. This is a first step in getting organized.

Before you start the application process with the shopping companies, I recommend an investment in a good form filler program. This is a lesson I learned the hard way – I now use RoboForm and it will save you precious time. Create a good strong password and use it for all of your mystery shopping logins. If you KISS (keep it simple, stupid) this project, life will be so much easier!

Next, figure out how you want to track your applications. This can be as simple as a spiral notebook or an Excel spreadsheet. Your headers should include: application date, mystery shopping company, and any notes you feel important. Most mystery shopping companies require an Independent Contractor’s Agreement signed by you and, of course, you need to keep a copy of that contract. Get a box of manila folders (they are cheap at stores like Walmart) and create a folder for each company as you apply. This is a great place to keep login information, the company address, phone and fax numbers. When you begin to receive shops, you will want to keep a copy of the final report and your handwritten notes taken at the time of the shop; most companies require that you keep reports for three to six months. After that length of time, you can safely shred them.

You are now ready to start the application process, and this represents a real investment of time. So where do you apply? There is a web site,, which provides hundreds of mystery shopping companies with links to the companies. In my opinion, Volition does a great job of weeding out questionable or dishonest companies. There is also a forum on the site where shoppers can share information and feedback on their experiences. I found this very helpful when I first started shopping.

If you have never completed a mystery shop, you will probably initially receive the lower paid fast food and simple retail shops. For your own sanity and stress level, this is really best for you as well. This will give you the opportunity to get a handle on what the companies expect in the reports. You will not be investing a large amount of money for the meal or small purchase; these expenses are reimbursable but payment is not immediate.

After you have completed the applications, some of the companies send emails to notify you of available shops but many do not. You may have to search their job boards to find assignments in your area. Most shops must be requested by you and then, if approved, assigned to you. Some companies will let you self-assign shops. After you have successfully completed a few shops, you are more likely to receive emails or even phone calls notifying you that shops are available.

You are creating your reputation as a mystery shopper so it is extremely important that you read everything! Beginning with your initial application and the ICA until you have successfully completed the report, be sure you understand what is expected from you. You must be prepared for the shop assignment and know what you are required to do, when the assignment needs to be completed and when the report must be completed. If you are unsure, send the scheduler at the mystery shopping company an email and request clarification.

Finally, before you do that first shop, set up a system to track the shops. Again, an Excel spreadsheet or a spiral notebook but you must have a system. You will need headers: date of shop, mystery shopping company, company/store shopped, fee, reimbursement amount, date you were paid, and anything else you consider important. You need this information! Remember, this is your own home business and you will need to report the income earned.

Your biggest investment initially is time to get set up. I do recommend spending $20-30 for a couple of good books on mystery shopping. For me, when I was new to the world of mystery shopping, this was extremely helpful.

Now, get started and get those first shops. You will soon make some money, learn some things and have a good time. Happy shopping!

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