WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Thursday thoughts: Mystery shopping

Posted March 24, 2011

Ever wanted to get paid to shop? If so, mystery shopping may be just what you are looking for. If you have some spare time and would like to make a little extra money, mystery shopping can be a great way to put a few extra dollars in the bank.

This week's Thursday Thoughts is written by Nancy, our famous blog poster! I realized she was doing a lot of mystery shopping so I asked if she would share her thoughts on the process. Here is her article and she will be back on the blog later Thursday afternoon to answer questions and offer more information.  Thanks Nancy!

If you do any mystery shopping, feel free to share your thoughts as well as any mystery shopping companies you recommend.

Unraveling the Mystery to Mystery Shopping

As a mystery shopper of a few years, I often read about the fraud in that field. Indeed, there are even warnings on the web sites of valid companies that contract for mystery shops because their name is being used to try to perpetuate fraud in the field. There is a simple and clear path to becoming a mystery shopper and know that you are working for legitimate companies and that you will get paid for your efforts. And no, there is never a need to pay to become a mystery shopper!

Having said that, there is a clearinghouse of sorts for mystery shoppers called the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). They serve many purposes to both the mystery shopper and the legitimate companies in the field. MSPA can be used for shoppers who wish to become certified. There are two levels of certification and until recently, the silver level certification was free, now there is a small nominal fee of $15.00. There is a gold level certification, much more costly but involves a higher degree of testing. The whole purpose behind the certification is both to assure yourself that you understand the requirements of being an effective and thorough mystery shopper as well as adding a level of assurance to many contractors that you're capable of performing the work. It is not necessary nor do any mystery shopping contract companies require certification for you to perform shops for them.

I strongly suggest spending a lot of time reading on the MSPA website as it's an education source for mystery shoppers worldwide. They are always providing up to the minute information that helps you stay abreast of fraud in the field as well as which companies belong to MSPA and therefore provide a ready list of hundreds of mystery shopping providers who are legitimate and safe for you to begin your work as a mystery shopper.

You will not get rich being a mystery shopper, not unless it was a full time job and you performed what are referred to as 'route' assignments, which require great coordination to line up dates and locations and involves travel. But generally most mystery shoppers get involved because it's something they can do based on their own schedule availability and they are fun most of the time!

Generally the benefits are being paid a few dollars to file the online report and the reimbursement of a specific amount of money on products purchased, if required. Every business you can think of gets mystery shopped. Some are common and some not. The list and variety is endless! From funeral homes to banks, veterinary services to oil changes, outlet stores to grocery stores, gas stations to convenience stores, hotels to fine dining, new car dealerships to new home builders, tax preparation services to tobacco compliance shops. You name it, it probably contracts mystery shopping services!

That is the basic unraveling of the mystery shop 'mystery'. It's not mysterious at all if you know who you can trust and where to begin. For me it was MSPA and always will be the clearinghouse of all legitimate information and companies you might wish to become an agent for.



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  • Oxymoron02 Mar 24, 2011

    OK, here's a horrible scenario ....

    HT shop during SD. Get to check out, and after coupons I'm UNDER my reimbursement so I have to grab a filler.

    Is that just wrong, or what?

  • Nancy Mar 24, 2011

    finesse - most shops do require some purchase or service that you pay for and get reimbursed for. There are a few that don't require a purchase but the bulk of them do, it's proof you were there/time stamped/location etc.

    When you file your reports online, you will have to upload a jpg photo of the receipt as proof and as well to get reimbursed up to the limit they stated they would in the shop details information.

  • Nancy Mar 24, 2011

    LAX - I do a lot of grocery mystery shops but I also do gas stations, convenience stores, new car dealership shops, fast food and casual dining shops.

    But the list of possibilities is truly endless. Currently there is a company, Sentry Marketing that is looking for people to do spa massage shops, they even pay for the tip.

    I've done hotel shops, oil change shops, pizza delivery shops, drug store shops, coffee shops etc.

  • Nancy Mar 24, 2011

    As to when you get paid, it depends on the company. Some pay at the end of each month for the shops done in that month, others pay out every two weeks for shops performed during the prior two weeks. And many pay at the end of the month following the month the shops were completed in. (Shops done in January get paid the end of February).

    So you have to be good with your cash flow, have money set aside that just gets rolled back into shopping and peel off your pay if you wish. That way you're using the same money over and over again.

  • Nancy Mar 24, 2011

    ebuxton :) I do lots of shops for Confero - one of my fav companies!

    Others I do traditionally shop with because they carry the kind of shops I like doing is Trendsource, Ritter Associates, Second To None, About Face and Market Force.

    Another company that's great for a variety of shops is Corporate Research.

  • ebuxton Mar 24, 2011

    Thanks for the strong suggestion about MSPA. My firm, Confero Customer Experience, conducts thousands of mystery shops all over North America, and we are located in Cary NC. Having served as president of MSPA in 2010, I know firsthard how hard MSPA works to educate interested mystery shoppers and the public at large about mystery shopping. The MSPA website is Also, our own website offers a great deal of information about mystery shopping: or visit us on Facebook at Also, WRAL's Monica Laliberte investigated mystery shopping back in August-Sept 2010 and filed a very informative series of stories about it. Thanks again, Nancy!

  • twinredheads Mar 24, 2011

    I have been mystery shopping for 5+ years and I have ALWAYS had to pay out of pocket and then get reimbursed. Every mystery shopping company that I have done business for does not pay until the month following a successfully completed shop. That being said, I have enjoyed many wonderful dining experiences that I would not normally do because they are so expensive and have always been reimbursed for my time.

  • LAXMom12 Mar 24, 2011

    Nancy - do you mainly choose grocery stores or have you tried other types of mystery shops?

  • prisskat Mar 24, 2011

    what companies/web sites do you use? I have used a couple in the past (some more than others). The only thing i don't like is sometimes it takes a month before you get paid/reimbursed!

  • finesse187 Mar 24, 2011

    How often do you have to pay for items oop?