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Businesses rely upon the keen observation skills of mystery shoppers to conduct anonymous evaluations at their establishments as a way to assess and rate the quality of service in order to remain competitive with other companies that offer similar products and services. Although you will not likely become rich from your earnings as a mystery shopper, there is still the potential to earn some extra cash that you can put aside for emergencies and to also use to enjoy an occasional small indulgence from time to time.

So, if you’re looking to learn how to become a mystery shopper, read on!

What Exactly is a Mystery Shopper?

Mystery shoppers (also called secret shoppers) are hired by companies to visit local shops and businesses to review and rate the level of service received along with the overall level of satisfaction. The work of a mystery shopper can be exciting as you work in the same fashion as an undercover spy…you blend in with the crowd and look like any other typical customer. Some mystery shopper assignments require you to make a purchase so that you have the opportunity to observe how you are treated during a sales transaction.

Product purchases are reimbursed and payment for each assignment will vary depending on a variety of factors. Some mystery shoppers who buy an item during their store visit will receive the amount they paid out of pocket plus they will get to keep the product as the form of payment for completing the assignment. Visits to restaurants may provide payment in the form of a free meal or tickets to a local entertainment venue. Most mystery shopper employees receive payment by check, direct deposit, or through PayPal.

Qualities of a Great Mystery Shopper

Has an Eye for Details

A mystery shopper is like the Sherlock Holmes of the retail world. You will use your keen skills of observation as you peruse a shop, while paying attention to every little detail as you walk the required perimeter during your visit. Adhering to the provided guidelines is also very important, so become thoroughly familiar with the instructions given to you by the mystery shopper company before you venture forth and scout out your next shop.

Trustworthy and Dependable

Mystery shopper companies are looking for applicants that are honest and reliable. What this boils down to is that you must be a responsible worker that follows through from start to finish. Sticking to the agreed upon deadline for the submission of the mystery shopping assignment is imperative. If you cannot complete an assignment make sure you notify the company that hired you so that you may be able to reschedule the work if possible.

Ability to be Inconspicuous

A good mystery shopper is able to blend in with the crowd like a chameleon. Like a hunter stalking his prey, you must be able to be inconspicuous so that your presence does not make those you are observing uneasy or suspicious about your shop visit. To successfully blend in, learn a little more about the shop you will be visiting prior to your trip. Is it a casual establishment with a relaxed atmosphere? If so, then dress accordingly like other customers.

Can Accurately Assess and Evaluate Scenarios

Maintaining an unbiased opinion when observing others may be difficult to do but it is essential for a mystery shopper to succeed with the assignment. Do not let your preference for certain types of products or services sway your outlook when assessing and evaluating the shop and their employees. Your love of shopping or dislike of a particular store should not be allowed to cloud your judgment. Approach the assignment with an open mind and do your best.

Excellent Communication Skills

On the road to learning how to become a secret shopper, you must learn the ability to effectively communicate with others in various formats. Depending on the shopping assignment, you may be visiting a local store in person, making contact by telephone, or completing an online survey. No matter which route you take during the process, you must have the ability to express your thoughts and opinions in a clear and precise manner that is easy to understand.

Solid Writing Abilities

Some people may be master conversation gurus but lack sharp skills when it comes to their writing abilities. Onsite mystery shopper assignments will require you to write a short narrative of your shop experience during your visit. Always do a spell check and edit for proper grammar and structure format within the content of your document that highlights your assignment. When you initially apply for a position as a mystery shopper, submitting a writing sample may be part of the process.

Has the Ability to Multitask

A job as a mystery shopper requires the ability to juggle several different tasks. To be successful in this industry you need to be able to multitask while keeping organized without losing focus. A suggestion is to create a handy checklist of To Do items to help you track each duty as you progress through your mystery shopper assignments. You can save and store completed work for future reference if needed and then start a brand new list to accompany each new mystery shopper assignment.

Reliable Mode of Transportation

Mystery shopper assignments may be completed online, via telephone contact, or in person. You will need a reliable mode of transportation to complete onsite mystery shopper assignments. Decide just how far you are willing to travel for an assignment as you need to consider the costs of gas and vehicle maintenance. Where you live and the location of shops to visit will give you a better idea of how far you will need to drive. Ask yourself if driving 50 miles each way is worth an assignment that only pays $10.

Maintains Required Equipment and Supplies

Part of your duties as a mystery shopper may include having to take photos during onsite visits to local stores. A reliable camera or smartphone will fit the bill and provide you with what you need to capture essential images. Writing descriptive narratives of your shopping experience will require a computer or laptop plus a printer. Make a list of all the supplies you will need before you venture out on your first mystery shopper trip so that you stocked up and ready to go.

Where to Find Legitimate Jobs as a Mystery Shopper

If the prospect of becoming a mystery shopper to earn a little money sounds exciting, the potential is there for a little extra cash to cushion your savings. Although working as a mystery shopper will not make you a millionaire, you can easily make a few hundred extra bucks each month to help cover expenses. Savvy shoppers with an eye for detail that enjoy visiting local establishments will appreciate the added income.

An article posted on Forbes.com that discusses the ins and outs of mystery shopping quoted an average rate of about $5 to $20 for each shopping visit. The pay rate for completing each assignment will vary depending on several factors, such as whether your visit is conducted onsite, online, or over the phone. You will make more money as a mystery shopper if you put in the extra time and effort.

Other ways in which you can search for mystery shopper jobs is by checking out online reviews and feedback posted on job boards. Some reviews are nothing more than fabricated accounts placed by paid reviewers that receive money to lie—so do your research and be thorough. If you see an online job posting for a mystery shopper and are unfamiliar with the company, do a Google search with its name.

Once you are adequately armed with sufficient knowledge to help you avoid scams, it will be easier to track down legitimate jobs as a mystery shopper. The first place to start your job search is to visit the website of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). There are several hundred MSPA member companies posted on the company’s site with provided links and contact information.

To further inspire you to perhaps become a mystery shopper, here is a listing of the many categories under the class of Mystery Shop that are available for free access on the website of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) that you can explore while checking out potential companies to work for:

  • Apartments/Housing
  • Automotive Service
  • Banking/Financial
  • Car/Truck Sales
  • Casual Dining
  • Convenience Store
  • Entertainment
  • Fast Food/QSR
  • Fine Dining
  • Grocery Store
  • Health/Beauty/Fitness
  • Healthcare
  • Hotel/Hospitality
  • In-Home Service
  • Online Shopping
  • Other
  • Retail
  • Transportation Travel

Should You Become a Certified Mystery Shopper?

Although certification is not required to become a mystery shopper, there are some benefits in acquiring it and adding it to your resume. Companies that hire mystery shoppers know that certification requires passing exams that test an applicant’s knowledge. Getting a solid score on the exams proves that have a basic understanding of how the process of mystery shopping works plus it reflects important qualities and skills associated with being a savvy and observant shopper.

Adding the certification credential to your resume may provide you with an edge on the competition when applying for a job as a mystery shopper. It shows that you have taken the time to learn more about how the industry works and have developed essential abilities that can be an asset on the job. If you are interested in pursuing certification, visit the website of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association of America (MSPA), which offers several options to become certified at different levels.

When checking out the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), it is important to note that the company is a reputable one and is accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), receiving an overall rating of A+ for services provided within the past 3 years. If you decide to pursue certification and enroll in continuing education courses through MSPA, membership is required at a minimal cost of only $25 per year. A full listing of educational programs offered by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association of America (MSPA), which is continually updated, includes the following courses:

  • Intro to Mystery Shopping Certification
  • Gold Certification
  • Professional Responsibility and Ethics
  • Professional Industry Writing
  • Video Shopping I
  • Video Shopping II

Mystery Shopping Scams and What to Look For

Many consumers are easily drawn in by enticing advertisements that make promises. One example of a common scam is to see ads where a company will send you a list of information such as job postings in return for paying a fee. Upon further research, you will often find that the information is readily available for free on the Internet. This is how some companies, at least the dishonest ones, make money and turn a profit.

If you have had a negative experience with a mystery shopping company and believe you have been scammed, your options to resolve the issue include contacting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or your state Attorney General. If the listing is a scam, it is quite common to see angry complaints posted by consumers on the Internet. Glassdoor.com is one site where you can read reviews of companies including negative comments that have been anonymously posted to the site employees.

Get Out There and Become a Mystery Shopper

Now that you have all the information you need to become a successful mystery shopper, the next step is to go out there and apply for a job. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) will be the best place to apply for a position as all the member companies that hire mystery shoppers are listed on their website. Check out the businesses that are looking for mystery shoppers, get in touch with them, and complete the application process. Before you know it you will be out and about visiting shops as an undercover mystery shopper anonymously observing your surroundings and getting paid for your efforts.

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