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Mystery Shopping 101

by Nicole on April 6, 2009

For all of you who are interested in learning more about mystery shopping, I guest posted this weekend on Never Pay Retail Again.

I wrote: While most people have heard the term “mystery shopping” many do not fully understand what it means or automatically think it is a scam. I have been mystery shopping for a year now and can honestly tell you that it is NOT a scam. In fact, it’s how I have supplemented my income with an additional $300 per month approximately.

First of all, there are some scams out there claiming to be mystery shopping companies. NEVER pay to join a mystery shopping company. The company should be completely FREE to join. There is no class to take or kit to buy. You can start mystery shopping right away. You should have access to a computer, the Internet, and a scanner to facilitate the sending of your reports

To read the rest of my post, head over to Never Pay Retail Again!

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ~Sandy~ April 6, 2009 at 5:23 pm

great! thanks so much for the info…i always wanted to get into Mystery Shopping :O) i can’t believe you make about $300 a month..sweet!!

2 Stefani @ April 6, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Sounds like a pretty good extra money maker. I have done mystery shopping in the past but not any recently.

Stefani @ Mommy Enterprises

3 Anonymous April 8, 2009 at 10:05 am

I am a stay-at-home mom now and really need the extra income. I looked at the “Closer Look” website and was somewhat confused regarding payment. From what I read, it seems like they only reimburse for what you pay at the restaraunt or store you are “inspecting”. How do you make additional income?

4 Anonymous April 8, 2009 at 11:03 am


I was wondering if you are a certified mystery shopper, and if yes, can you tell me how to become one.

5 Nicole @ Nicole's Nickels April 8, 2009 at 3:13 pm

No, I am not certified. You can find out more about mystery shopping certification at

6 Nicole @ Nicole's Nickels April 8, 2009 at 3:16 pm

There are 3 kinds of shops: fee only, reimbursement only and fee plus reimbursement. A typical shop is fee plus reimbursement which says, for example, you will be reimbursed $10 for your purchase and get a fee of $8 for the shop. A fee only shop would be like test driving a car where you would just be paid a fee for your time. A reimbursement only is the one you mentioned. It depends on the shop you look at, there are a variety and the website you mentioned does have all 3 kinds of shops, just maybe not at this very moment. Hope that answered your question!

7 Anonymous April 9, 2009 at 12:52 pm

To follow up on the question from anonymous, I am looking to make extra money, not just get free stuff. So, when you sign up with a mystery shopper website, can you choose the shops you visit? Is there a requirement to visit x-number of shops per week or month? Do they ask you to spend a certain amount or buy a certain item? Thanks!

8 Nicole @ Nicole's Nickels April 9, 2009 at 4:15 pm

Yes, you can choose the shops you visit. There is no obligation to even complete ANY shops. I am signed up with many companies that don’t have shops in my area since they don’t release the name of their clients prior to you signing up. No, there is no requirement to visit a certain number of shops per week or month. The last question, it depends on the particular shop. For some, they may tell you to buy anything and give a reimbursement limit, while others may say “order 2 different entrees” or something along those lines. Basically, it depends on the shop!

9 Anonymous May 8, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Hello, Is it okay to give these companies your ss # …? I am not sure about that.


10 Nicole @ Nicole's Nickels May 8, 2009 at 4:26 pm

I do give them my social security number. They ask for it since you are acting as an independent contractor and they have to keep track of your earnings for tax purposes. They have to issue a W-9 if you earn more than $600 per year on their site. If you earn under it will be your responsibility to report your own income. Some companies will let you enter in all 0’s if you promise to give them your social if you approach $600, it just depends on the company.

11 David Nofsinger May 15, 2009 at 10:04 am

What are your average fees per visit, now that you have a year worth of experience? It seems like a lot of $10 one place, and $5 at another place.

If anyone was wanting to use mystery shoping as a 2nd income, I think they would be better off getting a part time job, just for transportation sakes, instead of driving to all of the individual locations for $5 or $10. That doesn’t even include time for all of the filling out the review.

Am I missing something on this, or would you agree? I’m genuinely trying to understand the concept, but it does seem to burn up a lot of time and personal resources.

Thank you!

12 Nicole @ Nicole's Nickels May 15, 2009 at 4:43 pm

David: I really can’t say what my average fee per shop is, it really depends on the shop. You could do a restaurant shop with a $250 reimbursement or a gas station where you get $5 in gas, just depends. In this economy, it’s very hard to find employment but there are always mystery shops open. You set your own hours and pick the assignments you want to do. I think that’s better than a part time job with set hours, set pay and no choices! Certainly it won’t make you rich but you can do well mystery shopping. For the smaller assignments I take, they are almost always at a store I was going to anyway so I’m not going out of my way. As with anything in life, you need to be smart about it and you’ll be rewarded! If you have any other questions, let me know.

13 lkprusso July 15, 2009 at 1:27 pm

I think it would benefit everyone to know that most of the jobs require "training" that I was not aware of. Before doing a job you have to take a test and pass. I've done a few hours of testing already but no shopping yet. The tests are not all easy to say the least.

14 Nicole @ Nicole's Nickels July 15, 2009 at 3:55 pm

I guess I have never considered these tests difficult – usually you just read about the jobs and then answer some questions about what you read, with most of it being common sense. They don't take much time. Each company is different, and the purpose of the "tests" is to make sure you perform the job correctly and get paid for your work! Some companies don't do this at all, it just depends.

15 Anonymous July 16, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Nicole, I was wondering if you have ever done some of the mystery shops that doesn't involve buying anything but doing something in the store such as a safety check at a restaurant. One of the companies that you talk about has something like this and I wondered if it was worth it.

16 Nicole @ Nicole's Nickels July 16, 2009 at 4:39 pm

I don't do "revealed" shops or audit where they know I am a mystery shopper. This is just something personal to me and I know many people who enjoy doing these other kind of shops. I'm sure the job would be worth it – just look at the report and figure out how much time you think it would take and weigh it against the fee!

17 Anonymous August 3, 2009 at 8:31 am

Nicole: I was wondering if you heard of the company Shadow Shoppers> can you please advise of your experience with them, if any?
BTW thank you for all of your posts they have been so helpful.

18 Nicole @ Nicole's Nickels August 3, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Dear Anonymous: I am not signed up with Shadow Shoppers and a quick google search of the company ensures that I NEVER will sign up with them. I won't comment on companies I am not a member of on a public blog but just google them yourselves and you'll see what many, many others are saying about them. I stick with companies that are members of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association and they are not members of this organization. Hope that helps.

19 Jen February 3, 2010 at 11:21 am

Hi Nicole, thanks for the info. and the guest post on hip2save. I just signed up to do a Longhorn mystery shop. I am very interested in doing more of these. Can you recommend a couple/few additional specific sites that you work with that are trustworthy? I am interested in restaurant and retail shops. Thanks!

20 nicolesnickels February 3, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Hi Jen: Click “mystery shopping” at the top of my blog and you will see the other companies I have written about. I only post about mystery shopping companies that I have personally completed (and been paid) shops for.

21 Mel February 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Hi Nicole,

I enjoyed your guest blog on Have you done bigger mystery shopping things such as staying in Hotels? If so do you have any advice or recommended websites? Thanks again!

22 nicolesnickels February 6, 2010 at 7:08 pm

I have not done a hotel shop but I do see them on many sites. Most of the time they want a very experienced mystery shopper for the bigger shops. I recommend signing up for the ones I have posted about – there are some hotel shops on there if that’s what you are interested in.

23 Melissa Gulyes March 5, 2010 at 11:15 am

Hi Nicole,
Nice website, happened on it by accident. Service Performance Group is the name of my mystery shopping company. I know you only blog about companies you have worked with, but do want to encourage you and your readers to sign up with us. We have a variety of shops, some which pay, some which are more of a barter arrangement. We are always willing to work with newbies.
I have to say though ( and I don’t mean to badmouth a competitor) that I was surprised about your comments in regards to Corporate Research Int’l. I was just on the MSPA site and saw some of the shops they are advertising and what they are paying. I don’t know what shopper in their right mind who would shop for $4.00, and I don’t care how easy it is… You still have to drive some where to get there. As a former HR manager, I find it somewhat questionable that they can even get away with this…I don’t think I have a single shop right now that pays less than $15.00!

24 nicolesnickels March 5, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Hi Melissa: I am signed up with Service Performance but haven’t ever done a shop. Do you post shops on a certain day or send emails out when you have available shops?

25 GP April 5, 2010 at 1:27 pm

can you give a list of legit places to work for that you know of?

26 nicolesnickels April 5, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Sure – just click on the mystery shopping tab on the top of my blog and you can see all of the posts I have written about the companies I work with. Let me know if you have any questions.

27 Nicksmom April 5, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Hi – I am interested to know of Melissa Gulyes ever responded to your question, Nicole? I’m always leary about people with strong opinions, but no details.
Thanks for all of your posts and work you put into this – it has piqued my interest.

28 nicolesnickels April 5, 2010 at 9:50 pm

I have not received a response to my question.

29 Sara April 5, 2010 at 10:58 pm

I shop for Service Performance Group. I receive emails when they have shops available.

30 Amy April 15, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Hi Nicole! I must say your blog has really helped me begin to figure out the world of mystery shopping…thank you! I have read and checked out most of the companies you shop for (great info!) but I am wondering it if it better to sign up with MSPA directly and go from there or sign up with each company separately? Thanks again for your info, blog and answers!!!

31 nicolesnickels April 15, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I’m not sure what you mean by sign up with the MSPA directly? They are an association and have companies as their members. I only know to sign up with each company since each has their own very different application process.

32 Amy April 16, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Sorry if my question wasn’t clear. The MSPA site says you can sign up and see all companies (that are approved) with current jobs in your area. If you are interested you follow a link to the company’s site to fill out an application. I was just wondering if this process is better or just to find a couple of companies you recommend and go from there. Just finding the best starting point!

The MSPA site also offers certificates for training. Do you think having a certificate will help get more jobs?!

33 nicolesnickels April 16, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Many companies release shops that are snapped up right away that don’t ever make it to the job boards. Also, sometimes you have to wait to be accepted for a company which stinks if you see a job that is great right away. I find it better to sign up with each company individually and learn when they release their new shops. I don’t have a certificate and haven’t had any problems getting jobs.

34 Amy April 17, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Thank you for your response, Nicole!

35 Elizabeth May 15, 2010 at 7:21 am


I was so encouraged by your post on hip2save, “How to Make Money In May.” I am seriously considering mystery shopping as a part time job.

36 Elizabeth May 15, 2010 at 7:27 am


I was so encouraged by your post on hip2save, “How to Make Money In May.” I am seriously considering mystery shopping as a part time job, as it sounds like a great way to make money in a flexible fashion, while still maintaining the busy role of a mom and wife.
My question for you is – when I go to buy a scanner (I’m looking at some on craigslist), do I need to find one that is also a fax, or can I simply use a scanner to scan the report and receipt and email it to the company’s fax machine?
I appreciate your help. I cannot wait to get shopping!

37 nicolesnickels May 15, 2010 at 8:19 am

Elizabeth: You won’t need a fax for mystery shopping, everything is scanned and emailed.

38 Mary D July 2, 2010 at 10:57 am

I just found this blog, great job!! It actually echoes a lot of my own experience with mystery shopping. I started shopping about 2 months ago and have completed over 25 jobs with 10 more scheduled in the next 2 weeks. This is on top of working a full time job. There is only 1 that I did not get paid for (aside from those who have not cut the checks yet) and that was due to my mistake ordering the wrong food at a restaurant and didn’t realize it until later. You do have to follow directions exactly, even if it seems silly sometimes.

My thought with mystery shopping was I could use it to transition to a new location (just got engaged & may be moving somewhere else) and also to supplement my income for retirement (I’m over 50!). I am having a blast with this and my total for jobs completed and booked is nearly $600.

There are ways to be smart about it as Nicole mentions so you’re not driving all over town for $10. I consider restaurant shops part of my grocery budget for instance.

Have fun!!

Mary D

39 Scammed July 6, 2010 at 9:15 pm

I signed up, for free, with MysteryShopper website. It all looked legit, no upfront money. They asked for general info (name, address, contact phone number). Then, without warning they sent me a good size USPS money order and emailed me instruction to cash it, keep a portion and send the rest via Western Union, who I was to evaluate. It sounded too good and too easy to be true. I was texted to take it to a bank to cash it. When I got instruction to send it overseas, I decided to instead take it to the post office just to find out it was fake! Gave them all the contact info I knew and now hoping I didn’t get myself in trouble. Now, tell me where I screwed up? All I wanted to do is earn a little extra income.

40 nicolesnickels July 6, 2010 at 9:39 pm

I am assuming you did not sign up from one of the sites I recommended, right? You need to do research before signing up with the company to determine if they are legit (members of the MSPA, from Volition forums, etc.). Almost every mystery shopping scam I hear about is the one you described so I stay away from anything with check cashing and banks, etc. If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.

41 scammed July 7, 2010 at 11:06 am

I guess that’s where I screwed up. I didn’t sign up on one linked to your column, I signed up on one that was mentioned and noted highly by someone posting on your column. Since I turned in all the info I had to the USPS, how much trouble do you think I just got myself into? This is worrying me to death! I understand there’s reliable sites out there, but I don’t think I’ll be trying anymore. Thanks for posting back the member sites they need to be associated with. I still love hip2save, regardless of my misfortune.

42 nicolesnickels July 7, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Yeah, anyone can post a comment, it could have been a spammer/scammer posting the link you followed.

43 Krista October 5, 2010 at 11:30 pm

To answer one of the earlier questions about becoming a certified shopper: you can get certified through MSPA as either a silver or gold shopper. The silver certification costs $15 and the entire testing process took me less than an hour. I can’t say that I have schedulers flooding my email with shop offers, but I have gotten a few referrals from new companies because I went through the certification. I think it also gives me a bit of an edge when I have to apply for shops. The gold certification costs about $100 and requires you to either attend a training session or go through DVD training. I haven’t done that one yet, but some people say it’s worth it.

I’ve done 1 shop for Service Performance Group. I’d do more, but they don’t post many jobs in my area. I would be willing to work for them again. I have to agree with the owner’s comments about Corporate Research International – I don’t know how people are willing to work for $4. On the bright side, they usually pay a very nice bonus towards the end of the month when they still have shops available.

44 Charles Luttrell February 26, 2012 at 1:44 pm

I came across your link and decided to post our information for you. We are a legit company located in Maryland. Please feel free to contact me or visit our site for more information.


45 David March 7, 2014 at 12:10 pm

One of the founding companies of the Mystery Shopping industry is Second To None. For those wishing to become a mystery shopper, Second To None offers a free, quick, online way to apply:

Second To None offers mystery shopping assignments in a variety of industries, including restaurants, retail brands, banking, healthcare and other consumer services.

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