What is Mystery Shopping, and Can You Really Get Paid to Shop?
By Cathy Stucker
Mystery shoppers visit businesses “disguised
as normal customers,” and do the things other
customers do—ask questions, make a purchase,
make a return—but with a twist. These
undercover customers are there to evaluate the
businesses and their employees. After a visit,
the mystery shopper completes a report or
questionnaire detailing what occurred.
Why Do Businesses Hire Mystery Shoppers?
In general, shops are done to find out about
the level of service provided to customers.
However, mystery shoppers may also be asked to
verify that employees are neatly groomed and
in uniform, the business is clean and
merchandise is displayed neatly, staff persons
are knowledgeable, etc. As a mystery shopper,
you may be asked to verify if employees used a
certain phrase (such as, “Thank you for
shopping at Mega Mart.”) or if they used
suggestive selling techniques (“Would you like
fries with that?”). You may even be asked to
shop a client's competitor, so the client can
compare their operations to others’. Mystery
shoppers may monitor pricing, or verify that
the business is in compliance with
professional standards or government
One common misconception about mystery
shoppers is that they are just looking for
what is wrong. In fact, a mystery shopper is
there to provide an objective view of the
business, and they report on the good as well
as the not-so-good.
Mystery shoppers seek the answers to
questions. Were you greeted when you entered
the store? Were the shelves properly stocked?
Was the store clean? Did the rest rooms have
soap and tissue? How long did it take to be
served? Did the salesperson tell you about the
available service contract? Did the cashier
properly count out your change? Afterward,
they fill out a form or write a report
describing what they observed.
Mystery shopping is not opinion research.
Shoppers are not paid to give their opinions,
they are paid to report their observations.
When evaluating businesses, mystery shoppers
are the eyes and ears of the business owner.
Shoppers tell them how customers see the
business. Most businesses have service
standards and rules for safety and security.
Mystery shoppers tell the business owner
whether his employees are living up to the
standards and following the rules.
Businesses use the information from shopper
reports to reward good employees, identify
training deficiencies, make stores safer for
employees and customers, and much more.
Companies may base performance evaluations and
bonus pay outs at least in part on the results
of mystery shops.
The information obtained in mystery shopping
reports allows the business to monitor the
performance of one location when compared to
another, or how the performance of the same
location has improved over time.
Mystery shopping is also valuable for the
sentinel effect. When employees know that they
will be mystery shopped—but they don’t know
when or by whom—they will give every customer
excellent service. This is especially true
when the results of mystery shops are used in
employee performance evaluations.
The Need for Mystery Shoppers
Today's business environment is extremely
competitive. Companies that fail to provide
excellent service will not survive. Studies
show that a satisfied customer will tell three
other people about his experience. A
dissatisfied customer will tell ten to twelve
people. All too often, though, the customer
won’t tell the business owner or manager.
Not only do companies face loss of business
from poor service, the actions of their
employees may cause them to be sued by
customers or fined by the government. With so
much at stake, mystery shoppers provide a
valuable service by identifying potential
problems the business owner can correct before
they result in a major liability.
Who Are the Mystery Shoppers?
Because mystery shoppers look like typical
customers (and are, in most ways, typical
customers) almost anyone can become a mystery
shopper. Shoppers may be any (adult) age, male
or female. They may be employed,
self-employed, unemployed, students, retired
or full time homemakers.
What makes mystery shoppers different from
other customers is that they want to help
improve customer service and make some extra
money while doing so, and they are specially
prepared to evaluate businesses and report
Many shoppers get into this business because
it is fun. They love to get the perks, such as
"free" food and merchandise, and even make a
little money while they're getting this free
stuff! Although mystery shopping can be fun,
it is a business and you will have important
responsibilities as a mystery shopper.
If you are interested in working flexible,
part time hours, and getting paid to shop, eat
and more while providing an important service
to businesses, mystery shopping may be for
For current mystery shopper openings, visit Merchandising Job Board
Copyright Cathy Stucker, The Mystery
Shopper’s Manual, Cathy Stucker has helped
thousands of people become successful
professional shoppers. Sign up for her free
e-mail course on mystery shopping at