Updated: So, you want to try mystery shopping?

(updated on 11/16/2012)

I completed my 422nd mystery shop yesterday (since March 2011), and since I’m always getting questions about this field, I thought I’d update this blog post and repost it. 🙂

First of all, it is a real thing. The most common question I’ve been asked is, “That’s real? I thought it was fake!” It is real. There are tons of scams out there, of course, but there are hundreds of legitimate companies.

You should NEVER pay to join a company! That indicates a scam. Any company asking you to wire money is also a scam.

How do you know if the company is legitimate? Go to the MSPA’s website and find out. MSPA is the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. They represent all of the real companies and list them on their site for your convenience.

They also offer certification levels which help you, the mystery shopper, receive better jobs and often higher paying jobs, because the certification shows that you are serious. I have the MSPA Silver Certification and am thinking about achieving Gold status simply because I’ve seen the benefits of silver, so I know that gold must be great!

Secondly, don’t expect to get rich, but DO expect to eat lots of free meals (after reimbursement) and experience new things! We’ve made about $6,800 so far (not including reimbursements), and it has been a tremendous blessing. These shops often turn into date nights because Brennan is my “partner in crime” whenever he is allowed to go with me (some shops stipulate that you must go alone).

Now that I’ve done over 400, I know which shops I like and which ones I will only do if they offer me bonus pay or beg me. I know which mystery shopping companies I prefer (out of the 50+ with whom I am registered), and I know which ones are a pain to work for (there are a few). I have done shops in retail, fast food, fast casual food, hospitality, auto sales and service, etc. And each one has taught me very different skills. I’ve test driven a Mercedes, shopped for TVs, and eaten a lot of great food. 🙂

Favorite shop so far? Getting to see U2 for FREE. It was also the hardest shop that we’ve done so far, but totally worth it! We’ve also done hotels (where we get to stay for free), football games (next week, actually…college football on Black Friday!), movie theatres, etc.

I have also learned what various retail establishments require of their employees when it comes to customer service, and I have much higher expectations now for how I am treated and how I am helped.

It is very helpful to sign up with multiple companies simply because each one has very different clients, and depending on where you live, it may be helpful in getting shops to do. In Central PA, there aren’t as many opportunities as Southern California, for example. Most companies send out emails when there are shops available in your area, so you don’t have to check daily for opportunities. I am signed up with 50+ companies, but only actively shop for about 10. I just like having more options available to me.

Here are a few companies I would recommend starting with (in no particular order):

Corporate Research International: http://www.mysteryshops.com 

CRI has you watch a video presentation on how to do effective mystery shopping that is actually entertaining and incredibly helpful. I just signed up with them this week and had to watch it, and it even helped me–an “experienced” shopper! Honestly, this company annoys me with their process, but their training is good and they have a great variety. Their commissions start REALLY low, so wait until they are raised before doing the shops.

Market Force: http://www.applymarketforce.com 

Intelli-Shop: http://www.intelli-shop.com

BARE International (if you want to sign up with them, send me your email address and I’ll refer you. They offer bonuses for referrals!)

Reality Based Reports: http://www.realitybasedreports.com/index.norm.php 

Ritter Associates: http://www.ritterassociates.com

Bestmark: http://www.bestmark.com

Second-to-None: http://www.second-to-none.com

As you get more involved, you’ll learn which companies service which retailers/restaurants, etc. I can’t tell you which ones they do (confidentiality), but you can figure it out!

If you have any questions, please let me know. It is a lot of fun, it sharpens your memory and observation skills, and you’ll earn a little extra cash. 🙂

IMPORTANT NOTE: You will have to pay taxes on earnings over $600, so I advise that you keep a detailed spreadsheet (ask to see mine if you are serious about this) detailing where you shopped, when, your expenses (reimbursed and non-reimbursed), mileage, which mystery shopping company, the date you were paid. This also helps me remember when to do shops and to make sure that I get paid for each one of them. And, it will help at tax time. So far this year, because of mileage (which is $0.555 cents per mile credit per the IRS as of 07/01/11), I’ve profited $200 according to the IRS. 🙂

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