Shopper Blogs

Like to be the first to hear about shops in your area? Get on board with the newest ways to communicate in the secret shopping world – Twitter and Facebook!

With these state-of-the-art methods of communication, you can be get alerts about upcoming shops in real time. No more waiting for offers or logging in to check the job board. You don’t even have to be at home! Follow your favorite companies by becoming a fan or a follower. News is always at your fingertips!

Don't have a Twitter account? That's okay; it’s easy to get one, and it’s never too late to get started. Sign up today at www.twitter.com . Once you register, you control of how much or how little information you want to receive. And, you have the option to get alerts sent right to your phone! So no matter where you are, you’re in the know! Click here to go to the AboutFace™ Secret Shoppers Twitter page.

New to Facebook? Registering couldn't be easier. Just log in to www.facebook.com , click on “Sign Up,” answer a few simple questions and you’re in!! Once you’re a member, you can search for the companies that you want to follow and become a fan of their pages. Click here to go to the AboutFace™ Secret Shoppers Facebook Group’s page.

Twitter and Facebook are free and so simple to use, and they can put you ahead of the game. What are you waiting for?


Doing your taxes when you’re an Independent Contractor

Shannon Scarberry Field Staff Coordinator for IntelliShop (http://www.intelli-shop.com/) offers this helpful information for doing your taxes as an Independent Contractor.

As an independent contractor you will be responsible for filing your own taxes each year. Each company you do work for will mail you a 1099 form. Some companies will only issue a 1099 form if you make 600.00 per year. If you do not receive a form and you made 599 or less, odds are you won’t receive the form as your income was not reported to the IRS. Your mystery shopping income includes all fees you were paid and may include your reimbursements.

You will be able to deduct some of your expenses as a mystery shopper. This may include, but is not limited too, mileage, car expenses including gas, postage costs, a portion of your internet bill, etc. You may even be able to deduct some home expenses if you use your home as your primary office. As an independent contractor, you should file a Schedule C, where you claim business expenses as a deduction of income.

If you are interested in becoming a full time mystery shopper and expect to make a significant amount of money over the course of a year, you may want to think about filing your taxes quarterly based on your estimated guess of your income for the year.


Shopper Pay

This post is in reference to a previous question regarding shopper pay. Elaine Buxton of Confero (www.conferoinc.com) has offered this response.

Thank you for asking such an important question! When you are offered an assignment by an MSPA member company, you will be told up front what is required during the mystery shop visit. In some cases, you will need to pay for an item and be reimbursed for it. This is usually the case for a restaurant shop in which you would pay for your meal and then are reimbursed after submitting your shop report. It is also typical for convenience stores, grocery stores, or other consumer environments which offer small-dollar purchases. In other cases, you may be asked to purchase an item and then return it to the store. Many retailers use this type of shop to evaluate the selling process and then return process. This also allows for the shop to include the purchase of a higher-value item, so this purchase-return set up is common for higher-end retailers. If you are asked to make a purchase, you will be told the approximate amount of the required purchase prior to the shop. There are some mystery shops for banks for which you would be sent money in advance. Those are usually shops involving opening a checking or brokerage account. Banks want to check the process of an actual account opening and to see if associates are mentioning other services offered by the bank. Typically, these freshly-opened accounts are closed the next day by the bank so the shopper does not have an unneeded account and the bank gets its “seed” money back. The shopper is then paid a fee for the shop performed. For these highly-specialized bank shops, shoppers almost always have experience performing shops for the mystery shopping provider, so that the MSP trusts the shopper with the funds.

There are more types of mystery shops than can possibly be mentioned in this post, as shops are conducted for an almost endless list of services such as healthcare providers, automotive services, carpet cleaning, residential cleaning, real estate agencies, apartment leasing and most any type of consumer service. What is important to remember is that MSPA member companies will clearly inform you as to what is required during the mystery shop and when you may expect payment for your shop assignment. It is always a good idea to check with the mystery shopping company to confirm their payment polices before you perform any assignments for them.

Please exercise extreme caution when working with a mystery shopping provider who is not a member of the MSPA. There is a scam that involves you 1) receiving an unsolicited cashier’s check, 2) being asked to deposit it into your personal account and then 3) wiring the money to someone through (typically through Western Union or Moneygram). These types of shops are SCAMS and are not conducted by the reputable companies that are part of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. Sometimes, though, the scam appears to come from an MSPA member company, as the names of legitimate companies are sometimes falsely used in the scam. Unfortunately, these scams seem “real” since it appears that the company is sending you the money in advance. In the end, these scams involved worthless cashiers checks which the bank would come back to collect from the shopper. To avoid these scams, find the official website of the MSP you wish to contact and follow their online procedures for securely registering your interest to mystery shop. Do not send your personal information via email.


Impressing Your Scheduler

For another perspective on building a strong relationship with your scheduler, Amy Braley, field staff coordinator at IntelliShop (www.intelli-shop.com), offers the following tips for making life easier for both you and your scheduler.

One of the most important things you can do as a mystery shopper is to create good relationships with your schedulers. A good relationship with your scheduler can increase the number of shops you receive and also the type of shops you receive. Creating a good relationship with your scheduler is rather simple, but requires a shopper to continually work at keeping the relationship a good one. Some tips for creating great relationships with your scheduler:
  1. The number one most important thing you can do is to complete your shops and submit your reports on time. If you must cancel a shop, you should always contact your scheduler well in advance of the deadline. You should NEVER flake on a shop.
  2. When you contact your scheduler, be sure to include your first and last name, the shop(s) you are referring to, and any other pertinent information. The more information you provide; the better. You will get a more timely response to your questions and your scheduler will not have to work as hard to find the answers.
  3. Use proper grammar and spelling when communicating with your scheduler. Your scheduler will understand a few typos, but if she/he cannot understand the message you are trying to convey, she/he cannot help you.
  4. Finally, submit good, thorough reports. The less your scheduler has to contact you for more information, the better. Your reports should be grammatically correct and provide all the requested information.

By following these tips and being a great shopper, you will definitely be able to create some great relationships with your schedulers. A great relationship will provide a better working experience for both parties involved.

Do you have a stellar relationship with one of your schedulers? Leave a comment to tell us how you made it happen.


"Snowing" Your Scheduler

A strong relationship between a shopper and a scheduler is a crucial part of mystery shopping. And keeping the line of communication open and honest is an important part of that relationship. Judi Hess, president of Customer Perspectives (www.CustomerPerspectives.com), offers the following advice for maintaining a good relationship with your scheduler:

Although mystery shopping companies have diverse procedures, most of them have the same criteria regarding which shoppers to turn to first. Naturally, they want shoppers who are honest, fair, consistent and objective. Just as importantly, they give priority to shoppers who are RELIABLE -in other words, those who conduct their shops when they say they will and submit them immediately thereafter. If something happens and you can’t meet your obligation, you need to notify your scheduler at once, preferably by e-mail. And one more thing-if your scheduler contacts you, whether it’s for a missing shop or because more detail is needed, always respond immediately.



Whether you’re excited, relieved or stressed about the new year, 2009 will be here before we know it. And we all know what that brings: those resolutions we "look forward" to every year!

Now is the time to think about what resolutions you'll make for the new year. Mystery shopping providers are already coming up with theirs.

From a shopper perspective, what should they be thinking about for next year? How can they make your life easier in 2009?

What are some of your resolutions as a shopper? Need to work on your narratives or apply with more companies? Let us know what you are thinking about for 2009!


What clients are looking for from Member companies and what that means for a mystery shopper

The following is a post by Carl Phillips, director of Customer-1st (www.customer-1st.com ) talking about one of the latest trends in mystery shopping.

New challenges bring new opportunities. We have seen a recent trend with many of our clients to dig a little deeper into the sales process when conducting mystery shops. Automobile dealers want our field staff to now go through the entire sales process, rather than just rate speed of greeting, friendliness and product knowledge. Our bank clients are asking that we have our field staff mention they are having car problems, during their regular flow of conversation, to see if the teller suggests an auto loan. Our grocery store clients want us to now measure if the associates are suggesting related items when they encounter a customer that needs assistance. It seems more and more importance is being placed on suggestive selling, which is a term I personally dislike. Selling is something you do TO some. I prefer the term suggestive problem solving, which is something to do FOR someone. It seems like a minor difference -- except to the customer. When we feel someone is really listening and is offering to help, verses mechanically suggesting something because their supervisor told them to, it takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to customer relationship building.

Because of this trend we are seeing a need to work with shoppers that are Silver or Gold Certified and that we have had some experience with in relation to their quality of work. Yes, there are still shops available for the novas, or new shopper, but those shops usually don’t pay as well as the shops requiring more detail. Our clients are also becoming savvier about the training process and have even asked, during the bidding process, if we have the capability of only scheduling certified shoppers. Yes, these are challenging times which require us to pay closer attention to the customer’s needs , guide them to make the right decisions and doing everything we can to over deliver on their expectations. Customer 1st realized from day one that we are only as good as our valued shoppers. I share the above information with you so that you can understand why we ask some of the questions we do. And also to help us meet our customer’s needs and do all you can to gain the kind of assignments that compensate you for detailed work.


MSPA Bulletin Board

MSPA has had bulletin board for some time, as many of you know.

We’ve recently made some modifications that will make it easier to join and use. This will give you one more resource in your quest to find all information necessary to be a great shopper.

To register, and be able to post comments/topics, follow these steps:

  1. Click on the "Register" link on the forum homepage
  2. Reply to the e-mail you receive
  3. Login and communicate with other shoppers

This is a great opportunity to connect with one of the best resources you could ask for: fellow shoppers!

Have a specific question for MSPA? Comment on this blog, or post it on the discussion boards and we’ll give you everything we can!


What's the deal with Certification?

We get a decent amount of questions about certification -- what it is, why to get it, what to do with it, etc. It really is an excellent question -- and an important part of the mystery shopping industry. Certification isn't required, but it does help set apart the best from the rest, so to speak.

Certification is...
The MSPA has a two-level certification program that helps mystery shoppers improve their skills and marketability. It's a voluntary step you take to educate yourself on the industry in which you work. Certification was created to address shopper standarization and education. Basically, it shows schedulers that you know what you're doing -- and have taken the extra step to prove it!

Certification is an investment in your business.
More and more providers are seeing much better reports from certified shoppers. In turn, they're giving preference to shoppers who are certified. Some providers release shops to certified shoppers first -- and some shops go exclusively to certified shoppers. For you, the shoppers, this equals more shops and, in some cases, better/higher-paying shops. Essentially, certification makes you a better shopper -- and it also tells providers that you're serious about your business.

You're not paying to shop.
And MSPA strongly believes that you never should.

As we mentioned previously, certification is a voluntary step you take to make yourself better. Compare it to taking a gardening class or a painting class -- you can grow plants or paint a beautiful picture without taking a class. But if you take the class, you're better at it. You know technique, history and the "other side of the story."

The same is true with mystery shopping and certification. You're investing in your ability...and marketability.

Getting certified
Silver certification is an online program that you can complete at any time from the comfort of your home office -- or anywhere you have Internet access. The cost is $15. Once you've received Silver certification, you are eligible for Gold.

Gold is completed via a DVD that you can watch from your home. The MSPA also offers a couple in-person workshops each year at various U.S. cities. After the session, you'll complete an online test. Cost for the Gold certification itself is $99 (for in-person or the DVD), and the DVD has a $5 shipping and handling charge.

After you're certified
After you've completed the certification, you should inform the companies you shop for. Update your profile in their database, send them an e-mail, or tell the scheduler you work with. Some shoppers also add it to their e-mail signature line to serve as an ongoing reminder.

More questions?
Check out the details on the MSPA Web site:


Examining Healthcare Shops - Part 2

The following is a continuation of Monday's post on healthcare mystery shopping from Jodi Manfredi, president of Examine Your Practice (www.examineyourpractice.com).

Do I Pay For The Doctor’s Visit?

No! You should never pay for any visit, consultation or non-invasive procedure you may have. Nor do we file a claim on your insurance. If you are asked for any type of payment, it is reimbursed or the shop is revealed and your money is returned on the spot.
However, if you do anything outside the guidelines you may be responsible.
Shoppers have been grateful for some of the assignments; if they are uninsured, it may have been the nudge they needed to have that not-so-pleasant mammogram or a little more fun, a consultation with a plastic surgeon. I am sorry to say there will be no face lifts or liposuction on the house!

What If I Like The Doctor or Dentist I Visited, Can I Become Their Patient?

Sure, many shoppers have liked the provider so well they have switched doctors or went forward with a cosmetic procedure, dental work, etc. We ask you don’t do that on the day of your shop. Of course at that point you become a patient of record and the mystery shopping company is out of the picture.

How Much Dough Can I Make Doing Healthcare Shops?

Healthcare shops generally pay well. Dependant on the type of shop, location and complexity they may pay anywhere from $25.00 to $250.00; healthcare phone shops pay in the same range as retail phone shops.

To learn more about Medical Mystery Shopping please visit the Examine Your Practice Web site, or you may find other companies offering healthcare shops on the MSPA Web site.


Examining Healthcare Shops

Healthcare mystery shopping is a growing portion of the mystery shopping industry. But it's also uncharted territory for a lot of shoppers. Below Jodi Manfredi, president of Examine Your Practice (http://www.examineyourpractice.com/) explains the ins and outs. With so much info, we couldn't fit it in one post...check back later this week for Part 2!

How Do I Find a Medical Mystery Shopping Assignment?

I take several calls a week from shoppers that have applied to our database asking “how can I accept a shop? I don’t see any assignments.” Most companies that specialize in healthcare do not self-assign shops. We may, however, use the same resources as the retail mystery shopping companies. You will see posts on the MSPA job board, Job Slinger, and various sites the scheduling companies may use for posting. We will search our database first, reviewing the writing sample very carefully. Most healthcare shops require extensive narratives, and the shopper’s writing skills are essential to our selection process.

Do I Have To Be Certified?

No, but we do look for Silver and Gold certified shoppers first. We’ve noticed that those who have taken the MSPA certification courses exhibit excellent writing and observation skills. We have also found they have the highest level of professionalism and have proven to be extremely responsible and reliable.

I Have Been Chosen For a Healthcare Shop, What Can I Expect Next?

You will be required to sign a shopper agreement that includes strict confidentiality and release of liability. (We really don’t want you to sue our doctors; it’s bad for business....)You will receive an email with pertinent information regarding an instructional call. You may receive instructions for several different types of shops ranging from phone shops to an actual visit to a doctor’s office or hospital. The length of the call will be determined by the complexity of the shop. We will also provide detailed written guidelines with the assignment. We will review all the details of your particular assignment and our legal obligation to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). We encourage shoppers to ask questions whether it is a conference training or individual call.

Check back in a day or so for part 2 of this "examination" of healthcare mystery shopping.


Shopper Ratings

A few days ago, Jimmy posted a comment that asked about shopper ratings. We thought it was an excellent question and wanted to provide more details.

Each provider has its own rating system that applies to only that company. Some companies use a scale of 1-10, some use categories, and some companies have other methods. To find out what your rating is with a company, you should contact your scheduler there. Here is some excellent insight from Jodi Paul, President of Consumer Impressions, Inc. (www.consumerimpressions.com/) about her company's policies and ways that you can improve your rating.

Shoppers' Rating

Consumer Impressions uses an internal rating system to evaluate the performance of our shoppers. When a shopper joins our team, they are initially ranked as New in two categories: Reliability and Quality.

After the shopper has performed two surveys, their status is re-evaluated, and they are rated as either Excellent, Good, Fair or Poor in both the Reliability and Quality categories. A shopper's rating determines the number of surveys they are allowed to perform for us.

If the company you are working for does not post your rating, you can always ask for feedback on how you are doing.

How to make sure you have an Excellent or Good rating

Communicate with your Scheduler! We understand that you will have to change a date or be unable to perform a survey because of a sick child, death in the family, or any other variety of things that come up in daily life. They key is to just let your scheduler know! 99.9% of the time, there is no problem changing a date, but when you do not change it yourself, or let your scheduler know the situation, concerns start to pop up in the scheduler’s mind. When these concerns pop up, your rating goes down. When your rating goes down, your shopping opportunities go down with them.

Perform your survey as assigned! If you are to do a dine-in, then perform a dine-in. Don’t just change it to a drive thru because it’s easier for you. Go within the time frame given, and if you cannot get there then change it to another date.
Provide detailed, verifiable information! When filling in your completed survey form, provide some details. Management of the business you have shopped does not learn anything from your comment “Suzy was friendly.” They need to know WHY you thought Suzy was friendly. “She made eye contact, smiled, seemed genuinely interested in taking care of me.” Or, more importantly, when “Suzy was not friendly,” they need to know WHY. “Suzy never looked at me, just stood there waiting for me to order. After each item, she just stood there, finally I had to say that was all. She rang it up, gave me the total and stood there. I paid her and she turned and walked away without another word.”


How Do You Remember Things for Mystery Shops?

The following is a guest post from Steven Di Pietro, executive director of Service Integrity (www.serviceintegrity.com.au).

Many shoppers struggle to remember everything required for a Mystery Shop. Here are a few tips to remember what you need.

  • Write yourself a draft SMS with key timings and names. Useful when there are many nagging details such as multiple names to remember.
  • Look at timings on TV screens showing in-store news or promotional materials.
  • Record yourself a voicemail while in-store. Say the time you entered and perhaps even the employee's name as you hang up when you are served. You can make it sound like your imaginary friend on the phone has the same name as the server. Use your imagination.
  • Take a friend with you and ask them to recall just one or two simple measurements.


  • Before you leave for a shop, send yourself a voicemail with the key attributes to remember. This is useful if you must remember many interactions and store items
  • Take a little spiro notepad into the store as if it is a shopping list. Although the questionnaire is not permitted, sometimes a little hand written notepad is OK.
  • You might even pretend you are talking to someone on the mobile and taking a note on a piece of paper.

What if you forget?

  • Despite the best plans, as you walk out, or get to the car, you might remember something you forgot to evaluate. Sometimes it is OK to walk back in, pretending as if you left your sunglasses on the counter. If you need to get close to see the name badge, use the glasses as an excuse to interact with the staff member.
  • Do not make it up, call the Mystery Shopping company. You would be surprised how much the evaluations are scrutinised to reveal manufactured results.

Do you have any other tips? If so, please post them on my website and share. http://www.servicintegrity.com.au


What Do You Want to Know?

Are you looking for some specific information about mystery shopping? Post a comment with your questions or possible blog topics. We'll do our best to answer them!


Who Are Mystery Shoppers?

It's a common misnomer that mystery shoppers are mostly stay-at-home moms looking for supplemental income. Men and women of all ages and backgrounds are mystery shoppers - recent college graduates, students, people between professions, part-time or full-time workers, retired persons - essentially anyone looking to help businesses improve their service and make a little cash on the side.

So what kinds of qualities make a good mystery shopper?

Shoppers need to be trustworthy and reliable -- deadlines are deadlines, so keep them! Keeping promises helps schedulers learn that they can trust you as a resource.

You also need strong attention to detail and to be able to recall observations. A lot of times, you can't take notes about the questions you'll have to answer later. And when you file the report, it must be accurate! So good mystery shoppers are able to remember what often seems like small details.

Writing skills! Many mystery shopping evaluations require a narrative, or a written section. If the editor can't read or understand your report, they can't do their job. Make it easy on them -- include every last detail in a clear, easy-to-understand format.

Mystery shoppers also need basic computer knowledge. In today's mystery shopping world, most assignments and reports are filed online.

We're looking for a scheduler to give more specifics on this topic. Check back soon!


Avoiding Mystery Shopping Scams

In our last post, we briefly touched on scams. Despite proactive efforts by the MSPA and many of its member companies, these scams are still popping up across the country. We know it can be difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate opportunity and a scam....difficult, but not impossible!

The two most common scams we've seen are 1) a check-cashing scam and 2) sites that ask you to pay up front.

You should never have to pay to be a mystery shopper. Free job opportunities are available through the MSPA Web site at www.mysteryshop.org/shoppers or through MSPA Member Companies. If a company requires a fee, simply move on to the next opportunity.

In the check-cashing scam, you recieve in the mail a cashier's check for several thousand dollars, along with instructions and an evaluation form. You're asked to cash the check, wire a portion to a specifed address and keep the remaining amount as payment. The scammers assume that you'll complete the assignment quickly. In reality, the check is bogus, and it will bounce within a few weeks of being cashed....making you responsible for the entire amount. If you receive this type of scam info in the mail, DO NOT CASH THE CHECK.

If you're targeted in a scam, you should file a complaint with:
Sometimes scammers mimick the names of legitimate mystery shopping companies, making it especially difficult to know if you're dealing with a legitimate company. The best way to know for sure is to contact the company directly. But don't simply call the phone number on the information you recieved! Find the name of the company on the MSPA Web site and call that phone number for more details.


How to Become a Mystery Shopper

Of all the questions we get, the one we're asked most often is how to become a mystery shopper.
There isn't a super easy answer to that question, as there are several ways to find legitimate opportunities and start working with mystery shopping providers.

Here are some tips to help you get started.

Never pay to become a mystery shopper. Like any job, you shouldn't have to pay money for employment. Be cautious of opportunities that ask for an up-front fee. You're safe dealing with members of the MSPA, as it requires it members to follow a strict code of ethics, stating that companies cannot charge shoppers a fee or mislead shoppers on job opportunities.

Register with multiple companies. Mystery shoppers are independent contractors and can work for multiple mystery shopping providers at the same time. Look at the list of member companies on the MSPA Web site and start registering in their databases. You can also search for assignments in your area. Please remember that the MSPA itself does not hire mystery shoppers. The search form on the MSPA Web site is meant to help connect shoppers and providers.

Certification isn't required...but it can help. There are some certifications out there that are worthless and simply try to get your money. No certification is required to be a mystery shopper. The MSPA does offer a two-level certification program that can help you improve your skills and marketability. Some shops from MSPA companies are offered first to certified shoppers...and some only to certified shoppers. Visit the certification page on the MSPA Web site for more details.

Don't fall for a scam. There are scammers out there who try to take advantage of the allure of mystery shopping. One of the most common of these scams is a cashier's check scam where you're asked to wire money. Read more about how the scam works in the press release on the MSPA Web site. Be leery of any mystery shopping opportunities that promises you large sums of cash in a short time. Pay varies significantly based on the oppoortunity, but the average shop pays $8-20. The old adage is still relevant: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.