Mystery Shopping 102: Tips and Tricks

So you’d like to make a little extra money to help make ends meet, right? Or maybe you don’t care too much about making money, but you really like getting out and doing stuff and doing stuff is WAY outside your budget.  Girl. Been there.

One way that I help make ends meet for my family is through mystery shopping. If you’re not sure what that means, be sure to check out this post that will probably answer most of your questions about what mystery shopping is: Mystery Shopping 101

Alternatively, if you’ve done all the research you need to do and you want to know which companies you could work for, this is a post that lists the companies I’ve personally worked for, so I know they’re legitimate: Legit Mystery Shopping Companies to Work For

This is the second post in a 3-post series about mystery shopping. This post contains tips and tricks that I’ve learned through my 5+ years of doing it. Hopefully you can avoid some of my mistakes and start off on the best foot possible!

Mystery Shopping Tips, Tricks, Advice, or Hacks (whatever you want to call them):  

Tip 1: Play the Waiting Game:

When recruiters have a hard time getting people to do shops, they’ll often increase the value of the shop for added incentive. You’ll get an idea of how much a shop is worth if you wait, but being strategic can help you get more money. But bear in mind, that if a shop is contracted for the month of October, and on October 27th you see that they’ve increased the shop fee (the money you get for doing it), then you may only have until October 31st to do the shop. Meaning, if you play too much of the waiting game the shops can disappear.  You’ll get a feel for it. Also, increased incentives mean other shoppers will want to do the shops more, too. So be careful about how much of the waiting game you play.

For hotels, I try to get them as soon as possible because if I don’t, another mystery shopper will. No waiting game at all because those shops are in high demand. For car dealership visits through one company, I know that they will start the fee at $40, but they’ll go as high as $60 when they get a little desperate, so I wait until it gets to $60 and then sign up for as many of those shops as I can.  To be clear, another shopper may take that shop for $40 or $50, and I’m okay with that.

There’s a place we like to go specifically for the kids (we can only go every 6 months) that starts at $85, but I won’t go for less than $115. Because I’m not just taking one guest with me (I’m taking my husband and both kids), I still get about $40 for the shop. $40 is fine, but it’s a really annoying report to fill out; it takes about 4 hours.  If I didn’t do this shop, though, my family would never afford to go to this place, so it’s worth it for my kids because they LOVE it! I play the waiting game a lot with this shop.

Tip 2: Find Balance:

For me, it’s a balance between how much I’ll get paid and how much I enjoy doing the shop. I don’t like cars or doing test drives or anything, so $60 a shop is how much I want because it’s 2 hours in the dealership (approximately), and then it takes me about an hour to fill out the survey, and $20/hour is worth my time. There are other car dealership shops through other companies that I avoid altogether because I’ll do 2 hours of work for $14, and that’s not worth my time. Other times I’ll get paid $5 to go to a fast food restaurant. The food is free, and I get $5 so sometimes that’s worth it because I like eating out.

Tip 3: Keep Your Information Organized:

I like to keep things written down (there could be a spreadsheet, but technology isn’t my BFF) in a composition notebook. It’s a grid that has the date of the shop, what company the shop was for, a shop description, whether or not it’s been paid yet, amount of reimbursement, amount of fee, total, date I transferred the reimbursement to our bank account, and the date I took out my tithe on the earnings from that particular shop. I have to put those dates in there to make sure I did it and can document it.  I keep the receipts and info on each shop until I’m paid for it, then I pitch it.

Mystery shopping companies will have logs on what work you’ve done with them, but I prefer to be able to see everything in one place, hence my comp notebook situation. I also found myself forgetting whether or not I had transferred money over to our joint bank account (for reimbursement).  There are other ways to do this, the comp notebook works for me, you find what works for you. Whatever you do, make sure you have a system in place. Also, because I work for several different companies, my personal log shows ALL the shops I have scheduled. This past week, for example, I had 6 shops (that’s a lot for me). They were through 4 different companies.  If I had to remember all my shops through the different companies, I would forget one. I just would. Forgetting things is sort of a cornerstone of my identity.  When I schedule a shop, I put it in my log, and then I can see everything I have coming up.

Also, since companies usually pay 30-45 days after the completion of the shop, I like knowing how much total money I made in any 2 week period so that I can see about how much I’ll get paid in any 2-week period.

Anyway stay organized.

Tip 4: At First, Do Fee Shops Only:

What I mean is don’t do shops where you have to purchase something out of pocket. When you’re first starting out, I prefer to not invest anything except my time. Then if I don’t get paid because I did it wrong, I’m glad I didn’t actually lose money. Money is tight for me, so I don’t want to play there. Imagine if I’d done a hotel mystery shop for my first shop (remember the prepaid credit card shop I didn’t get paid for from the first post about mystery shopping) and did it wrong? That’s like $350 I would have lost! So I did some that didn’t require me to buy anything, I saved the profits from those shops, and then I used my profits to purchase what I needed to in the future (which was then reimbursed by the company). Either way, though, I made sure my family would never fall below zero.  Learn how to do it properly and feel confident in it, then you can reinvest your profits into the job.

Tip 5: Work Your Systems:

Say there’s a restaurant that you mystery shop once a month, and it’s steady work. If they have a rewards program, sign up for the program. Then you can save your points, and earn enough so that you and a guest could both go to said place for free. I do this with movie theaters, and my husband and I have date nights that are completely paid for because the points from the shops add up. If there’s a place you go to regularly for work, sign up for the systems. If the company doesn’t want you to use any kind of rewards system they have, the mystery shop guidelines will tell you that.

In that same vein, sometimes businesses will offer incentives for filling out surveys based on your experience. Some mystery shops will prohibit this, but some don’t. There’s one theater chain we go to that gives us a free small popcorn for filling out a survey, so we’ll do that and then use the free popcorn when we have a date night (where both our tickets are also covered by our points, so we don’t pay for anything!). It’s a nice thing–see if you can take advantage of those!

Tip 6: Shop Stacking:

Sometimes I’ll go to a city that’s 30 minutes away from my house in order to do a shop. Because of the time it takes to drive there, I prefer to make more money on those kinds of shops. Alternatively, it’s better if I can find multiple shops in that area for the day. For example, at a mall I was supposed to go to the movie theater. There was another shop in that same mall that had me purchase an item, wait a few hours, and then return it. So I assigned them both the same day, bought the item, went to the theater, shopped for an hour at the mall, and then returned the item. Two shops in roughly the same time period. I made $35 on the purchase/return of the item, and $20 on the movie mystery shop.

If my husband is having guy’s night at the house and he asks me to leave for the evening, I’ll try to set up a dinner shop through one company, and a movie theater shop through another company. Then I get dinner and a movie and all of its free and I get some money! Wins!

Tip 7: Use Shops as Gifts:

Most of the people in my family know money is pretty tight, so no one is offended by this. There are probably some people who would be offended… so don’t take them (though you are going to have to fill out a form to pay for said shop, so it seems a little high and mighty for them to be offended by something that is paid for by your time rather than your money…. Not my place to judge, but…. anyway).

For example, for my sister’s 18th birthday, our mom let me take her out of school for the morning and go get breakfast with her at this swanky up-scale breakfast place. I’ve never had a $65 breakfast IN MY LIFE, so that was a fun gift I could give my sister (a morning out of school and a fancy meal) without breaking my bank. I’ll offer to take someone to the movies for a birthday gift, or offer to take them to a fancy restaurant. Some notes on taking guests on shops:

My guests usually love being with me on shops because they think it’s fun to evaluate everything and see what kinds of things I have to notice. What do you think of the lighting in here? The ambiance? The temperature? Did you notice when the server took my drink order that she didn’t ask to see my ID? How do you think the service is? I think there’s also something to knowing that your voice is going to be heard.  Does that make sense? If it’s in my report, management will DEFINITELY see it, and they have a vested interest in it. I think others kinda like that. Is that a power trip thing? I dunno.

Whenever I go out with my mom, she always goes over the spending limit. If you’re told you can get a $75 lunch, she’ll get whatever she wants, and then she’ll pay the difference. Say we spend $85 instead of $75. I’ll submit the receipt for $85; the company doesn’t care, but they only reimburse up to $75. Then my mom will pay me $10 in cash so I fill out the report and get fully reimbursed, and she got an $85 lunch for $10. It’s a win for both of us.

Tip 8: Do the Crap Jobs

It’s important to remember that for some nicer shops, they only want experienced shoppers. They’re not going to trust a hotel mystery shop (which is long and complicated) to a shopper who’s never done anything before.  So I had to do a couple of those $14 for 2-hour shops that I don’t want to do, and then I got offers for the fine dining shops that I do want to do. Don’t get discouraged by not being too excited by all the jobs you see at first, or by only getting shops that are small-time.

If you’re ready to look at some specific companies that I have personally worked for, then check out this post to get started: Legit Mystery Shopping Companies

Want some more information about mystery shopping and what it is? Check out my Mystery Shopping 101 post!

I really hope these will help you as you get started so that you can avoid some of the mistakes I made.  It’s worth it to try because there’s no commitment. If you decide it’s not for you, then you can stop at any time, which is awesome. I love flexibility, so this really works for my family; I hope it works for yours, too!

Thanks for reading!


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