Give Yourself a Raise in Mystery Shopping

give-yourself-a-raiseWith a traditional job your boss decides how much you will earn. As a mystery shopper, you have more control over your earnings because you decide which assignments you will do, how many shops you will take on and how you will get your work done. With a few simple changes you can increase your profits and your hourly rate.

Here are some ideas that can help you be a more successful mystery shopper and give yourself a raise.

Use your non-shopping time effectively. If you start out looking at some job boards, then end up spending an hour or two absentmindedly reading some posts on a forum, you are not using your time effectively. Limit or eliminate non-productive activities. Set a timer. Have a procedure for reviewing job postings so that you do not waste a lot of time looking at listings that are not a good fit for you.

Look for groups of shops you can do. When a client has lots of locations, ask for as many of them as you can do. It can be much easier to shop six locations of the same client instead of doing six different assignments. You will spend less time preparing for each assignment (if all of the requirements are the same for each location), it will be easier to remember what you have to do onsite (and require less backtracking) and the reports will take a bit less time when you are familiar with them. (Remember, though, that you should never copy-and-paste comments from one report to another.)

Specialize in one or two types of shops. If you do a lot of shops of one type of business, such as apartments or banks, you will be able to do more in less time. You can still take other assignments, but specializing can mean becoming very good at a couple of types of shops and working very efficiently on those shops.

Focus on working with a few of your favorite companies. As a new mystery shopper you may want to take a variety of assignments and work with as many companies as you can. Once you have some experience, you may find yourself working more often with just a handful of companies that have the most shops in your area or the “best” shops in your area. Look for opportunities to help out with last-minute jobs. By working for the same companies more often, the schedulers get to know you and appreciate your work. They will then be more likely to give you first shot at the most desirable and highest-paying mystery shops. You also become more familiar with what editors expect and how to give them what they need.

If you are in this to make money, focus on finding assignments that pay a fee, not those that reimburse for a purchase such as a meal. Many mystery shoppers take assignments that they think will be enjoyable and that will give them a perk they want, such as a “free” meal. Of course, if a reimbursement is for something that you need, that is at least as good as cash. I have gotten reimbursed for groceries, dry cleaning, oil changes, a new cell phone and many other needed purchases. That meant the money didn’t have to come out of my pocket. (Well, I did have to pay for those things, but I got paid back when the mystery shopping company paid me for the shop.)

Organize your work area. Have a work area set up with everything you need to complete your shops. Have a scanner or camera nearby for making copies of receipts, and make sure any needed cables are handy so you can upload the images. Make sure than anything else you will need is close at hand, and keep the clutter (e.g., old reports and receipts) off your desk and out of your way.

Prepare before the shop. Review the guidelines and highlight or note the most important requirements. Know exactly what you need to do for each mystery shop. Being prepared means that you will spend less time at the location doing the shop, and you will have everything you need to do your report.

drivingPlan your shops to spend less time traveling. You can enter a series of addresses in Google Maps and then set up a route, or you can use software or websites that will automatically create the most efficient route for you. For example, you can enter up to 26 addresses in Mapquest (manually or by uploaded a spreadsheet) then let Mapquest plan the best route for you based on the shortest distance or time.

Get a driver. No, I am not suggesting that you hire a chauffeur! But if you have a friend or teenager who would be willing to drive from location to location, you can make notes about the last shop or do your last-minute prep for the next one between stops. Your driver may accompany you on some, but not all, shops. Check the guidelines to see if you may have a companion.

Don’t spend more time onsite than necessary. When you first start mystery shopping it can be hard to remember everything you are supposed to do and, because mystery shopping is new to you, you may spend more time collecting information than an experienced shopper would need. Once you have the experience, you need the confidence to know that you can enter the location, get the information you need and leave. You do not need to spend a lot of time just walking back and forth or otherwise stalling and you don’t need to browse. Of course, if the guidelines require that you spend a minimum time onsite, make sure you do.

Prepare to do reports. If you did three or five or fifteen shops in one day, you have a lot of notes, receipts and other documentation. Get it in order before you sit down to enter the reports. Scan or photograph receipts and other documents that must be uploaded. Process (e.g., edit, resize, rename) any photos that you will upload. Review your notes and highlight anything important. For example, I make my notes on a copy of the report form, and I highlight any “no” answers so I do not forget to comment on those answers. I also carefully check and compare my timings to make sure they are correct.

Don’t agonize over reports. Your reports need to be your best work, but too many mystery shoppers waste a lot of time on reports out of fear of writing. As a result, they waste a lot of time dreading doing the reports and procrastinating. Spend a few minutes reviewing your notes and getting things in order, then sit down at the computer and write. Answer the questions, add comments and narratives and upload required files. As you enter the report, save your work often to avoid losing it. After you have completed the entire report, go back and edit what you wrote. Also check carefully to make sure all of your answers are correct and that they match your comments. Errors may cause the editor to contact you for clarification, taking her time and yours. And some companies will reduce your pay if they have to contact you.

Most importantly, do not do anything that would get your mystery shop report rejected. If you fail to follow the guidelines the client may not accept your report and you will not be paid. That means you wasted the time and money spent on that shop. Go the right location with the time window allowed for the shop. Make sure you get all the required information to do a complete report. Then do a great report and submit it by the deadline.

Following the tips in this article can make you more productive—and more profitable! What tips have you found that make you more profitable?


  1. Raven says

    Hello – I have been mystery shopping for about 2 years now. This year I have really become serious about it since my other online job was a bit slow and I was not making enough money to keep up with my expenses. I love being my own boss and mystery shopping is not all about sitting at a computer until your eyes fall out. However, I do mostly shopping for actual pay, not reimbursement as for a meal. I shop for apartment management evaluation companies and home builder evaluation companies. The pay is wonderful but the reports are long, repetitive and tedious. Sometimes is takes me over 2 hours to fill them out. I notice that in some of the reports they ask the same questions over and over, perhaps in slightly different ways but it still seems like overkill. I would love to take more of these shops per day. However, I find that if I do two per day, I have another four hours of work ahead of me. So when I recently added up my total time doing work for this company I discovered that I was actually earning below minimum wage. The shop itself took about an hour. Travel time added in was another hour, even with a good route system in place, gasoline expense added in at my old car chugging away at 16 miles to the gallon was another problem and of course, the four hours of report time. Total it up and for $50 earned for two shops, I found I was making under $6.50 an hour!! It’s money and I do need money so I’m not going to quit of course but how do I decrease the time it takes to fill out these 10 section reports? I have an excellent reputation with this company because I do write good reports and don’t want to get sloppy. I just want to know where I can tighten up a bit and maybe save a half hour here and there or save actual time at the shop site.

    • says

      Raven, there are a few things you might be able to do to save time. Of course, you have to make all of the required observations and you need to produce a quality report, but if you are experienced you can probably do a good job in less time than you now spend.

      At the site, know exactly what you need to do, and do it. Don’t waste time trying to remember if you have done everything. Carry a small checklist you can discreetly refer to during the shop to make sure you don’t miss anything. You might put it in an email or text message you can look at on your smartphone.

      Make notes as soon as you leave the location to make writing the report easier. Some shoppers prefer to do a “brain dump” to a digital recorder after leaving the location. That works, too.

      When writing your report, don’t agonize over it and second-guess yourself. Refer to your notes, answer the questions and write any comments and narratives. You might want to step away from the computer for a quick break after writing the report. When you come back with fresh eyes it will be easier to spot any errors or unclear writing.

      Before heading out to do a “big” shop (such as a new home or apartment) see if you can pick up a couple of “little” shops on the way. Often these take very little time and, although the pay is not as good as for the “big” shops, they can add some dollars to your bottom line without a special trip.

      One important step in saving time on your reports is becoming more confident about writing the reports. You did the visit, you know what happened. Just read and answer each question. They do sometimes ask for the same information in different ways to make sure you are giving the same answer each time. Just answer truthfully, based on what happened, and you won’t have any problem.

      Good luck!

  2. Kim C. says

    I have the same problem with report writing, but I actually spend about four hours on an apartment shop (including time to upload docs, double-check for accuracy, record accurate timings, etc. It is discouraging, and I am wondering how other people manage to do it much faster.

    • says

      Kim, four hours seems like a lot of time, but apartment shops can take more time than many others. Your the reports may be more complex than some other types of shops, and site visits can be time consuming.

      Beyond that, there are two reasons that reports can take longer for one shopper than another. One is inexperience and the other is insecurity. They are often related.

      A new shopper will almost always take longer to complete a shop and report than someone with more experience. An experienced shopper may take extra time if they are doing a shop of a new type of business or even a new client.

      Even an experienced shopper can take longer to do a report if they second-guess themselves and do not trust that they know what they are doing. I don’t know how comfortable you are with mystery shopping, but if you find yourself checking and rechecking your work, you may be suffering the effects of insecurity.

      Do your reports, check them for accuracy and completeness, then submit them. You might do a separate check for things such as spelling and grammar, as those require a different thought process to catch. Do not check your reports six times and make yourself crazy. ;o)

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