I have been a mystery shopper for about 25 years. I started doing it in the olden days because I wanted something fun to do. Over the years I've done a lot of shops, everything from fast food, eye exams and eyeglasses, gas stations, hotels, bars, restaurants, movies, massage, retail, and more. Sometimes I go long periods of time without doing any shops, and sometimes I do a lot of shops in a short period of time.
Right now I'm doing lots of shops. You will never get rich from mystery shopping, but you can eat and be entertained for free, and get a little cash with it, too.
If you want something fun to do, give it a try. You can usually take a guest.
Sometimes, it's a little bit of an acting job. You can be an entirely different person on some of these assignments, and some of them even require you to use an alias. In the 1980's, a friend and I had made up a fake name for me -- "Loretta Pomegranate." Unfortunately, I have never been able to use that for a mystery shop 'cause it's too obviously a fake. I told Jim that he should be Pete Moss. That one cracks me up! (Jim didn't seem to think it was all that funny.)
How it works:
You sign up as a shopper. The company collects information from you, such as your name, social security number (they need it to pay you), address, your age, etc. Some also ask you about the equipment available to you (i.e., cell phone, digital camera, fax, scanner), and about your likes and dislikes, or your shopping habits or preferences. Some will ask you to provide a writing sample so they know they aren't contracting with a doofus. Then you check their job board to see if there's anything you want to do. You can also opt in to receive shop notifications by email.
The MSPA -- Mystery Shopping Providers Association -- is the professional association for mystery shoppers. Their Web site is at: http://www.mysteryshop.org/
That's a great Web site to look for to learn the basics and what to look for so you don't fall victim to a fake shopping company or other scammers. They list the legitimate mystery shopping companies right there for you.
The MSPA also offers a certification. Becoming certified also lets companies know that you are not just some random person, and it adds credibility to your mystery shopping skills. You can get the silver certification online fairly quickly, and you can get the gold certification at a workshop OR, like I did, you can get the DVD from the MSPA and do it at home. Be sure to save your receipts for your taxes!
Okay, now on to my list of favorite companies to shop for. I sometimes get brownie points or referral money for some of these referrals, so please say that I referred you. (Kathleen Noland, and my email address is kathleennoland @ yahoo.com) Or send me an email and I can send you a referral link for some of these companies.
Jancyn - http://jancyn.com/
then click on the "Shop for Jancyn" tab or on the Shopper FAQ
I have done fast food and casual dining shops for this company. They also have retail shops.
Bestmark - http://bestmark.com/
then click on "Become a Shopper"
I have done clothing retail, fast food, casual dining, and fine dining shops for Bestmark. I have also done Web inquiries and phone inquiries for them. They pay/reimburse quickly. My shopper code is CO2720, and I will appreciate it if you enter that as the referring shopper number so I get credit for you.
MarketForce - http://www.marketforce.com/the-shopper-force/
MarketForce has a large variety of shop-types, including fast food, gas stations, audits for compliance, merchandising, movie theater checks, promotional materials installation, retail, etc. They can keep you pretty busy if you want to be.
Sentry Marketing: http://www.sentrymarketing.com/shoppers/
If you like massage, this is the company for you. I have also done casual dining for them, and a hotel dining shop or two.
HS Brands: http://www.hsbrands.com/login/
Like to go to the movies? In exchange for just a few tasks and an easy report, you get see a movie and get a decent snack and be reimbursed, plus a little fee. I think these shops are my favorite, 'cause I love the movies.
A Closer Look: http://www.a-closer-look.com/BecomeAShopper.aspx
This is a good one for restaurant shops.
This is a good one for restaurant shops.
I am signed up with several additional companies. You can find a list of legitimate companies on the MSPA Web site. There is also a lot of information on the industry there, so you can educate yourself about the industry.
Be sure to read your shopper agreement and look at the FAQ's. You'll get a lot of information there.
If you want referrals from me, just email me and let me know!