FAQ's: The Mystery Shopping Industry

what is mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping is the process of measuring and recording specific elements of the customer experience through the use of pre-recruited and qualified consumers (typically independent contractors) who serve as mystery shoppers.

A mystery shopper is a person who visits an establishment (learn about the markets CSE conducts shops for) for the purpose of observing and measuring customer service, product quality and the environment of the establishment in general.

Shoppers are given details, by the mystery shopping company responsible for the shopping program, about expectations for making specific observations during their visits to or interactions with the establishment (types of shops CSE conducts) and the shoppers complete reports, often using an online form, after leaving the establishment. Shoppers serve as the eyes and ears for those clients as part of their efforts to enhance the quality of the customer experience. Many times, the information collected during mystery shopping programs is used to help mystery shopping company clients improve training programs, better articulate expectations they have of their staff and otherwise improve the ways in which the client serves its customers.

Contrary to what you may read on the Internet, mystery shopping is not a quick way to make a lot of money, nor is it a way to "get paid to shop."  Mystery shopping is a serious enterprise intended to gather information about the customer experience in a specific environment.  It requires time, attention, and effort.  Mystery shoppers are in business for themselves; while they get paid for the work they do while posing as shoppers, they are not paid to shop; they are paid to gather data.  Mystery shoppers know, before deciding to request or accept an assignment, what they will be paid.

Do i have to pay to become a mystery shopper?

You should never pay to become a mystery shopper. There are thousands of opportunities to do mystery shopping that does NOT require the shopper to pay anything! If you are asked to pay to become a shopper, you should be EXTREMELY leery of the offer…check the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website for a listing of their reputable member companies.

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What is the Mspa?

The Mystery Shopping Providers Association, or the “MSPA” for short, is the trade association representing the customer experience metrics (mystery shopping) industry throughout North America.  Mystery shopping companies join the Mystery Shopping Providers Association to improve and motivate the acceptance, performance, reputation and use of mystery shopping services worldwide.

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what is an independent contractor?

Mystery shoppers are independent contractors—not employees—and are required to complete an Independent Contractor Agreement (ICA) during the application process. We encourage applicants to read the document carefully, and keep a copy for their records.

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