Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mystery Shopping 102: How to Find Shops

See previous:

Mystery Shopping: A Field Guide
Mystery Shopping 102: What You Need to Get Started

First of all, avoid any company that contacts YOU out of the blue, or advertises in slick flash ads. They might be legitimate, they might not be—but there are so many legitimate companies, you don’t need to find out.

Whatever you do, do not just type in "mystery shopping" into Google and enter your personal information into all the sites that pop up. You're asking to get scammed! A great way to find legitimate companies is to go to Volition.com's mystery shopping forums. If you find a company on the web that looks legitimate but you’re not sure, do a search or ask on Volition's forum--if someone else works for them, you'll get an answer pretty quick. Volition also provides a comprehensive list of legitimate companies.

When you’re registering with the companies, it’s a good idea to use Google Toolbar or a product like Roboform to help you keep your sanity as you fill out the same information over and over again. You’re asked for your contact information, demographic information, often a writing sample or two (save these in a word document and copy and paste them to save time), and frequently your social security number. These companies use encrypted software so it’s safe to send your SS# to them—and yes, you need to do so. They’re paying you to do work for them; it’s taxable income and they will report it. If you’re signing up with legitimate companies, your information is safe. (And you should be checking your credit report regularly anyway, so if something DID go wrong, you’d catch it).

When I get the registration email, I immediately set up a Gmail filter to catch all the emails I get from that point forward. This is also an easy way to figure out what my username and password is for the companies, since they’re often contained in that welcome email.

Once you're registered, the companies will email you shops in your area. Frequently, these shops are "self-assign", so by visiting the website and accepting the shop, you automatically get it. Other times, you will have to email a scheduler or apply and then wait to find out if you've been assigned the shop. Some companies will email to alert that there are shops available on their websites, which means you need to follow links and log in and search yourself. This is a bit of a hassle, but I'll do it for companies who have shops I know I like doing. Likewise, you can log into any companies site at any time regardless of whether you've received an email, to see what shops are available. It seems like most companies post new shops close to the end of the month. Since I'm registered with more than fifty companies, you could guess that I don't do this very often.

Another way to find shops is to search the job board at Volition.com. If I'm registered with the companies that are posting these shops, I've usually already been alerted to them, but I've found a few companies I was not registered with through this page. (This is basically a page where shops go to die, I think--there's a reason they haven't been assigned to the shoppers in a company's database. They pay badly, they're difficult to complete, they're in a remote or difficult area [like past airport security] or the company is somehow shady. Still, I've found legitimate companies to register with through this page, so I don't discount it.)

A word on scheduling companies. There are two major scheduling companies, Sassie and Prophet. These companies do not assign or pay for shops; they are merely scheduling software for other companies. Many of the registration links you follow will look identical, but they are not. If you are trying to register for a company that already has you in its database, they’ll let you know, so don’t worry about it looking the same.

As you receive shops, either by self-assigning or applying and being assigned by a scheduler, you'll need to keep track of a number of things: date, shop number, payment and reimbursement amounts, date and amount of final payment, confirmation numbers, and any other relevant information. It's very important to keep your own records, both for tax purposes and in case there's a discrepancy with the company about how much you should be paid. I do this in a spreadsheet, which I'll talk about in the next installment of Mystery Shopping 102.

Part 3: Completing the Shop, Submitting Paperwork, and Getting Paid


  1. Nice post! I figured out most of this stuff through trial and error, but it would've been nice to read something like this when I was starting out. You've registered for over 50? Really? lol...and I thought I got a lot of emails from under 20 companies!

  2. I figured it out by trial and error too, but I've had so many people ask me for specifics recently I figured it would be easier to write it out than repeat myself.

    And yes, I'm registered with over 50 companies--and I know that's not all of them! Someone once sent me a (fairly outdated) mystery shopping company spreadsheet which had about 150 companies on it. I'm working on signing up with all of them, but many don't offer shops I'm interested in or don't offer shops in my area.

  3. These are great tips for new shoppers and people thinking about trying mystery shopping! So many people get scammed or just don't know where to start and end up paying for information they could have found for free.

    I know there is a list of companies on the volition website with all of the legitimate Mystery Shopping Companies, and you can also visit the MSPA (Mystery Shopping Providers Association) at http://www.mysteryshop.org for a list of MSPA certified companies and job postings.

    I would say to go ahead and sign up for companies who may not have shops in your area at this time though. Companies are constantly acquiring new clients and clients are always adding locations, so if you're already signed up when they get the client down the street from you, you're one step ahead.

    Laura Harms
    Quality Control Manager
    Ann Michaels & Associates


Thanks for commenting!