Mystery Shopping Myths and Why They’re False



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When we talked about what opportunities may await you as a mystery shopper, did it sound like fun? It is! No doubt, it involves work. It is a job, and work will be required. However, I find getting paid for something I love to do, like shop at the mall, is a fun way to earn extra income for my family!

Based on online reviews, mystery shopping had a lot of conflicting information. Some of these are outright myths while others are simple misconceptions. In any case, they dissuaded me from being a shopper for 5 years! When money got really tight for our family, I knew I had nothing to lose. Once I was started, the negative aspects that had deterred me prior seemed silly.

Therefore, I’d like to set the record straight from you, and get out in the air 7 Mystery Shopping Myths.

Myth #1: Mystery Shopping is a scam. As with many areas of online work, there are sites out there who are appearing to be legitimate companies who are being dishonest. Later in this series, I will talk about different mystery shopping scams and what to do if you find yourself in one. For now, just know that there are plenty of reputable companies who would love to pay you for your service.

Myth #2: You are required to have a credit card to start mystery shopping. If a company asks you for credit card information up front, it is a sign of a scam. Plenty of legitimate companies don’t require you to keep any sort of credit card information on file. Additionally, in my experience, mystery shop companies do not require you to use a credit card while actively completing a shop. I have found the opposite to be true: paying with cash is preferred so you can observe an employee counting back change.

Myth #3: You cannot mystery shop if you live in a small town. While being in a bigger city equates to more businesses (ergo more mystery shopping opportunities,) I have seen many mystery shops available in small towns throughout my state. Just recently, a sandwich shop in a small town offered me a $100 bonus if I was willing to make the trip and complete it- all because there are not enough shoppers in their area! Although smaller towns might have less opportunities to offer, there are also less shoppers competing for the jobs.

Even if you live in a rural area, I’m willing to bet you make an occasional trip to a more populated area for things like outings and grocery shopping at a large store. You may even (or have a spouse who) regularly commutes for work. You may make a few different trips throughout the year for a family vacation or to visit relatives. These are perfect opportunities to fit a mystery shop into your schedule, as I have found the actual shop itself takes 20 minutes or less to complete!

Myth #4: You cannot mystery shop without a lot of money upfront. Store receipts contain vital information such as location, store number, date, and time. Because the mystery shop companies want proof that you completed your shop at the correct time, on the correct day, and at the correct store, it makes sense that they like to see a receipt for confirmation. However, many purchase requirements are a small amount- think in the $1-$5 range. If you are performing a shop at a restaurant, the spending requirement may be closer to the $20-$30 range. The great news is you get reimbursed for all of it!

However, there are many mystery shopping opportunities that require no purchase up-front. If you cannot afford the purchases, even if they seem inexpensive, you can still make money doing this job. The mystery shops you will want to look for include phone calls (from home), bank inquiries, apartment viewings, and more. Once you are able to build up some savings with shops that require no upfront purchases, you can turn around and put that income toward shops that may be more appealing to you- like going out to eat.

Myth #5: It’s more work than it is worth. I have heard this one a lot, and I would like to respectfully disagree. I can often make upwards of $15-$20 an hour by driving to and from a location, completing the shop, and filling out the report afterwards, and to me- that kind of income is well worth it. The best part is, many of the shops I accept just pay me to do what I would do anyway. I find the majority of online reports take around 30-45 minutes to complete. There are several that take me only 10-15 minutes, and I will accept them every change I get.

I look at this way: Would I clean a house for $15 an hour? Would I answer phones for $10 an hour? Would I spend 2 hours writing a blog post that netted $30? The answer to all of those is yes! So is it worth it to me to fill out 30-45 minute after 30 minutes total of driving and shopping time if it paid me $14.50 (including a $5 purchase)? There is a lot more ways I would rather *not* make $15 an hour, so to me, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

The more you do mystery shopping, the more efficient you become. The more efficient you become, the more money you make. It just takes a little practice.

If you still have doubts, know that you always have the chance to review an example report before you accept a shop. This should give you a feel for how long a report will take and ensure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. 

Myth #6: You cannot mystery shop if you have children. Some companies feel that this is your job, and children should not come along to your place of employment. Others don’t mind if a child tags along as long as your child is not a distraction from your work. There are also plenty of opportunities, such as amusement parks and restaurants, that *require* extra guests and even encourage children.

If I want to complete a job for a company that does not allow children, I plan ahead so I am able to go alone. Usually, this means leaving my daughter with my husband when he is not working, or leaving her with Grandma for a little while. This method works well for me because I often crave a little time to myself, but have a hard time coming up with ideas that won’t require I spend money not available in our budget. 

In another situation, I have even had my sister-in-law meet me at the mall to stay with my daughter for a mere 10 minutes while I went inside a store and completed a mystery shop. We, of course, did plenty of old fashioned window shopping afterwards.  

Most of the time, you will no be in a store no longer than 20 minutes. If you are able to schedule your time so you’re alone when you complete the shop, you can arrange to fill out your report at home on your own time with or without your kiddos. This is the most effective method I have found when it comes to my daughter.

Myth #7: It is too hard to remember every detail you need for your shop. It is very easy for me to keep track of notes on my cell phone while completing a shop. It simply appears you are sending a text message. Additionally, companies are very upfront with the details they want provided and offer test shops (completed online) and printable cheat sheets to help you remember. If you are ever uncomfortable with the amount of detail required, you should decline the offer and choose one that is not as specific.

I find that by choosing to mystery shop places I am comfortable with, I do a better job overall since I already have an idea what to expect. For example- I used to be a server in a restaurant. I am *very* comfortable with restaurant shops because the details they ask for used to be my job. They were easy for me to pick up on. When I did a mystery shop for a large home improvement store, I struggled a little bit more. I was outside of my comfort zone, so it was more difficult to remember everything I needed to look for. I managed just fine, it just took a little longer. 

mystery shopping blog

Hopefully, this clears up some reasons that have held you back from mystery shopping in the past. Tomorrow, we will be talking numbers. If you’re wondering how much money you have the potential to make, you won’t want to miss it!


  1. Love this series!
    Tracy recently posted…Training TuesdayMy Profile

  2. Sadly, i have never earned more than 6 or 8 dollars per shop. Memorizing salepeople names (no paper allowed), checking cleanliness of bathroom, taking pictures of said bathroom, driving and a VERY lengthy report online. If it is not done to their specifications they can refuse to pay. It was more trouble than worth. My kids said I will give you the $6!!! Clearly no $20 an hour.

    • I wouldn’t do those jobs either. I’m not claiming that low paying jobs don’t exist in mystery shopping. I’m just saying I accept them- and other people don’t have to either. I go into more detail about what I feel is a fair wage tomorrow, but I find that while those low paying jobs do exist, there are plenty of well-paying jobs to make up for it. Sometimes, it just depends on the company. One company I know always does a low wage, and I will not shop for them unless I feel it’s fair.

      On a side note- I use my cell phone to “take notes” with. I just do is discreetly so it looks like I’m sending a text message, and a lot of companies encourage you do so to be able to remember details better. I’m sorry your past experience has been bad, I would definitely be more picky in the future because there are much better wages available.

  3. The myth about mystery shopping being more trouble than it’s worth is one that I’ve heard often. I also heard this often about survey sites when looking to add a bit of money to my budget. However, I started out testing various sites and with time found several that I like and compensate well. I have added more than I ever expected to my budget. I am very hopeful and encouraged by you, Chelsea, that this will be my experience with mystery shopping. Thanks for today’s post! :)

    • I’m so encouraged to hear that! Thank you for taking the time to let me know! I wish you the best in your work :-)

  4. We use our cell phone to take notes too, and I find that after you do a few shops for a company it gets easier since you become familiar with the details you are looking for.
    Lora @ Craftivity Designs recently posted…Day 2: As for Me & My HouseMy Profile

  5. Bethany in Brazil says:

    Thank you for this series. I’ve always been interested in mystery shopping but never went after it, partly due to the myths I had heard. Thank you for clearing those up today.
    A couple of questions I have are (and maybe they’ll be answered in the series): How do you pick which mystery shop to do? Do they have a list and you pick which ones best suit you?
    Is there a minimum of mystery shops you have to do in a certain time frame?
    When signing up to do them – will they walk you through step-by-step?
    What happens if you don’t complete a mystery shop or don’t answer every question? Someone mentioned the possibility of not getting paid. Is that the only “penalty”?
    Looking forward to the rest of the series and hopefully getting started with this in January when I’m back in the States for a bit.

    • All mystery shopping companies I work for have a job board, of sorts, for their shoppers to reference. All of the details about each shop can be found on that board, and you sign up there for jobs you would like.

      There are no minimum shops to do a month, but some companies have a minimum sign in of twice per year to verify information (even if you don’t pick up any shops.)

      Some companies have presentations to watch and quizzes that you take to qualify for shops, and those will walk you through step-by-step what you need to do. Others just have written guidelines. But for the most part, they are very thorough!

      Typically, a shop will not submit if you don’t have every question answered. An error message will pop up that says “Please Answer Question #xx.” If you fail to fill out a report entirely, you will not be paid and sometimes dropped by the mystery shopping company. Sometimes you aren’t dropped, but your shopping rating will go down (for that company only) which may make you ineligible for some of the more desirable jobs.

      Great questions! Thanks for following along the series! :-)

      • Bethany in Brazil says:

        Thank you! I’m really excited to start the mystery shopping and you are definitely the one giving me the confidence to start!

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