Frequently Asked Questions

These were written by the Forum Welcome Team. Thank you Mert, Meaggiej, Austin Mom, Barbage, Walesmaven, jpgilham, Pammie8223, vlade5394, and AudriaLyn30! A special thanks for Mert for taking the lead on this.

How do I know who has shops where I live?

No easy solution here. Signing up with many, many Mystery Shopping Providers, checking their job boards, and receiving email notifications from them of available shops, is the only answer. New shoppers need to use the list of Official Mystery Shopping Companies. The link is at the bottom of this page. Register with five, ten or twenty a day. The more, the merrier!

How long does it take to get paid?

That totally depends on the MSP, and the range can be one week to three months. On average, payment is made 30-45 days after the shop. It is important to check out the payment terms before accepting a shop.

What is an "ICA"?

Mystery shopping companies require that shoppers sign an Independent Contractor's Agreement when registering. This is a binding contract, with terms which must be respected. All agreements are not the same. However, some terms in the contract are the same. Generally, ICAs prohibit shoppers from revealing their clients, guidelines, reports and fees.

Mystery Shop Forum requests that members not violate their ICAs when posting.

What is the difference between a fee and a reimbursement?

The fee is the payment given for the act of performing the shop according to the guidelines. A reimbursement is money give to repay you for out of pocket money used to perform the shop. Some shops are paid by fee only. some as reimbursement only and some both fee and reimbursement. It is important to understand they type of payment you will receive before you accept a shop.

Should I provide my Social Security Number to Mystery Shopping Providers?

It would be practically impossible to work as a mystery shopper without providing your SSN. Most MSPs have secured sites, which should ease any concern. If an MSP does not have a secured site, arrangements with the MSP can be made over the phone to provide your SSN. You will know if a site is secured as it begins with []. If a shopper earns more than $600/year from an MSP, the MSP will issue the shopper a Form 1099, which is a tax document, and the 1099 is also submitted to the IRS. That is the reason SSNs have to be provided.

How do I get paid?

Mystery Shopping Providers pay with a Check which is mailed, PayPal, PayQuicker, or Direct Deposit. Some MSPs pay with a prepaid Visa, or Gift card. Payment terms are defined on MSP sites. If you ever get a check in the mail before you've completed an assignment, it is fake, and should be treated as part of a scam.

What is the relevance of a shop rating?

Some Mystery Shopping Providers give ratings, and comments, some do not. A school of thought, even when unexpressed, is that if a a report is not perfect, it does not rate a 10, or depending on the MSP's scale, a 5. With some MSPs, using a 10 scale, an 8 or 9 will equate to more shops. It is helpful when the MSP gives the shopper feedback. Unfortunately, not all MSPs have the time or resources to provide feedback.

What is the difference between a mystery shop and an audit?

A mystery shop is unrevealed. You are given an assignment, a scenario to follow, and sometimes a target to shop. You follow the shop instructions and never, at any time, reveal that you are a mystery shopper.

The definition of audit is: a methodical examination and review. In the MS world there are several types of audits performed. Audits may be either covert or revealed. In an audit you have to count or examine certain items. Sometimes it is in the form of simply counting the number of items on a store shelf. Some audits require you to examine things to certify compliance to company standards.
An example of a covert audit would be to count all of the XXXprinters in an office supply store. You would do this during the course of you regular mystery shop.

The most common revealed audits are gas station audits. In these audits you have a letter of authorization that you present to the employee before you start your audit. You have a list of items to check. In most gas station audits you are required to check building exteriors, signage, pumps, and restrooms. Most gas stations include taking photo of all of the items you check and all items that are not compliant with company standards. Each brand of stations and each MSC that perform these audits have their own standards and requirements.

It is very common for audits to contain both mystery shop and audit components. In these cases you would perform a mystery shop, such as purchasing gas and timing the pump rate and then going into the convenience store to make a small purchase and observe the employee and the checkout process. You would then leave the store and come back in later with you authorization letter and begin the brand audit part of your shop.

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