Mystery Shopping: Part 1 – Traditional


Welcome to part one of my mystery shopping theme. Over the next three posts I will introduce you to the main ways to earn money via mystery shopping; traditional, online and app.

I don’t include any of my mystery shopping earnings in this challenge as I class them as income but they are a great way to earn some extra money.

What is mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping is the way a company/business/brand can monitor how the staff/store are managing their product. In a store they want to know how polite and efficient the staff working for them are, how well trained they are, how clean the place is and are they providing the quality of service expected. A company or brand may want to know whether the products are being displayed properly. To do this they “employ” the services of the general public to carry out tasks and evaluate what they are looking for. Some companies will pay a fee for this, some will reimburse you the cost of any products purchased and others will generously give both.

Over the years, mystery shopping has changed a lot especially with the introduction of online purchases and mobile phone apps; making it available to a lot more people.

What is traditional mystery shopping

Traditional mystery shopping has been around for many, many years; I remember working in a cinema at 18 and having to keep an eye out for mystery shoppers. A company will request their shopper to visit a store during a specific time and carry out a certain task or set of tasks. This might be to buy a product, interact with the staff or  inspect the store. They then need to return to their home or a venue outside of the recently visited store and write a report about the visit giving all the details requested. They submit the report, along with receipts to a) prove they completed the task and b) receive their reimbursement.

Still not clear? I’ll give you an example.

I used to work for McDonald’s where a mystery shopper was called a “Gap Buster” as this is the company used to evaluate the fast food company. They could visit three times a day either 8-10am, 12-2pm or 5-7pm; known in the world of McDonald’s as “Gap Time” – That’ll explain why the store is suddenly inundated with staff and managers. A store would receive two visits a month; one in the store and one on the drive thru (unless it didn’t have one, then it was two in store). The “Gap Buster” had to enter the store or drive thru queue and start timing their visit. The company want to know how quickly the service was from entering the store to sitting down with their meal. They had to order a specific meal, nothing special and take note of the staff member serving them; their appearance and  serving manner as well as their speed. They had to make sure they got a receipt. They would then eat their meal and have to make a note of the taste, the temperature and quality. A visit to the toilets was a must, again making note of everything they saw. Finally making note of the general appearance of the store, including it’s exterior and whether there was any dining area staff on duty interacting with customers.

The “Gap Buster” then left the store to make note of their visit and submit their report to GapBuster who informed the company of it’s results; normally within 24 hours. The shopper is then reimbursed for their meal and given a fee for their time.

Many companies make use of mystery shoppers not just fast food restaurants, there are 5* hotels who require their services to be evaluated, holiday resorts, michelin starred restaurants and car dealerships. Even if they don’t pay a fee it gives the average Joe a chance to experience these places knowing that they’ll be reimbursed.

How can I get into mystery shopping?

There are plenty of companies in the UK that are on the look out for mystery shoppers but they do require an application to be filled in, it’s basically like applying for a job. They want to know why they should select you to carry out their work. Certain places won’t allow you to work for them if you have any history with the companies they represent; for example, I cannot accept work for McDonald’s having worked there within the past 5 years. There is a fantastic thread on The Money Shed‘s forum about all aspects of mystery shopping, including traditional work and which companies are worth applying to. Due to NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) I cannot state which I work for but I will list a few to take a look at.


Mystery Dining Company

Market Force

Retail Active

How much can you earn mystery shopping?

How long is a piece of string? There was a brilliant blog I read the other week about a mystery shopper who does it full-time and brings in (on average) £1000-£2500 a month BUT she had been doing it years and the amount of preparation it takes, means it is literally her full-time job. How much you can earn really does depend on the area you live, how far you are willing to travel and what you have to offer the company conducting the mystery shopping; whether you meet their needs. Like I said, some will only reimburse you for your purchases and others will pay you a fee for going. It is a case of signing up to the companies and seeing what is available.

I don’t do much in the way of traditional mystery shopping at the moment because I live on the outskirts of a major city and the cost of getting to the places that need evaluating outweighs the fee that’ll get reimbursed but I am looking to increase this over the coming months so I will report back. I do however do pretty well when it comes to online mystery shopping which is what I will be covering in next week’s post.

As with anything I post about, if you have questions or comments then please feel free to ask. I hope this has given you a little more insight into mystery shopping.

3 thoughts on “Mystery Shopping: Part 1 – Traditional

  1. Pingback: Mystery Shopping: Part 2 – Online - Cash Free Christmas

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