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I Want to be a Mystery Shopper When I Grow Up

My eight-year-old brought home a “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up” assignment, and I couldn’t wait to see what she would write. Would she choose to be a veterinarian? A lawyer? Perhaps open her own art studio? Or how about aspiring to be the first female President?
No, she proudly announced: I want to be a mystery shopper!
I must confess that I wasn’t too pleased with this at first. A mystery shopper? Why?

But the more I thought about her choice, the more I began to realize the many skills it takes to be an effective mystery shopper.

Ability to Write
If there’s one skill that I, as a former teacher, wish more adults had, it’s the ability to write clearly. This ability is lacking in so many people, yet it’s a skill that we hone every day as mystery shoppers. Not only do we need to use correct grammar and spelling, but we must learn to adapt to varying requirements of the many different companies for which we work. Mystery shopping clearly isn’t a job for grammar slackers!

Attention to Details
Mystery shoppers must pay attention to details – after awhile, it becomes almost second nature, and I find myself noting every nuance at a store or restaurant even when I’m not shopping. My daughter sometimes struggles with details, so a job where those bits are crucial would be excellent training for her as she develops this skill.

I don’t know many jobs that require one to assume more responsibility and initiative than mystery shopping. A shopper must sign up with dozens of different companies, keep track of log ins, remember when and how to sign up for jobs from all these companies, insure that she completes each shop she signs up for, and enter results within the required time frame. She needs to remember whether to bring a recorder or camera, and to be sure those items have fresh batteries and are in working order. This is no job for a sluggard!

Mystery shoppers need to be flexible. When we’re in a store, ready with our scripted question, and an unseen situation arises, can we think on our feet and still make the required scenario work? Or what about when a scheduler requests a last-minute change in a shop?  Shoppers develop great skill in making changes and still continuing the seamless flow of a typical customer interaction that won’t give us away.

I remember my first mystery shopping job, just months after I graduated from college. The skills I’ve sharpened over the years as a shopper have made me a better person and a more responsible adult.

On second thought, I can’t think of a better career choice for my daughter to aspire to!

Stuff You Can Always Use

I often wonder whether modern school environments truly prepare America’s youth to make a positive contribution in the workforce as forward-thinking, innovative individuals. Too often, the pursuit of more (or even adequate) funding seems to trump the teaching of real-life skills and best practices. Too often, a “teaching to the test” mentality is not only tolerated but encouraged. That is why a recent blog post by the always intriguing Seth Godin entitled “What’s high school for?” originally caught my attention and resonated with me. Seth wrote:

Perhaps we could endeavor to teach our future the following:

  • How to focus intently on a problem until it's solved.
  • The benefit of postponing short-term satisfaction in exchange for long-term success.
  • How to read critically.
  • The power of being able to lead groups of peers without receiving clear delegated authority.
  • An understanding of the extraordinary power of the scientific method, in just about any situation or endeavor.
  • How to persuasively present ideas in multiple forms, especially in writing and before a group.
  • Project management. Self-management and the management of ideas, projects and people.
  • Personal finance. Understanding the truth about money and debt and leverage.
  • An insatiable desire (and the ability) to learn more. Forever.
  • Most of all, the self-reliance that comes from understanding that relentless hard work can be applied to solve problems worth solving.

I read this blog post and truly agreed; these are all skills to which our schools should give more focus. Reading through the list a second time, though, I realized that Seth’s list could be read an entirely different way. This is not just a list of things that ought to be taught, or an indictment of American schools—it is a guidebook, a sort of manual for success and personal growth. There are skills on this list that I struggle with daily, and this list will serve as a reminder to make a sincere effort to challenge myself to improve them.

I encourage everyone to read this and forget Seth’s title “What’s high school for?” Instead, imagine it is titled “Stuff You Can Always Use” and treat it as a succinct how-to guide for making your way in the world. Read Seth’s blog here.

Remember to shop smart!

The Internet has undoubtedly made many things in our lives easier. Unfortunately, there are also dangers that come with the territory and scams are much easier to perpetrate on unsuspecting consumers.

You cannot help but see them everywhere when you are surfing the web. They promise you great trips, gift cards, as well as fabulous dining and shopping opportunities. Perhaps they are offering you some sort of “certification” and access to shop postings from various companies for a fee. WAIT! You should not at anytime ever pay to become a mystery shopper or access any information on available opportunities in your area. Remember the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

To avoid these mystery shopping scams, you should stick with the 130+ member companies of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). The MSPA holds these companies to an ethical standard and investigates allegations of fraud involving their member companies. They are here to protect the mystery shopping industry as a whole, shoppers included. The MSPA Silver and Gold Certification is the only certification that is recognized as legitimate by most of the mystery shopping industry.

If you want to view jobs in your area for free you can view postings from MSPA member companies here:

You can’t always get what you want…..but you can increase your chances!

IntelliShop has many great opportunities available. We perform mystery shops for high end restaurants, concerts, sporting events, and much more. These mystery shops are highly popular and therefore the competition is great. While I may not be able to guarantee that you will get these shops, I can give you some pointers to make yourself stand out.

  • Keep your profile and extended shopper profile updated.
  • Do a great job on any current shopping assignments to keep your shopper rating high.
  • If you a see a shop on the Job Board that is out of the way, but never seems to get filled, take it. Completing the hard to fill, out of the way locations are a great way to get noticed. We will even give you a Hero Citation which will raise your Shopper Rating!
  • Make sure you follow the link in your profile and register for IC Pro. It is free, easy, and helps show us that you take your job seriously. Also, it will be a requirement in the future.
  • Becoming MSPA Silver and Gold certified is a good way to set you apart from other shoppers; preference is always given to certified shoppers.

Are you a great shopper? Want to improve or challenge your mystery shopping skills & performance?

Just announced: The second MSPA Gold Certification Workshop of 2011 will be held in Perrysburg, OH on Saturday June 11, 2011 from 9am–4pm. Come meet us at the workshop!

Location of Workshop:
Holiday Inn Express
19621 Fremont Pike
Perrysburg, Ohio 43551
Phone: 419-874-3101
Registration fee: $125

Guest room rate: $82 (MUST mention the MSPA Gold Certification Workshop when talking to front desk to get this rate)

Registrants must be MSPA Silver Certified Shoppers in order to register. To register for the Gold Workshop, visit

The goal of MSPA workshops is to offer education. Do you think you are a great shopper? You could be an even better shopper after attending this workshop. Becoming certified demonstrates you've invested the time and effort to study how to become an expert mystery shopper. Along with solidifying your level of commitment as an independent contractor, you will greatly increase your chances of receiving shop assignments before they are posted on the job board. Also, you will increase the likelihood of being assigned more work and higher paying, more desirable shops.  IntelliShop Schedulers always give a stronger preference to shoppers who are certified by MSPA!

Learn more about Certification at: