Sharpening Your Mystery Shopping Axe

As a mystery shopper, you have the responsibility to properly prepare for a shop contract before you begin.  Paying attention to the finer points of each shop and preparing diligently will greatly enhance the likelihood that your shopping experience is productive, enjoyable, and runs smoothly. 

Mystery Shopper SkillsThink for a moment about what your objectives are when embarking on an apartment mystery shopping assignment, for example.  You should create a believable scenario that will give the leasing consultant the very best opportunity to make an effective, persuasive presentation and to convince you, the shopper, to lease an apartment.

Your goal is ultimately to observe and to provide accurate, objective feedback about the shopping experience.  The consultant should identify your needs and persuade you that their community meets those needs better than anyone else.   There are certain things you can do to improve everyone’s chances for success.

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

Any task requires proper preparation.  Before surgery, a surgeon must review his schedule, familiarize himself with the case history, don the appropriate surgical garb, and meticulously “scrub in” for surgery.  Years of preparation and learning equips him for the arduous and important task at hand.

A chef must “prep” the ingredients for a meal before she begins to cook.   She must review the recipe, shop for, gather, measure, and chop or otherwise prepare the ingredients and assemble the necessary tools and utensils to needed to prepare the meal.

Likewise, there are some important things you should do in preparation before as a mystery shopper.

Here are 4 tips for sharpening your mystery shopping axe.

  • Make sure you qualify. Not all shoppers qualify to complete every available assignment. Read the shop contract specifications carefully, review your completed shop contracts (even if for another company) and make sure you do not assign and conduct a shop contract that you do not truly qualify for. Email the mystery shopping company for assistance if you have questions.
  • Find the location of the shop. Pull up a map to your shop.  Review the location and directions to determine if it is realistic and/or convenient for you to travel there.
  • Mystery Shopping SkillsUse directions to get to the right place. Make sure you take the name, address and directions with you to the shop.  This may sound simplistic, but shoppers have been known to get lost or shop the wrong location. It could happen to you!
  • Develop your ‘shopper story’ first.  How many people will occupy the apartment? Where will you put your 52” TV? What size drink? There are variables on every shop – some of them you get to make up on your own and others are part of the shop contract specifications from the mystery shopping company. Always be ready with an appropriate answer for any question the employee might ask during your shop.


Preparation before you complete any task is vital to the success of the task.   Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  When you accept a shop, you may be anxious to get things rolling!  However, if you take the time to prepare, you will greatly improve your chances of success.

Failure to prepare can mean you will not be paid for a contract mystery shopping assignment.   Nobody wants that!

Completing a shop on time, accurately, and objectively, and getting paid are the goals of any successful mystery shopper.  No one sets out to invest their time and energy to complete a shop and not be paid because of a careless oversight.

Once your mystery shopping axe is sharpened, pick it up and start ‘chopping’ – I mean SHOPPING!

-Sandra S