The 10 biggest mistakes you can make as a mystery shopper

The 10 biggest mistakes you can make as a mystery shopper

mystery shopping

As a mystery shopper (AKA mystery guest, phantom shopper, mystery customer), you are paid to be a ‘fresh set of eyes’ on how businesses treat customers.  If you’re good at it, you can earn good money doing so.

But there are mistakes you can make which can curb your income.  Here are the 10 biggest mistakes you can make and how to avoid them.

Not Following Instructions

Mystery shopper instructions are there for a reason – they tell you what to do, so that you can answer the questions. If the instructions say you are to make an objection, and you decide not to, then you can’t answer the questions on objection handling. Similarly, if you don’t read the instructions and go to the wrong business, you won’t get paid.

As you start to do mystery shops, be extra careful to make sure that you don’t treat them all the same.  Even if you’ve done the same type of job several times before, mystery shopping companies are known to change the requirements from time to time.  Moral: read the instructions every time you get a new job.

Unhelpful Descriptions

Remember that people will be reading your reports.  Would you be happy to be described as ‘fat’, ‘short’ or ‘spotty’?  It can be a balancing act to provide enough information so it’s clear who you’re talking about, but no so much that you’re bordering on offence.

Weight is probably the most contentious issue.  Some companies don’t want you to comment on it at all.  Other companies are okay with it in which case, to avoid offence, use terms like ‘solid build’, ‘medium build’ or ‘slim build’.

Don’t describe height, just try to estimate it.  ‘Around 1.5m’ or ‘approximately 6 foot’ is better than (what you perceive to be) ‘short’ or ‘tall’.  Forget about describing skin complexion (like bad acne) and unless you receive advice to the contrary, leave alone terms like ‘bald’.

Ethnicity and skin colour are another potentially touchy area.  Use terms like ‘male of Indian origin’ rather than ‘the Indian guy’ or ‘the dark-skinned guy’.  Describing skin colour as part of a broader description is usually okay (‘fair skin’, ‘dark skin’).  In all things, think of how you would feel if your description of someone was applied to you.


Every time you write something like “then i went up to the counter” someone at a mystery shopping company has to change it to “then I went up to the counter”.  Do you really want to draw attention to yourself for the wrong reasons?  Your reports are seen by a lot of people – keep that in mind when you prepare your responses and capitalise your ‘i’s.

Registering More Than Once

Some shoppers register several times in the hope that they will get more assignments. Duplicates can cause problems, usually to the mystery shopper. Shoppers with duplicate accounts often can’t find their assignments, and contact the mystery shopping company advising that something is wrong with the system. Companies will delete duplicate accounts when they find them so don’t go down that path.

Similarly, be careful about the email address you use to register.  As an employer, how confident would you feel about someone whose email address is


Mystery shopping companies will check your reports for internal consistency, which means that an answer in one place shouldn’t contradict an answer in another place. Eg. ticking the box that the service was friendly, then commenting that it was unfriendly.

Similarly, it’s not unheard of for people to tick the box that the staff did not wear a name tag, and then comment that the name on the name badge was hard to read.


When texting to friends, you might write “it was gr8 m8, LOL” but definitely DON’T write like this when completing mystery shopping assignments.  You don’t need to write Shakespeare but let your ‘English class English’ influence you more here than your ‘mobile phone English’.

If you write “v g food assistant v friendly in uniform tables needed cleaning enjoyed coffee” somebody has to change it to “It was very good food, and I enjoyed my coffee. The assistant who served me was very friendly, and wearing the uniform. I noticed that some tables needed cleaning”. This is not the way to get points as a preferred shopper.


Need I say more?  Fortunately, if you’re not a great speller, some companies have a spell checker built into their system (although typically with American spelling).  If you’re uncertain, look it up before you submit it.  Let (Australian spelling) be your new best friend!

One Word Answers

Answering ‘OK’ or ‘Good’ to a question like “Please describe your overall customer experience” does not give the client any real information. Aim for at least 3-line answers to all text questions.  Remember you are being the eyes and ears of the customer.  They don’t see what you see, and they only have what you write to go on.

Not Updating Details

If you change your address or phone number or email, make sure you let the mystery shopping company know. If the mystery shopping company can’t contact you, you will be removed from their database.

Cancelling a job

We will talk more about this one in a later post, but if you do need to cancel a job, do it early and follow the company protocols for doing so.  This may require a phone call, an email, or going onto the company website to reject the job offer.


Given that your mystery shopper bosses don’t get to see you face to face, how you interact with them, in every other way, is how they form an opinion of you.  What sort of an opinion would you like them to have?

A good opinion will lead to more work; a bad opinion will lead to less work.  Avoid the above mistakes and you’ll be a long way towards maximizing your success as a mystery shopper.



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