Here are 6 Things to Avoid Doing as an Undercover Mystery Shopper

So-called “regular” jobs typically come with a description of duties you’re required (or at least expected) to perform on regular basis, from hourly to weekly or monthly. One of the appeals of mystery shopping is every assignment is different. Even if you shop the same location, the person who helps you likely vary, as well as the ambiance, weather, environment, etc.

Of course, you know not to walk around with a clipboard or a report in your hand or announce your intentions but most employees know that mystery shoppers exist and are savvier than just a few years ago. Your job is to be as inconspicuous as possible, a fly on the wall, someone so non-descript that no one will remember you for any reason…pretty much the exact opposite of your party-guest persona.

Many ways to remain inconspicuous are no-brainers, like dressing for the occasion; you wouldn’t wear a tux or a sequined dress to shop a hardware store or choose to wear jeans and a t-shirt for an upscale restaurant assignment. But there are more subtle clues that might also raise suspicions you’re an undercover mystery shopper.

Here are 6 things to watch out for when shopping undercover.


 Avoid Having Prying Eyes

Even if the kid behind the register seems to be oblivious to their surroundings, they’ll notice if you lean over to check out the floor behind the counter or catch you gazing at the landscaping like you’re a city inspector. Learn how to make your eyes seem like they’re just casually people-watching when they’re actually scanning the premises like a matrix laser web.


 Steer Clear of Being Busted Taking Notes

When you notice something crucial during a shop that you don’t want to forget or need to enter physical descriptions of people with no name tags, don’t ever appear like you’re taking notes. Act like you’re taking a text and responding to it. Smile as you type info into the notepad on your phone, hit save (instead of Send), pretend to get a response, smile again, and carry on.  


Don’t be Obvious when Reading a Name Tag

These are frequently turned over, faded, have print too small to read more than a foot away, or all of the above. Nothing is more of a dead giveaway of a mystery shopper than leaning forward and squinting to read a name tag on someone’s chest…not to mention it making you look like a weirdo. A detailed physical description on a report is just as good as a name.


Don’t Break the Fourth Wall

If your assignment is to buy a shower head, have a story that makes your inquiry sound real. Your girlfriend (yeah, you should be so lucky) was cleaning your bathroom (like your bathroom would ever be dirty) and in her zeal, bent it too far and snapped it off. You’re evaluating the clerk’s knowledge and friendliness, so be engaging and believable. 



Avoid being slow to the draw 

Always have a list of comebacks in your head to help you in case suspicions arise. If someone catches you staring at their name tag, say, “You have the same name as my cousin; she just spells it differently.” Get caught checking out a filthy ceiling fan? Well, that’s because you installed one just like it yesterday at your mom’s house.



Don’t make a fuss 

Unless your food is inedible or obviously not what you ordered, don’t send it back. Same goes for haircuts or other personal services; grin and bear it and use the details in your report but do nothing to make yourself memorable. Clients want to know how their employees interact with the bulk of their customers, not particularly difficult ones.


If you’ve always had a secret desire to be an undercover agent, mystery shopping can fulfill those fantasies. Fading into the crowd is Sleuthing 101 and is a major key to your mystery shopping success.

Read our blog post on 4 Ways to Stay Undercover When Mystery Shopping to learn more.

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