In this beginner’s guide to mystery shopping, you will find out if this is a legit way to earn money.
Even though the name might sound a little mysterious, in fact, the idea is quite simple.
This is another method you could use to earn some extra money in your spare time. Even doing things you enjoy such as shopping, eating out, or watching movies.
In this post, you will see what’s involved and if becoming a mystery shopper is something that you should consider.
What is Mystery Shopping?
This is a form of research to evaluate customer service. For example, a mystery shopper or secret shopper might visit a store to order a service, asks questions, return goods. Anything a normal shopper would do. They then report back to the company on their experience.
This is used to evaluate many different types of businesses or institutions. Such as restaurants, banks, stores, airlines, insurers, hotels, local government, healthcare, cinemas, and the list continues.
Mystery shopping is used by market research companies and watchdog organizations. Also by the companies directly involved to obtain diverse information. It could be about the quality of service, the cleanliness, the adherence to regulations, or to gather information about different products or services.
There is an opportunity for these undercover customers where ever there is an interaction between sales staff and the client.
Mystery shopping is a way of collecting factual information about your visit. Describing everything that happened or didn’t happen. What was said, your welcome, or what was there or missing.
The advantage for the companies using mThe information a secret shopper obtains from their visit is recorded and reported to the company concerned.
A mystery shopper could also provide feedback on a customer service phone line or a company website where it is the storefront.
The company then analyzes the information. They can then identify their strengths and weaknesses to see where they can improve.
Who is this for?
More or less, anyone over 18 years old can become a mystery shopper; you need to have a few basic skills:
- good observational skills
- a good memory
- be sufficient in writing and verbal communication
- have the ability to work to a deadline
- be reliable
- enjoy interacting with people
- be enthusiastic
Apart from these basic skills, you will also need an internet connection and computer. A way to record your experiences such as a smartphone, tablet, or even a note pad and pen. A scanner/printer and digital camera will also be useful. A reliable form of transportation to get to each job.
How to Get Started
To get started, you need to apply to legitimate mystery shopping companies. To find some companies, you could use the:
- Volition.com Mystery Shopping Companies List. A list of companies that have all been approved by Volition readers.
- MSPA – NA list
When you review the Volition list, you will see that you can choose a company depending on their specialty. This might help you if you have a particular interest, for example, restaurants, golf courses, or health care.
It’s also a good idea to visit the website of the companies that interest you. This way, you can get an idea of the geographic areas they serve.
The Volition.com Mystery Shopping Forum will also give you some valuable information about the companies. In particular, which companies propose the most jobs. You will also find out about the companies that shoppers have had problems getting paid.
Remember, you should never pay a fee to register for work. A legitimate company won’t ask you for any money. In addition, don’t be taken in by promises of great earnings. This, again, is another way to get you to part with your money.
Before signing up for any company, it’s always a good idea to do some thorough research. Only sign up for companies registered with MSPA-NA (formerly known as the Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America).
If you are not from North America, the MSPA also has sites for Europe, Asia/Pacific, and Latin America.
MSPA has two certification courses:
- Intro to Mystery Shopping Certification. As the title suggests, this is an introduction to mystery shopping and will give you a solid base to start your career as a mystery shopper. This course is included in the Independent Contractors membership of the MSPA, which is $25 per year.
- Gold Certification. Will tell companies that you apply to that you have been trained in the essentials of mystery shopping. Also, you have agreed to abide by the ethics and professional standards. The MSPA-NA says there are 6,000 certified Gold shoppers. In an industry with more than 1,000,000 shoppers, this certification course will set you apart. The cost of this course is $75
The Intro certification course will probably help you secure some jobs when you start and as it’s only $25 is worth doing.
There is conflicting information on the Gold course. Some say that it has helped them get one or two jobs a year, and others say it has not helped them at all.
If you can afford the Gold course, you will gain some extra information, and everything you learn when starting can only be beneficial.
Mystery Shoppers generally work as independent contractors. The companies do not directly employ you.
This means you are free to set your own schedule, but you don’t benefit from insurance cover or unemployment compensation. You are also responsible for all tax-related matters.
When you register with the different shopping companies, you will have to read and accept an independent contractor agreement with each company.
Accepting Shopping Assignments
As an independent contractor, you are free to accept or decline any assignments you are offered. But at the same time, you are not guaranteed to be selected for any particular assignment.
However, when starting, it is better to accept all jobs, to build your reputation. Each company has its own set of rules allowing you to refuse a certain number of jobs before your account is deactivated.
The requirements for each shop should be available for you to see before you decide to accept or refuse. Some shops will allow you to take your children and some will require you to be alone.
Ensure you are clear about all the requirements because you don’t want to cancel an assignment after having accepted.
How Does Mystery Shopping Work?
The process from signing up to the different shopping companies through to payment is more or less the same.
- You find a legit company, complete your profile and wait to be approved.
- Apply for jobs in your location that fit your demographic
- After you’re accepted, read the instructions thoroughly.
- Visit the store as instructed and take notes as required.
- When the visit is completed, fill out and submit your report
- Get paid and reimbursed for your purchases.
What Does A Mystery Shoppers Do?
As a mystery shopper, you may be sent to a store to purchase certain items or to examine specific features of a company’s product or service. Another day you may have to go to a restaurant and comment on the welcome, the quality of service, and the cleanliness.
On a mystery shopping assignment, you are required to make a note of certain aspects of your entire experience. Be it about products or services, and at the same time, you never reveal your identity.
Once your assignment is completed, you have to do the paperwork, write your report or fill out the questionnaire.
An important point to consider when completing your report, you should only report the facts. What actually took place or you observed on your visit.
The companies don’t want to hear about what you thought about someone. They want to know that the person is doing their job. You may be asked for your opinion from time to time, but most of the report will be based on fact.
Why Do Companies Use Mystery Shoppers?
Any business that has an element of service or receives the public can benefit from mystery shopping.
This is something that can be organized rapidly and is relatively inexpensive. Also, the assignment can be modified very easily to verify different aspects of a business.
This can be important to companies. Research has shown that customer service and human interaction greatly influence the impression a customer may have of a company.
A client may choose one company over another when they are selling the same products at a similar price, based on their customer service quality.
You are probably like me. I am prepared to pay a slightly higher price for certain items because I know there is good customer service if I need it.
Therefore, any way customer service can be improved is a way to increase profitability.
Repeat business can be another advantage of excellent service. This can save expenditure on advertising.
So, keeping the customers satisfied can be very important and give businesses an advantage over their competitors.
Secret shopping can give companies the information they need to improve their customer service and rectify the poor performance of their staff.
Hence, creating more satisfied customers means more repeat business and, in the long term, more profits.
Pros and Cons of Mystery Shopping
- You set your own schedule, and you choose the jobs you want to complete
- If you love shopping, you can get paid for doing something you enjoy.
- You get paid for the assignment, and you may also get to keep the products you are required to buy. If you’re giving feedback on a restaurant, this could be a free meal. You will have to pay first, and then you are reimbursed.
- You are helping the company and also fellow shoppers. Making sure there is a high standard of service is good for everyone.
- The work isn’t regular. It will depend on where you live and the competition in your area.
- The pay isn’t great.
- You have to follow the instructions, get it wrong, and you might not get paid.
- You don’t get paid straight away.
- Travel expenses may not be reimbursed.
Top Mystery Shopping Companies
Here is a list of some of the top mystery shopping companies. However, there are many more. You are free to choose any that take your fancy, but as I said before, always verify that they are genuine.
- Best Mark
- Market Force
- Bare International
- Goodwin Hospitality
- Secret Shopper
- Shoppers’ View
- Sentry Marketing
Beware of the Scams
As with most things related to making money online, mystery shopping has its share of scams.
- Many fraudulent promoters send emails or post ads saying it’s possible to earn a good living with mystery shopping jobs. If you reply to these ads, you will be directed to their websites where there is information about getting some form of certification or training, access to a job directory, or perhaps even a guarantee of a job. The big problem to have access to all this information, you have to pay. Mystery shopping jobs can be found online for free. Never pay to get started in this business.
- Another scam that I have heard about – after being hired as a mystery shopper, people are sent a check and are instructed to deposit it in their personal account. One of their tasks will be to evaluate the money transfer service of companies like Western Union. They are told to withdraw the money from their account and wire the money back to their employer. Everything seems normal, and the mystery shopper will complete a report. The problem is that the check is fake, and this may take the bank several weeks to discover. Once discovered, it will be the person who deposited the check who is responsible for reimbursing the bank.
How Much Can You Earn as a Mystery Shopper
When starting, secret shoppers earn between $5 and $20 for each assignment. More experienced mystery shoppers have the chance to get jobs with higher pay.
Consequently, many people seem to be disillusioned with their first assignments. If you keep at it, gain more experience and trust from the companies you work for, you will eventually be offered better-paying jobs.
Some companies pay travel expenses, but others don’t. You will be able to see this information in the independent contractor agreement.
Payment is normally made by check or PayPal, 30 to 60 days after completing the shop.
At the end of the day, your earnings will depend on the number of jobs you complete and the quality of your work.
This can only really be considered as an additional or second source of income.
Although you can find articles on the internet of people earning $14,000 in their first year of secret shopping, as a second job or another from the UK who earns £30,000 to £40,000 per year doing mystery shopping as a full-time job.
To be successful, you will have to sign up with several companies. For example, the person who earned $14,000 was working for 20 companies when she started. In the end, she was signed up with about 75 companies.
The number of shopping gigs you will be able to do will also depend on where you live. If you are in a city or large town, you will find more job offers. And you could be able to fit in a shop during your lunch break and another on the way home from work.
Conversely, if you live and work in the sticks, you will have to drive to do your shop. Unless there is a big town nearby, you won’t make much from mystery shopping.
Some Comments from Mystery Shoppers
Here are just a few comments from Mystery Shoppers that give you an insight into the problems you can expect. The main concerns are not getting reimbursed for travel expenses and having to work a long time for a small reward.
Could This be a Job For You?
Mystery shopping is definitely a legitimate job but isn’t a way to earn a lot of money. It is really only something to consider as a second job. As you can see from the comments above, this is only worth thinking about if you live or work in or near a big town.
Not being paid for your travel expenses is a big concern. If you’re not careful, you could find your mystery shopping assignments costing you money.
I would only recommend secret shopping if you can combine this with your regular activities. Treat this as a supplement to your regular job. Give it a try, and if you decide it’s not worth the hassle, you can stop when you like.
If you decide mystery shopping isn’t right for you, but you still want to start your own business, there are other alternatives. What I recommend is affiliate marketing. This is what I do on this site.
I want to warn you that this isn’t one of those get rich quick schemes you find everywhere on the internet. If you follow what I consider to be the best internet marketing training program, you will learn how to build a sustainable and profitable online business. This will take time, hard work, and determination. After several months you can have a business capable of providing you with an income much greater than mystery shopping.
I hope you found my article useful. If you have any experience of secret shopping or have any remarks or questions, please leave a comment below.
Thanks for stopping by,
Mystery shopping! How awesome! I work at a children shoe store and the owner used to tell me stories about how she hired mystery shopper to go in the store and report about what type of customer service the employees were providing.
It is a great way to assess not only new employees but also long term employees which might have bad habits after working at a certain place for a long time.
Thank you for clarifying that mystery shopping isn’t a way to earn a lot of money but it can be done as a part time job.
Yes, this can be a great way to get some feedback on the customer service or to assess how the employees are performing. Although some people used to make some decent money doing this, it appears to be getting harder and harder for someone who is starting. If you are serious about doing this to earn money you should be patient and gain experience, but you if you live any distance from the town where you will have your assignments, your pay will be used up by your travel expenses.
So, it’s something I only recommend, if you live in a big town.
Thanks for stopping by.
I’ve always wondered about mystery shopping. Very fascinating article and I didn’t realize there are so many mystery shopping companies out there.
I think this could be a good experience for younger people entering the work force just to give them an idea of what companies are looking for as far as customer service as well to see all the different business ideas that are available.
Personally, I like your alternative to being a mystery shopper, create your own online business. It’s always better to work for yourself at something you love (in my opinion) than work for mediocre wages for someone else.
Great post and information as usual.
There really are a great number of legitimate companies you can sign up with, but unfortunately you won’t earn much with most jobs. With experienced mystery shoppers saying it’s getting harder to find well paying jobs, I really wouldn’t recommend this. Although as you say this could give young people a good insight into what is expected and what can be improved in customer service in a great variety of industries.
Creating your own business is certainly a better idea, you may not earn money straight away but you will have the chance of earning a substantial income, something that will be difficult being a shopper.
Hey Peter , very interesting article as I was researching for information on that subject.I can understand that this is a way for companies to evaluate their stuff , behaviours and diagnose weaknesses.
But I am annoyed from all these scams that are out there , in every possible segment of the money online market.Fake checks , payments up front and the rest.
It is quite fascinating to find out that a lot of people earning a full time income out of these activities.This is great news.The example of the female who signed up with 75 companies is an example of what an individual can do if there is willing and passion.
Thx for this valuable report , I will keep it as a guide for future references.
This is a useful way for companies to improve customer service, find out what its competitors are charging for a certain service or see how well your employees are performing their tasks. Mystery shoppers can be used to obtain lots of different information. But as you say everywhere you look in the make money online niche there are scams, if we can make people aware of these scam tactics we may save some from getting caught.
If you live in or near a big town, it may be possible to make this a full time job, but it will be hard work and when you start you will have to accept all jobs to build your reputation. The examples in the article show that it is possible, although some shoppers say that the companies now pay less and less, so it’s very hard to earn enough to live on. I think it’s better to consider this as a way to earn a little extra money.
Thanks for your visit,
I’ve done mystery shopping for several different companies over the years. You described it well.
I also wrote a review. Yours puts mine to shame as far as the depth you went to.
The excerpts from shoppers is great, as is the tie in to WA, something I failed to do but will update.
The part about being aware of scams is critical. There is so much of that. It’s too bad. It is a cool way to earn money if you find a reputable company.
Thanks Bob, I’m glad you found my article an accurate description of mystery shopping. One thing that the comments of the shoppers shows is that you need to limit the travel expenses and all say that it is hard work. So, this won’t be for everyone.
The scams are always something to watch out for, but overall I think this can only be considered as a job to earn some extra cash on the side.
Thanks for your comment,
Thanks for writing this article. I think I’m going to give mystery shopping a try. I’m glad I read your article first just so I know the type of companies I’m looking for and I wont be scammed. At the end of your article I noticed that your recommend internet marketing to someone looking to make money online? what is that?
I hope my article was useful, at least you will know the scams to look out for. When you start don’t expect to earn much and if you don’t live in a large town, I wouldn’t even bother. Your travel expenses might eat up all the money you earn. That’s why I recommend internet marketing, you can work from home, work when you want and it costs very little to get started. Internet marketing is marketing using the internet. The business model I prefer is affiliate marketing, which means you are rewarded when someone buys a product after being referred from an advertisement on your site. Before starting your affiliate marketing business I recommend getting some good training that will explain everything.
Good luck with the mystery shopping if you give it a try.
Hello Peter This is an excellent review of the mysterious world of Mystery shopping and I discovered (thanks to your review) that it is definitely a legitimate job, provided you use a legitimate service provider and that you can actually make money from it… Of course there are also the scammers out there that will rip people off with this type of ‘job offer’ but your presentation as you call it gave me the rundown on what to watch out for if you are contemplating this type of work.
As you say, it may only be a part time thing to make a few dollars and there are other ways to make money that could be a little less inconvenient, such as affiliate marketing and you point your readers to Wealthy Affiliate as a recommended resource to get the skill necessary to accomplish that goal.
Great post, enjoyed reading it and I learned something new. 🙂
Glad you enjoyed my presentation of mystery shopping. Yes, it is a real and legitimate job, but the main problem is that you probably won’t be paid much especially when you start. Then there are the companies that don’t pay travel expenses which means in the worst case scenario, this could even cost you money. However, some people manage to earn money this way so it’s not all bad. As with all online making money jobs you have to be on the look out for the scams, they really are everywhere!
I prefer affiliate marketing as a way of earning money online, it’s hard work, but there is so much more potential and as you say it’s less inconvenient, you can work from home!
Thanks for your visit,