mystery shopper

How to Make Money as a Mystery Shopper

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Ever thought about becoming a mystery shopper? Mystery shopping is not a “get rich quick” scheme, but it is a great way to make some extra money on the side! As a mystery shopper, you’ll be paid to shop at different stores and report back on your experience. In this blog post, we’ll give you some tips on how to get started as a mystery shopper.

What is a Mystery Shopper?

Mystery shopping is a tool that businesses use to evaluate the quality of their customer service. mystery shoppers pose as customers and assess various aspects of the business, such as the cleanliness of the store, the friendliness of the staff, and the overall customer experience.

Businesses who use mystery shopping report improved customer service and higher levels of customer satisfaction. Mystery shopping can also help businesses identify areas that need improvement, such as staff training or store layout.

Other names for mystery shoppers include: secret shopper, undercover shopper, silent shopper, shadow shopper, hidden shopper, anonymous shopper, and/or mysterious shopper.

Requirements for Becoming a Mystery Shopper

To become a secret shopper, there are only a few requirements. You must be at least 18 years old and have access to a computer and the internet. You should also have a valid email address an phone number. 

Undercover shoppers should also be impartial and objective in their evaluations. That’s it! If you meet these requirements, then you can become a mysterious shopper.

Some companies will ask you for demographic information such as age, gender, height, weight, income, hair color, education, race, number of children, etc., as some companies may be looking for a specific type of person to complete certain shops. Most of these questions are optional if you feel uncomfortable answering them. 

Some shops may require to get a “certification” (don’t worry, it’s free) before you can apply for certain mystery shops, but it usually just entails a short questionnaire about what the shop entails so they know you know what is expected.  

As a secret shopper, you’ll need to go to the assigned store and act like a normal customer. Once you’ve completed your task, you’ll need to answer questions, submit photos, and/or write up a report detailing your experience. This report will be submitted online or via email or mobile app.

If you are nervous about being a mystery shopper, Bethany Mooradian (who has done mystery shopping longer than me) created The Mystery Shopper Training Program where you can learn the ins and outs of mystery shopping. You can also what shops are hiring, what the shops expect, how to write great evaluations, how to report your income on taxes, and how to avoid common mystery shopping scams.

Legitimate Mystery Shopping Companies

There are many companies that offer mystery shopping services. Once you find a company that you’re interested in working for, sign up for an account and complete their online application. After you’ve been approved, you’ll start receiving assignments via email. Each assignment will include the details of the job, such as the location, date, time, and compensation.

Best Mystery Shopping Companies to Work for

Here are the mystery shopping companies that I am personally signed up with and can vouch that they are legitimate companies that do pay. I’ve been with most of them for over 20 years!

How much does a Mystery Shopper get Paid?

For each mystery shopping assignment that you complete, you’ll receive compensation either in the form of cash, PayPal, Venmo or gift cards. Most assignments pay between $10-$20 plus reimbursement for purchases if required. Some will even pay your mileage to and from the location if they cannot find anyone local to do the shop. According to The Penny Hoarder, the average mystery shopping can earn approximately $975 per week. This seems a little high to me, but one can have goals!

Ten to twenty dollars per gig may not seem like a lot of money to some, but if you accept assignments for places and services that you would patronize anyway, it’s like getting a bonus or saving money. It also gives you an opportunity to go to new places, such as restaurants, that you may have wanted to try (or you already love).

It’s important to know that as a secret shopper, you are an independent contractor. This means if you make over $600 in one year with one of the companies, they will send you a 1099 form to claim on your income taxes so you may need to pay taxes on that amount. But on the other hand, being an independent contractor allows you to deduct expenses related to mystery shopping. 

What companies use mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping is used by a variety of businesses, including restaurants, retail stores, hotels,  banks and more. Mystery shopping can help businesses evaluate the quality of their customer service and identify areas that need improvement. I personally have done assignments for the following establishments that utilized mystery shopping:

  • Papa John’s (I love pizza!)
  • Famous Footwear (I also love shoes!)
  • Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings
  • Various Service Stations for oil changes and/or gas
  • United States Postal Service
  • Phone Shops and Online Mystery Shops (you can do these from home)
  • Test Drive New Cars

Here’s part an email that I just received while writing this blog post offering mystery shops for Shell, Sonic, Lowe’s, Panda Express, and Exxon. 

 Shell- Fred with safety vest at gas station pointing flash light Shell Part mystery shop, part revealed audit with photos! Shopper Pay: $14 + up to 2 gallons of fuel reimbursement + up to $2 in-store purchase reimbursement Platform: Sassie Sonic- Fred sitting at small table with phone Sonic Hungry? Visit your assigned location, order a sandwich, a side and a beverage and evaluate the experience. Shopper Pay: $8 + up to $8 reimbursement Platform: Sassie Lowe's DIY- Fred inside home improvement store taking a picture with cell phone Lowe's DIY Visit your assigned location and interact with an associate in two departments. Make a small purchase and return. Shopper Pay: $18 Platform: Sassie Panda Express- Fred handing food to customer in drive through Panda Express Come enjoy some free food on Ipsos! Evaluate the cleanliness, food quality and service at your assigned location - online, dine-in, or drive-thru. Shopper Pay: $8 + up to $8 reimbursement Platform: Sassie Exxon- Fred at pumping gas into car Exxon A mystery shop that becomes a revealed inspection with photos! Shopper Pay: $14 + up to $5 fuel reimbursement + up to $1 in-store purchase reimbursement Platform: Sassie

The above shops are all “first-come, first-served & self-assign only” which basically means that the first person to apply for that job will get it. But don’t worry, there are usually several dates and/or locations available for each shop. 

If you notice the Lowe’s shop, it says “make a small purchase and return”. This means that you must make a purchase for the shop (to get a receipt to upload), but you will not be reimbursed for the purchase. Therefore, you can return the item afterwards. Personally, I don’t like to hassle with returning. So I will either buy something that I need, and I don’t need anything, I will buy a candy bar and eat it instead of returning it. 

Mystery Shopping Tips

Some tips for mystery shopping include being impartial and objective in your evaluations, being aware of your surroundings, and taking detailed notes. Secret shoppers should also be prepared to answer questions about their experience, and should be able to provide specific examples to support their evaluation.

Kim’s Personal Tip

I usually take someone with me when I do mystery shop, not only for the company, but also so they can help me remember the whole experience when I fill out the required survey or questionnaire after the fact. They may ask specific questions such as how it took for someone to help you, the name of the person that did help you, and/or how clean the establishment was. I tell my friend the questions ahead of time, and then they can look busy on their phone and text me answers like the person’s name (I keep my phone on silent). The texts also have time stamps so I know the time waited as well. 

Also, be sure to submit your evaluation after the fact within the time-framed noted on the shop as the companies may refuse to pay you is not submitted in time (I had this happen once). 

Mystery Shopping FAQs

Below are frequently asked questions about mystery shopping.

Is mystery shopping illegal?

No, mystery shopping is not illegal. However, businesses should use mystery shopping as one tool among many to assess customer service; mystery shopping should not be the only method of evaluation.

What companies use mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping is used by a variety of businesses, including restaurants, retail stores, hotels, schools, and banks – even funeral homes! Mystery shopping can help businesses evaluate the quality of their customer service and identify areas that need improvement. Here is a running list of the various companies and establishments that I have personally seen participate in mystery shopping:

  1. Acura
  2. Adidas
  3. American University
  4. Amigo’s
  5. Applebee’s
  6. Arby’s
  7. Arcadia University
  8. Barnes & Noble
  9. Baylor University
  10. Buffalo Wild Wings
  11. Buick
  12. BluTaco
  13. Cadillac
  14. Champs Chicken
  15. Chase
  16. Chevron
  17. Chrysler
  18. Circle K
  19. Citibank
  20. Cricket
  21. David’s Bridal 
  22. Disney
  23. Dodge
  24. Door
  25. Emerson College
  26. Exxon
  27. Famous Footwear
  28. Faze Subs
  29. Fiat
  30. Ford
  31. Fordham University
  32. Georgetown University
  33. GMC
  34. Google
  35. Gulf
  36. Herzing University
  37. Home Depot
  38. HOTWORX
  39. Honda
  40. Jeep
  41. John Hancock Financial
  42. JUUL
  43. Kum & Go
  44. LaMar’s Donuts
  45. Levi’s
  46. Love’s
  47. Lowe’s
  48. Methodist Hospital
  49. Original Mattress Factory
  50. Panda Express
  51. Papa John’s
  52. Peak Living
  53. Pepperdine University
  54. Post University
  55. Ram
  56. SalonCentric
  57. Scheel’s
  58. Shell
  59. Simmons University
  60. Sinclair
  61. Sonic
  62. Spartan College
  63. Syracuse University
  64. T-Mobile
  65. Tufts University
  66. Tulane University
  67. University of California
  68. University of Maryland
  69. University of Pittsburgh
  70. University of Washington
  71. US Bank
  72. USPS
  73. Valero
  74. Verizon
  75. Virginia Commonwealth University
  76. Visa
  77. Visiting Angels
  78. Wells Fargo

How much do mystery shoppers make?

The amount that secret shoppers make depends on the company they are working for, the assignment they are completing, and the length of the assignment. mystery shoppers may be paid an hourly rate, a flat fee, or a commission. Mysterious shoppers may also receive reimbursement for their expenses, such as meals or transportation.

Is Mystery Shopping Providers Association legit?

Yes, MSPA Americas, formerly known as Mystery Shopping Providers Association, is a reputable trade organization that accredits mystery shopping companies. Mystery shoppers who work for companies that are accredited by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (now MSPA) can be assured that they are reputable and adhere to the highest standards in the industry.

MSPA Americas does not hire mystery shoppers directly so you will still need to register with the shopping providers companies listed earlier in this article. 

Conclusion

Mystery shopping is a great way to make some extra money on the side while providing businesses with valuable feedback about their customer service. If you’re at least 18 years old and have access to a computer and the internet, then you can become a mystery shopper. There are many companies that offer paid mystery shopping services. So what are you waiting for? Start your side hustle as a secret shopper today!

How to Make Money as a Mystery Shopper