Mystery shopping (or secret shopping) is something that you might’ve heard of, but maybe aren’t too familiar with. There are plenty of reports of mystery shopping scams around the country that have raised more questions than answers.
Can you really get paid to shop? Are mystery shopping companies a scam? How much money can you actually make mystery shopping?
Here you’ll find an introduction to mystery shopping that will help you determine if this is a gig you should add to your side hustle repertoire.
What is Mystery Shopping?
Mystery Shopping is a service often used by companies with a retail or hospitality presence to evaluate an area of their business. This could be an evaluation of employee sales techniques or an evaluation of customer service, for example.
What is a Mystery Shopper?
A Mystery Shopper is a person hired to pose as a customer in order to assess the quality of goods or services offered by a business. Companies take the evaluations provided by the Mystery Shopper to understand a specific area of their business – oftentimes the customer experience or to validate if certain company policies are being followed.
Example: a property management company may want to understand the leasing experience for a new tenant, so they might pay to have a Mystery Shopper pose as a prospective tenant and report back on their experience.
On the other hand, a restaurant may be more concerned with hard data, such as how long it took for a server to arrive at your table after you were seated.
What is a Mystery Shopping Company?
Corporations who want to use mystery shoppers to evaluate their business will usually contract with a mystery shopping (MS) company. MS companies work with businesses to determine the type of experiences they’re trying to capture and measure.
There are endless types of mystery shopping evaluations and that will depend on the type of industry of each business. (See: The property management vs restaurant evaluations mentioned in the previous section.)
Next, the MS company will post available jobs where registered MS shoppers can apply or self-assign these shops. The more MS companies that you sign up for, the more opportunities you have to pick up shops.
More shops = more money.
Do you really get paid to shop?
Yes, sometimes businesses will require that you purchase a specific item as part of the evaluation, but this is determined by the business, not you. (Businesses will either reimburse you for the purchase in addition to paying you a shopper’s fee, other times the shopper’s fee is a set price and doesn’t include additional reimbursement for your purchase.)
Although it would be nice to purchase whatever we want and write an evaluation of our experience, the purchase must meet the guidelines specified by the business.
HOW IT WORKS
Mystery Shopping is a solid way to make supplemental income if you level set your expectations. So, let’s do just that!
Mystery Shopping is a side gig that you can start relatively quickly, which is why I initially found it appealing when I wanted to start mystery shopping during my college days.
Unlike most retail and corporate jobs, mystery shop (MS) companies typically do not have a formal interview process. For most mystery shop companies, you simply need to fill out an online form where you provide some personal information to become an independent contractor and then you’re off and running.
(Please note: Most MS companies will require your social security number when signing up in order to pay you. This is because you’ll be joining these companies as an independent contractor and the federal government requires these companies to submit a Form 1099-MISC to report payment of services.)
There are a few companies that have more extensive sign-up processes which may include certification tests and practice evaluations, but those are few and far between. The sign-up process will vary by company, but one thing remains constant:
You should NEVER pay money to sign up with a mystery shopping company! Any company that requires you to pay is most likely a scam and should be avoided at all costs.
As a mystery shopper, you get paid a shopper’s fee (or sometimes referred to as a “rate”) to perform a shop and write a subsequent evaluation about your experience.
Simple enough, right?
Well, it depends. Well, it depends. MS companies typically pay a set price for each shop they need to be performed. These fees can range from a paltry $5 to upwards of $50+.
To determine if the rate is worthwhile, you’ll want to take a look at the shop scenario and the subsequent evaluation report you’ll need to fill out. (The lower paying shops are much more plentiful than higher paying shops.) The average pay rate per shop is typically between $15-$20.
The majority of MS companies have long payment terms, which is a point of contention with new shoppers who are trying to make a quick buck. Most MS companies pay within 45 days after a shop is performed.
For example, if you do a mystery shop on January 15th, you likely won’t receive your payment until the end of February. That’s an extremely long time if you’re used to getting a check every two weeks.
There are even a few companies whose payment terms are 90 days. This is something you’ll want to make note of, especially if you plan on accepting a shop that requires you to make a purchase. It may take you 90 day to receive the reimbursement.
Payment terms can usually be found during the sign-up process. It’s best to familiarize yourself with each company’s payment terms so you know when to expect your deposits.
Every mystery shop you perform will require a post-shop evaluation or questionnaire that must be filled out. In my experience, 95% of the time you will be required to write an objective narrative about your experience.
Evaluations commonly ask you to document the specific timing of interactions with associates, as well as including the name and/or description of every associate you interact with, among other things.
A well-written narrative can often take over 45 minutes to write, so this should be considered when determining if the shop fee is worth the effort. $30 sounds look a fairly decent compensation rate at first glance, but it might not be worth it if you factor in 1 hour of report writing.
Heads up: Mystery shopping reports can be quite laborious. If you don’t enjoy writing, this might not be the right gig for you.
As you become an experienced mystery shopper, you’ll know which companies require lengthy reports and which ones have quick and easy assessments. Reports typically must be submitted between 12-24 hours after completion of the mystery shop.
I’m sure the most pressing question on your mind is “Is mystery shopping a legit way to earn supplemental income?”
Absolutely! After I became a corporate dropout, I went back to mystery shopping for the full month of January 2017 and made almost $650 dollars. This was not even close to replacing my previous income from my corporate gig, but it made for a nice financial padding to cover the cost of my utilities and a few groceries.
Hopefully this post clears up some of the common questions and misconceptions about mystery shopping so you can decide if this is an option you’d like to explore. Mystery shopping can be a fun side gig if you go into it knowing exactly what you’re getting into.
If you’re ready to start shopping, check out this post for a list of mystery shopping companies with quick applications. If you’re considering becoming a mystery shopper, what other questions do you have?
This post was proofread by Grammarly