These types of jobs have been around for a long time. But not everyone knows how easy it is to become a mystery shopper or how you can actually make money doing something you like to do (like shopping and eating!).
It’s not all sunshine and roses, though, so it’s best to understand what mystery shopping entails before you dive in.
That said, let’s take a closer look at mystery shopping so you can decide for yourself whether it’s right for you.
What do you do when you work for mystery shopper companies?
Mystery shoppers (also known as mystery customers) are paid to go to a store or other establishment and report back on their experience. Or you may also work online or on the phone. When you do a job like this, you are essentially an undercover customer.
You pretend to be a customer and act just like one. Your real reason for being there, though, is to interact with and observe the business, and report back on what you experienced.
Most employees perform at their best when their boss is around. But it can be challenging for companies to know how things run when the boss isn’t at work. That’s where mystery shopping comes in.
A store or other establishment hires secret shopper companies. The agency then relays the mystery customer’s findings so that the company can make improvements based on the feedback they receive.
How does mystery shopping work?
You get an assignment and mystery shopper companies pay you after you complete it. You might have to:
- Go to a retail store, make a purchase, and complete a form reviewing your experience. (Depending on the task, you might be offered to keep the purchase and be reimbursed for it, or you can return it later.
- Observe certain details about a store, including the number of employees on duty, if you were greeted, and your overall experience.
- Follow specific instructions on what to ask for and how to interact with the employees, and report on how your experience went.
- Dine at a restaurant and report on the quality of the food, cleanliness, and food service.
Your tasks will also depend on what types of mystery shopper companies you work with and the jobs you take. For instance, staying in a hotel versus eating out at a restaurant or shopping at a specialty retail store, a grocery store, or a theme park.
But the general idea is to gather information about the customer experience.
How to become a mystery shopper
The good news is you can start this job easily. Here are the steps:
1. Choose a reputable company to apply to
First, you need to choose one (or more) of the best mystery shopping companies offering jobs and sign up to become a shopper. We’ve listed some of the best companies offering mystery shopper jobs below in this article.
After filling out a quick form with some contact information, you’ll create a personal account and get access to the platform listing all of the available jobs.
2. Search available jobs in your area
From there, you’ll search for jobs in your area and apply for one. A job listing will tell you the basics, such as “quick-serve lunch in Aurora, CO, reimbursement up to $25.”
If you are accepted, you’ll get more details on what the job involves, so you know exactly what is expected of you.
3. Complete the assignment and get paid
So if everything looks good, you’ll complete the assignment. Once completed, you’ll submit your questionnaire and receipt (if you’re getting reimbursed).
Lastly, you’ll get paid for completing the shopping/dining experience and the post-assignment questionnaire.
Simple as that! Not a bad way to get a free meal or make some extra cash on the side!
The best mystery shopper companies
Jobs like this run the gamut from shopping for electronics, makeup, and clothes, to eating out at quick-serve or fine-dining restaurants, to telephone mystery shopping by calling customer service lines and asking a series of pointed questions.
All of the mystery shopping platforms below are great options to start with.
If you’re ready to find mystery shopper jobs, choose one of the best companies below and sign up to get going on your first job!
Also remember that while these companies themselves are legitimate, there is always the possibility of a scam if someone else takes their name and pretends to be the company. So do your research beforehand and never pay money before doing a job!
BestMark is one of the country’s oldest and most reputable mystery shopping companies and a member of the MSPA (Mystery Shopping Providers Association), a trade organization made up of legitimate mystery shopping companies.
The platform is easy to navigate, and they have an abundance of jobs.
For their basic jobs, the company pays between $7 and $20 per job for new shoppers, but there’s room for growth.
2. A Closer Look
Another great choice for those looking for great mystery shopper companies is the company, A Closer Look.
They have an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (no scams here) and pride themselves on communicating professionally and attentively with their shoppers, making it a pleasure to work with them.
In addition, this company is a member of the MSPA Americas.
3. Market Force
Great for those always on the go, Market Force offers jobs through their company’s website and app. They are MSPA members and have a rating of A+ with the Better Business Bureau.
You can use their app to see what jobs there are near you, schedule your shop, and complete your report, all through the convenience of your phone. It's one of the easiest places to search for mystery shopper jobs!
4. Second to None
Like most of these companies, their assignments are totally flexible, and you can take on as many or as few jobs as you’d like, so you can build shopping around your own schedule.
And you can rest assured that this business has a rating of A+ with the Better Business Bureau.
Like the other companies listed here, IntelliShop has a platform for job postings, ranging from restaurants to retail and more. As you complete jobs with IntelliShop, you’ll receive a rating on how well you executed the job.
The higher your rating, the more opportunities you’ll have to access the best jobs the company offers. In addition, they are also part of the MSPA Americas and have an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
6. Elite CXS
Elite CXS is owned by veterans and works with multiple well-known companies such as T-Mobile, Hyatt, and Starbucks.
They are an award-winning mystery shopping company that allows shoppers to work in person, but also online and on the phone. In addition, they're an elite member of the MSPA.
7. Secret Shopper
Secret Shopper has been in business for over 25 years. They have jobs not only in stores but also online and on the phone.
The company typically pays somewhere between $15 to $25 per job but every shopping opportunity is different. It has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and is an MSPA member.
Making money as a mystery shopper
So do you think mystery shopping might be right for you? It can definitely be a great side hustle or, if you’re willing to devote a lot of time to it, possibly more.
Here’s what you need to know about making money with mystery shopper companies:
How much do the jobs pay?
You'll receive payment by the job as a mystery shopper. Depending on how in-depth your assignment is, you might get $10, $20, or more.
However, the average pay varies a lot. It depends on things like your location, opportunities in your area, your skill level, how much time you’re willing to devote to it, and your years of experience as a mystery customer.
How do you get paid?
The agency a shopper works for will pay them directly. Below are a few different ways:
The agency will give you an assignment, and you will usually be paid per assignment, as opposed to by the hour. You get your money after you complete the assignment.
Depending on the agency, you might be paid the following week or up to 90 days later, so be sure to check on the terms before you agree to anything. How much you make depends on the difficulty and time requirement of the assignment.
Something else to note as you look for jobs is that some do not pay at all. Instead, they reimburse you for your expenses.
This looks like getting paid back for the item you purchased or reimbursed for a meal you had at a restaurant. Which can be fun if you're a fan of free food!
A gift card is another type of payment you may encounter. Keep this in mind as you consider reaching out to mystery shopper companies to start your side hustle. If you aren’t getting cash, it might not be worth it.
Do you have to pay taxes on your jobs?
So the short answer is yes; any money you make from mystery shopping is considered income and you have to pay taxes if you make more than $400 in a year.
As an independent contractor, if you make more than $600 from any one company, you will receive a 1099.
Regardless, you'll have to report your income when you file your taxes. You should consult with a tax advisor if you have any questions about how to do that or if you need more tax information.
Things to consider before you become a mystery shopper
Before you head over to sign up for mystery shopping gigs, there are a couple of key things to note about secret shopper jobs.
Let's take a closer look at mystery shopping and what you should consider first:
It probably won't replace your full-time job
First, remember that mystery shopping is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes real work to do this job! You have to spend time completing the shopping assignments and reporting back on your experience.
While it’s a great way to make some extra income, it’s not likely to replace your full-time job.
You should also be aware of the type of mystery shopping jobs you sign up for. While some pay in cash, others pay in goods.
Do you really need that free makeup? Or would it be better to spend your time doing something else?
Be aware of scams
There is a lot of information out there about mystery shopping scams. If you’re looking for jobs, there are a couple of things to look out for when signing up:
Never pay for sign-up or listing fees
One key thing to keep in mind if you decide to do mystery shopper jobs is to NEVER pay to do a job. The companies pay you, not the other way around, and you should never pay a start-up fee to join a platform.
Another thing you should never pay for is a listing of jobs. All of the legitimate companies list their jobs for free.
All you have to do is sign up (for free) to become a member to access them.
If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is
Watch out for any job that offers so much money that it sounds too good to be true. It often is! If the amount of money for the task seems high, then it may be best to search elsewhere because it is probably a scam!
Do your due diligence. Check for reviews online and make sure others haven’t already identified a company or job posting as a scam.
If you follow the guidelines above, you should have no problem finding legitimate, scam-free mystery shopping jobs.
Be prepared to do the job
A secret shopper job is more than just getting a mystery shopping assignment and getting paid.
You also need to be sure that you pay attention to details when you're shopping, and that you carefully gather all the information that's asked for.
This job does take time and you need to be certain that you do excellent work.
Should you become a mystery shopper?
Perhaps you would like to try working for mystery shopper companies now that you've taken a closer look at this job.
If you’re someone who loves to shop and dine out, as well as make extra money, this might be the perfect side hustle for you.
After all, what’s not to love about making money doing something you like?
Mystery shopping involves more than just shopping, though. It takes effort and won’t make you rich.