Mystery shoppers have been around for a long time. But not everyone knows how easy it is to become one 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. So let’s take a closer look at mystery shopping so you can decide for yourself whether it’s right for you.
What does a mystery shopper do?
Mystery shoppers (also known as secret shoppers or mystery customers) are paid to go to a store or other establishment and report back on their experience. When you become a mystery shopper, 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 around. That’s where mystery shopping comes in.
A store or other establishment hires a third-party agency that provides mystery shoppers. 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?
So as a mystery shopper, you get a task and they pay you after you complete it. Mystery shoppers 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 service.
Your tasks will also depend on what types of mystery shopper jobs you take. For instance, staying in a hotel versus eating out at a restaurant or shopping at a store.
How to become a secret shopper
So do you want to learn how to become a secret shopper? The good news is becoming a mystery shopper is straightforward and easy. Here are the steps:
1. Choose a reputable company to apply too
First, you need to choose one (or more) companies offering mystery shopper jobs and sign up to become a shopper. We’ve listed some of the best companies offering secret shopper jobs below in this article.
After filling out a quick form, you’ll be granted access to the platform listing all of the available jobs.
2. Search available jobs in your area
From there, you’ll search the 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!
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 as a mystery shopper:
How much do secret shopper jobs pay?
Most mystery shoppers are paid by the job. Depending on how in-depth your assignment is, you might get $10, $20, or more. According to ZipRecruiter, mystery shoppers can expect to make about $800 a week, on average. That equates to about $20 an hour or $41,600 per year.
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 secret shoppers get paid?
The agency a mystery shopper works for will pay them directly. 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.
Keep this in mind as you consider making mystery shopping your side hustle. If you aren’t getting cash, it might not be worth it.
Do you have to pay taxes on our mystery shopping jobs?
So the short answer is yes; any money you make from mystery shopping is considered income. 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.
The best mystery shopper jobs and companies
Secret shopper jobs run the gamut from shopping for electronics, makeup, and clothes, to eating out at quick-serve or fine dining restaurants, to calling customer service lines and asking a series of pointed questions.
All of the companies below are great options to start with if you’re thinking of becoming a mystery shopper. Most have been around for years, and many mystery shoppers before you have already vetted them.
In addition, they are all members of the MSPA Americas; a trade organization made up of legitimate mystery shopping companies.
If you’re ready to become a secret shopper, choose one of the companies below and sign up to get going on your first job!
BestMark is one of the country’s oldest and most reputable mystery shopping companies. The platform is easy to navigate, and they have an abundance of jobs.
In addition to the standard secret shopper jobs, they even offer higher-end jobs, too, like staying at a luxury hotel for free. 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 to dip their toe into mystery shopping 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.
3. 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.
4. Market Force
Great for those always on-the-go, Market Force offers jobs through their website and their app. You can use the app to view a map of available jobs near you, schedule your shop, and enter your report, all through the convenience of your phone. This is one of the best places to search for mystery shopper jobs!
5. GBW Mystery Shopping
When you sign up to be a mystery consumer with GBW Mystery Shopping, you join 200,000 other “evaluators” experienced in completing mystery shopping jobs.
The company is looking for new evaluators who are observant and reliable. If that’s you, it might be the perfect way to make some extra cash on the side.
Like the other companies listed here, IntelliShop has a platform of job postings for mystery shoppers, 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.
Things to consider before you become a mystery shopper
Before you head over to sign up to become a mystery customer, there are a couple of key things to note. 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 be a mystery shopper! You have to spend the time completing the shop and reporting back on your experience.
While it’s a great way to make some extra income, it’s not likely enough 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?
You need to be aware of scams
There is a lot of information out there about mystery shopping scams. If you sign up with one of the companies above, you don’t have anything to worry about. If you’re looking for other jobs on your own, 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 become a secret shopper 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 offering 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.
Should you become a mystery shopper?
Perhaps you would like to try being a mystery shopper now that you've taken a closer look at mystery shopping. If you’re someone who loves to shop and dine out, becoming a mystery shopper 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. But, so long as you keep an eye open for scams and only shop with reputable companies, it can be a great way to make some extra income!