Do you frequently visit your local retailers, enjoy meeting people, and have an eye for detail? You may be qualified to make extra money as a mystery shopper. While you won’t get rich doing this type of job, it’s a fairly easy way to earn more cash and even score free dinners, hotel stays, and more!
Getting Started as a Mystery Shopper
If you live in the U.S., it’s pretty simple to get started. You’ll need to be 18 and up for most shops. Some that require you to purchase alcohol or dine in a location that serves drinks will ask that you be 21 or the age for drinking in that particular state. In addition, each mystery shopping company will have their own sign-up form, and they each ask that you fill in a version of the following:
- Mobile phone
- Are you allowed access to a smart phone, printer, scanner, and computer?
- Can you use an audio recording device or video camera?
- Do you own transportation?
- Are you a customer with a banking account or credit cards?
- Your physical characteristics
- Scanned copy of your photo ID
- The industry you work in
- Previous mystery shopping experience (if any)
These questions all help the company decide which shops you may be qualified for. Someone who has never had a bank account, for example, wouldn’t be qualified to open a checking account at a bank that only accepts those with established credit. Likewise, if you don’t own an audio recording device, you can’t document the rare shops that may ask for a recording of your visit. Not all questions will be applicable for all types of mystery shops.
MSPA Gold and Silver Shoppers
You may also be asked if you are a MSPA gold or silver certified shopper. This certification is optional, but it can help you get more shops. Currently, to be certified, you need to sign up at the MSPA site, sign up for the test, learn the materials, and pass the exam. Passing the exam is not difficult, and it can separate you from the hundreds of other competing shoppers in your area. Since the MSPA certification is the only widely recognized certification of this type, it’s the most important type of training to get. Do not pay extra for any other mystery shopping classes or certificates in hopes of it helping you get hired. Unfortunately, they are not accepted as credentials by the major companies in the U.S.
How to Sign Up for Shops
Each company has their own method for advertising available shops and for accepting applications. Some may choose to text shoppers, however, letting them know of shops in the area. Others feature a jobs board with all the available shops to choose from. Signing up for a job on the board may grant you immediately approval; these are called “self-assigned” shops and they are usually open to established shoppers with a good completion rate. Usually, when you first start out, you’ll apply for a shop and will have to be approved before you can begin.
The JobSlinger job board site is the best way to find out about new shops listed by companies using the very popular SASSIE mystery shop tracking system. It lists the available shops from dozens of mystery shopping companies that use the same system for tracking, submitting, and assigning shops. Fortunately, hundreds of available shops from a variety of industries and companies are on this one job board site. You can even sign up for new companies you haven’t worked with before!
Companies Hiring Mystery Shoppers
While there are too many to list here, these are among the most popular mystery shopping companies outside of the SASSIE shopping system:
This company specializes in amusement and entertainment venues. Their clients include amusement parks, aquariums, bowling alleys, family entertainment centers, science centers, skating centers, and water parks. In addition, their new shopper application takes just 30 minutes to complete.
Confero is a company I’ve shopped for personally. They pay well and represent some of the best companies in the nation. Past clients have included AMC Theaters, MovieTickets.com, Coca-Cola, Shell Oil, Capital One Banking, Jiffy Lube and Lenovo. They offer regular mystery shopping, as well as compliance surveys, voice recording audits, and spot checks. You must be 21 to shop, however, and have access to a Paypal account to make extra money with this company.
Data Quest, LTD
This company is a bit different in that it specializes in background checks and audits for tobacco and alcohol sales. Shoppers may be required to go into an establishment and see if they get carded for a liquor purchase, for example.
If you’re looking for the company allowing you to make extra money with high-end restaurant and cruise shops, this is it! You’ll need some experience to get the more prestigious shops, but starting out with some of the less-intense banking or customer service shops will help build a reputation. You’ll be applying for those luxury cruises in no time!
Start your application for Coyle Hospitality here!
This company is best known for its grocery shops, which take around a half hour to conduct (plus reporting time.) With hundreds of shops to choose from in most localities, it’s quite possibly one of the easiest companies to find work with. In addition to mystery shops, they also offer rewards and recognition shops. With these, the shoppers go to a restaurant or store, interact with an employee and give them a reward on the spot (usually cash or a gift card) if they do the job correctly!
How to Complete Mystery Shops
It is very important that you read the directions for any shop that you are assigned immediately after accepting. Depending on the type of shop, you may have tasks that need completed in the days leading up to your actual assignment. Hotel stays may require you call and make a reservation a week in advance, for example. Restaurant dining shops might want you to call and inquire about the menu prior to dining. All directions must be followed exactly in order to be paid. If you have any questions, contact your scheduler right away!
See also: Best Ways to Make Extra Money Right Now
Once you are at your shop, pay close attention to all the details and don’t give away that you are a shopper! Today, it is easier than ever to take photos and make notes, as everyone uses their cell phone and smart devices – even while dining. Make note of names, times, and your entire experience. Once your shop is over, head home and complete the shop report (the documentation requested from the client) right away. It’s easier to answer questions when they are still fresh in your mind.
Most importantly, mystery shopping companies only pay for on-time and accurate shops. If you don’t know something, do not make the information up. The report you provide may be used for important decisions at the location you shopped, including promotions and disciplinary actions of employees. In order to really make extra money, you need to do what is required by the mystery shopping company.
How Much Can You Earn Mystery Shopping?
Shop rates can vary. You can make extra money, but it will depend on what you are asked to do. Here are some examples of shop types and payment that you may be offered:
- Fast Food Shop: Purchase a meal, eat in-store, and report within 24 hours. ($8 plus food reimbursement)
- Hotel Shop: Stay 12 hours, making note of all interactions and documenting facilities with photos. Report within 4 hours of leaving. ($25 – 50 plus hotel reimbursement)
- Restaurant Shop: Order drink at the bar, have a full three-course meal in the dining area, and document in a report within 12 hours. ($20 plus food and drink reimbursement)
- Retail Shop: Purchase a high-ticket item with your own credit card, then return for a full refund the next day. ($15)
- Insurance Shop: Call and ask for a full insurance quote, including having them run your credit history. Report within 8 hours. ($35)
Additional types of shops include carpet cleaning in your home, senior retirement center visits, apartment hunting, amusement park concession dining, and even cruise ship experiences! Obviously, the more experience you have, and the more you can be relied on to complete your shops on time, the better opportunities you’ll be offered. Hotel and cruise shops are only given to the top-tier of shoppers, and they are a lot of hard work. But if you have always wanted a luxury experience, they can be a great way to make it work – and make extra money at the same time!
Expenses and Fees with Mystery Shopping
You should never pay to mystery shop. Any company claiming you need to pay a fee to sign up is a scam and should be avoided. You will, however, have to have money to make money. Shoppers are paid their fee, plus expense reimbursement only after doing the shop. If you have to buy a meal or stay in a hotel, you have to pay for it yourself and will only be reimbursed after completing a satisfactory shop report. Therefore, if you don’t have any money to invest, or you aren’t sure you can’t complete a shop on time, mystery shopping may not be for you.
Tips to Help Make Extra Money Mystery Shopping
There are no guarantees that mystery shopping will generate a certain amount of revenue each month. There are some tried and true tips for maximizing your earnings and minimizing effort, however. Use these tricks to may more as a mystery shopper:
1. Travel if you need to.
When you fill out your shop application, you will probably only be shown shops that are close to your home. 50 miles is the general search area for most job sites. If you travel for business or leisure, however, you have an increased opportunity to earn more. Airport shops are super popular and usually pay bonuses, since you’ll have to be in areas beyond the TSA security clearance checkpoints and only travelers with tickets can access them. If you’ll be flying through Dallas, or spending an overnight in a hub city hotel, check before your trip to see if there is the chance to offset from of your travel costs and score reimbursed accommodations or meals!
2. Bundle shops.
Driving 20 minutes for an $8 shop may not make sense. But traveling 20 minute for five $8 shops might. While some companies have a restriction on the number of shops you can do for each company (one McDonald’s shop per week, for example), others may not. And many metro areas have dozens of shops with the same company available for the same day. So you can stop and do a quick lunch at a fast-food restaurant just blocks away from that dry cleaning shop you need to do. Finish it off with a coffee shop, and stop at a bank shop before returning home. A half day of shops could get you $60+ plus the value of lunch and services!
3. Ask for more.
Many areas of the country have a hard time finding shoppers. Competition for rural or less-populated areas may be higher due to the lack of shops. Conversely, you might find a shortage or available shoppers in these regions. Schedulers will often sweeten the pot and allow you to make extra money by offering a bonus for shops that can be performed last-minute in these high-need places. Bonuses can range from $10-35 or more. Schedulers may also reimburse fuel for shoppers to drive a bit out of their normal shop area. Bonuses and fuel reimbursement can more than double the amount you make on a shop!
Tax and Financial Considerations of Mystery Shopping
It’s great to make extra money with mystery shopping. Remember, however, that because you are considered an independent contractor, any earnings on mystery shopping will be subject to tax. You may or may not get a 1099 at the end of the year reporting your income from each business. (If you are paid via Paypal, you may get one from them.) In any case, you are responsible for reporting your income and expenses and paying applicable taxes at the end of the year.
Additionally, tracking your expenses is important. By seeing how much you spend on each shop, and keeping track of receipts and invoices, you can make sure you are properly reimbursed and can use them for tax deductions, as well. It’s also much easier to make extra money when you know what your bottom line will be. You are your own boss. Mystery shopping should be treated like any small business.