Most of us think we lose money through shopping, but the reverse can be true. Are you looking to make some extra money? Have you ever considered becoming a professional mystery shopper?
Just imagine getting paid to shop!
Not only are the things you purchase paid for but you can also get paid cash. The good news is that you can make this dream a reality.
Companies worldwide hire mystery shoppers to give them feedback on their businesses. They pay individuals to go into their stores, purchase specific items or services, and in exchange, individuals get to keep the things and get paid.
Does this interest you? Read on to discover more about available jobs and how to become a mystery shopper.
What Is Mystery Shopping
Sometimes called “secret shopping,” mystery shopping is when companies hire people to shop in exchange for feedback on their experiences. This form of market research helps companies understand the quality of their service, improve customer service, and determine whether their stores are compliant and meet customer standards.
What Do Mystery Shoppers Do
When a company hires a mystery shopper, they give them a detailed assignment. Then, the shoppers are asked to assess the business and its employees based on their experience. Sometimes, they invite shoppers to eat at a restaurant, purchase an item, and return it.
Typically, mystery shoppers do not give opinions but give detailed records of what they experienced. Some of the data they collect include:
- Number of employees on duty
- If they were greeted
- Amount of time before being greeted
- How many people they interacted with
- How quickly was the service completed
- Cleanliness of the business
- The appearance of the employees
Mystery shoppers are often required to report on this data as soon as possible, usually within several hours of doing the mystery shopping. People who have been mystery shopping for a long time might be asked to complete more complicated tasks, such as behaving differently in the store to see how the staff reacts.
Mystery shoppers' data helps businesses measure training, customer service levels, and their stores' overall maturity. They can also determine if their employees are honest with customers, provide appropriate solutions, and more.
They can also use mystery shoppers to assess their products and services compared to their competitors. Mystery shopping is a helpful business tool for companies of all sizes in evaluating customer service.
How To Become a Mystery Shopper
Becoming a mystery shopper or secret shopper is relatively simple.
Most companies ask that you sign up and provide accurate information on your demographics and qualifications so that they can help to pair you with the best mystery shopping jobs. You can sign up with multiple companies if you want to, and it will be up to you to balance your schedule and decide which company is best for you.
As a mystery shopper, it is essential to understand the market. Many companies will ask their shoppers to perform different tasks, so be sure that you know what is being asked of a mystery shopper and what you are comfortable with doing as a shopper.
For example, some companies will have you work over the phone, online, or be an in-store shopper.
The next step is to decide which company to work with.
We have a detailed list of the best companies to work for below. You should look at a few companies and understand how each pays their shoppers, what activities they expect them to complete, and how they compensate their shoppers before deciding which one to move forward with.
Note: Some companies will only work with certified mystery shoppers.
The Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) can certify you, help you find jobs, and vet out companies.
There are two levels of certification: silver and gold. Silver certification can be completed online, and gold certification requires attending a one-day workshop. There are certifications for specific markets, including fine dining, retail, automotive, and more.
What Types of Jobs Are Available
There are three main ways to be a mystery shopper: phone shopping, online shopping, and in-person shopping. Each category has its quirks.
Phone and Internet Shopping
If you want to be a mystery shopper but can't visit places in your area, this might be your best niche.
These shoppers present themselves as ordinary customers and make inquiries over the phone about a business's offerings. They observe the staff via telephone or internet chat and report their observations.
In-person shoppers might be sent on one or several mystery shopping assignments as part of a broader posting.
For example, an in-person shopper could visit one retail store and report their findings or visit multiple stores within an industry to collect data on a business's competitors.
Another task of in-person shoppers is to do video or audio recordings.
These specialized tasks are typically reserved for people with some experience, and these shoppers are expected to have their recording equipment. Some companies favor this more specialized niche because it provides additional contextual layers when evaluating.
Some companies want detailed feedback about their stores. Sometimes they will ask for a pricing audit in which the shopper tells management that they are a mystery shopper, allowing them into certain store areas to assess inventory and pricing.
If shoppers are asked to behave a certain way in the store to assess the staff's reaction, they may be asked to reveal themselves part of the way through the experience. These ‘reveal mystery shops' are often told to prevent the staff from moving forward on any reporting practice.
How Much Do Secret Shoppers Earn
The amount that shoppers make varies based on their experience, the complexity of their assignment, and how much time it takes. Typically, shoppers are paid for the job rather than for their time.
For an uncomplicated assignment, shoppers might earn up to $10. If shoppers are asked to perform more than simple data research, they may be compensated up to $100.
Sometimes, shoppers will not be paid but will be reimbursed for the items they purchase. Shoppers should always be compensated for their purchases.
However, shoppers might be asked to buy something they do not want or need. For example, if a shopper is asked to review a restaurant, they may not find value in the food they receive.
Some companies will give a purchase allowance.
For example, if a shopper is on assignment to try out a beauty salon, they will be given up to a certain amount to spend in exchange for their report.
Best In-Person Mystery Shopping Companies
Are you looking for mystery shopper jobs near you?
We've broken down a few of the most reputable companies and what sets them apart. Note that all of them have a few similarities. They are all free to sign up for and available in the United States.
You can sign up online, and once your application is approved, you are provided with a login. You use that login to select jobs you'd like to do and submit your results.
Here are five companies that offer in-person shopping:
Secret Shopper is one of the most reputable mystery shopping companies. They've been active since 1993 and have won several awards in the mystery shopping field from the MSPA. The company has been delivering market research and analysis for nearly three decades and spans various industries.
How to Sign Up
The sign up process is simple – users must agree to the Secret Shopper Ethics and Conduct, Terms and Conditions, and Policies and Procedures Agreement. Then, they complete a basic certification test and a questionnaire with all their personal information. Then, they receive their shopper ID and password. This will allow them to log in and schedule available shops.
Market Force's clients are banks, restaurants, and retail stores. They typically look for cleanliness, customer service, product selection, and more information. They have won several MSPA awards and the Shopper's Choice award three years in a row.
How to Sign Up
Shoppers sign up by creating a Shopper Force account with their name, address, email, and password. Then, they fill out several personal history questions and sign the Terms of Agreement. Then, they can start accepting jobs in the online portal.
BestMark is one of the largest mystery shopping companies by volume. Every month they offer their shop monthly mystery shopping opportunities. Their primary industries are restaurants and hotels, but they cover different industries.
How to Sign Up
Shoppers can sign up online with their personal information and a password. A back-end screening process typically takes up to 24 hours, and users receive a welcome email when their application has been approved.
Sinclair Customer Metrics
Sinclair Customer Metrics has been in business since 1987. They provide services such as secret video shops and secret telephone shops, which helps to set them apart from the competition.
How to Sign Up
Something unique about Sinclair Customer Metrics is that shoppers must take the Sinclair New Shopper Challenge and a survey. Shoppers can sign up with their name and email and are then asked to review the terms and other documents and agree to them. There is a secure online application process, as well.
The challenge is simple: shoppers must follow simple typing directions very closely. This helps to ensure that they can follow detailed instructions when on assignments in the future.
After the challenge and other requirements, shoppers take the new shopper survey. After all these requirements are fulfilled, the applicant can start mystery shopping with Sinclair.
IntelliShop is set apart from its competitors by its extensive list of industries. This helps ensure that every shopper finds an industry or assignment that interests them.
How to Sign Up
On the IntelliShop homepage, click the ‘Go' button. You can enter your email and read through the independent contractor agreement. Then, add all your basic information and bank details. This information is required to get paid via direct deposit, but they will not take any money from you.
Once this is complete, fill out the demographic questionnaire and tax information. Then, agree to the terms and contract and search for opportunities on the portal.
Best Phone or Internet-Based Mystery Shopping Companies
Are you looking to make money online?
If you don't have the ability or desire to work in-store, you can still find plenty of mystery shopping assignments online. Some companies specialize in this type of opportunity. Here are a few of our favorite mystery shopping jobs.
ARC is exclusively phone-based. The company hires people who monitor and analyze calls, so mystery shoppers do not do all the analyzing of their phone conversations. The shoppers that work for ARC report that it feels like a regular part-time position.
Mystery shoppers are independent contractors who often become analysts for the company in the future, so unlike some side-gigs, there is an opportunity for advancement.
Quest for Best
Quest for Best is known for its excellent customer support and as one of the highest-paid phone-based opportunities. Where it lacks is that it does not serve the entire country, so opportunities are limited. However, they have a map on their website that detwhere locations in which they have active shoppers.
Shoppers can apply online. Once the application is complete, they must wait to hear back from the company via email. The training is all online, and shoppers can shop via phone and in person.
Yardi Matrix is one of the only companies that hire their shoppers as W2 employees. This may be an excellent opportunity for those wanting a part-time job rather than doing mystery shopping as a side gig.
It also means that there is an opportunity for internal advancement. The company does most of its business in the property management industry but also has other fields. Shoppers can apply online.
This company, while not currently taking new shoppers, is worth a mention. To shop for Intelichek, one must first submit an inquiry and application. If they have openings, they will let you know. Intelichek employs Intelichek shoppers and, therefore, must undergo an interview process.
Employees are given flexible schedules but must be available to work at least 15 hours per week. They also train their hires to learn all the skills necessary to be an excellent mystery shopper. The pay is small at only $1 per call when starting, but the more calls a shopper makes, the more the base pay increases.
Avoid Mystery Shopping Scams
While you may think that mystery shopping is too good to be true, some companies are untrustworthy. There are plenty of legitimate mystery shopping companies available. The companies that we listed above have been vetted and are not scams.
However, if you are doing your research online and come across a company you didn't read about in this article, ensure that it is not a scam. Here are some tips to avoid scams:
Never Pay in Advance
Never wire money, and never pay cash in advance!
This is the most common mistake when it comes to mystery shopping. Scams often ask you to ‘register' to become a mystery shopper and pay a fee. Even if the company says the price is for certification, a legitimate company will never ask you to pay upfront.
Note: Before applying for any mystery shopper job, check if the company is legit with the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. Review the FTC guide on avoiding mystery shopping scams here.
Only Work With Trusted Companies
Be sure to do your research before working with a mystery shopping company. You can visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website to see their database of trusted companies and get tips on how to apply for shopping jobs.
While the MSPA offers several certifications and memberships, you do not need to be a member or pay for a certificate to browse jobs on their website.
Never Send Them Money
This is worth repeating – never send money!
A common scam in the industry is for a shopper's first assignment to evaluate a money transfer service. The shopper will receive a check and be instructed to deposit it into their bank account, then withdraw the money and send it to a designated third party.
The scam is that the check is fake, and by the time you figure it out, the scammer will be long gone. You'll be left with no money and a compromised bank account.
The Bottom Line
Mystery shopping is a great way to earn money, especially if you enjoy being analytical while shopping. Mystery shoppers make cash by being undercover shoppers and providing companies with valuable information that they can use to improve the overall customer experience.
There are several great companies to work for and scams to watch out for, and nearly anyone can become a secret shopper in a niche they enjoy.