What is Mystery Shopping?


Mystery shopping, sometimes called secret shopping, is a way for businesses to get valuable feedback and shoppers to make money by shopping.

Mystery Shopping
Mystery Shopping

Earn Money by Shopping

Mystery shopping has been around for decades, and thousands of people every day do it. The premise is that businesses contract with mystery shopping companies that hire people to take on specific mystery shopping trips, called shops, in their local areas. Some of these companies only take on people from specific regions. Others are nationwide. Getting signed up for these companies usually requires some type of comprehension test that can be taken through the site.

All of these companies need reliable shoppers to read the instructions for each individual shop, go out and perform it and to report back about it. Sometimes the shop is proven to the company by a receipt being scanned into the site. Other times it may be by scanning in a business card or by taking a picture of a product once you have purchased it. Many of the pizza delivery shops that I have performed required me to take multiple pictures of the pizza and to email those to the shopping company.

The amount of money that you make per shop varies with the type of shop and the company offering it. A typical, non-complicated shop that involves a small purchase generally pays $8 to $10 plus reimbursement for the purchase. A more complicated shop that involves submitting pictures and long reports may be $20 or more. Then there are location shops, such as apartment shops. These require you to go on a tour of an apartment complex with someone from the leasing office and to find out how the apartments are presented. These typically pay $35 to $45 each. 

Mystery Shopping Tips

To get the most out of your experiences with secret shopping, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Always read the instructions thoroughly and email with questions before your shop. If you make a mistake, and I have done this before, you can end up not being paid for the shop at all. When that happens, you are out the money spent and get nothing in return.
  • Make sure that you are reliable. Every company fires shoppers who are late with their reports or who flake on shops. Their clients need these reports, and they look bad when they don't have them.
  • Do shops that you would have done anyway. Because many shops pay little, it's best to choose shops that will pay you to buy something that you were planning to buy anyway. For me this has included everything from a weekly dinner out to a new shirt to a few gallons of gas.
  • Sign up with multiple companies. Any one company may be out of work at any given time, but when you are signed up with many companies, there is always work to be had. None of these companies have non-compete clauses that won't allow you to shop for other companies.
  • Avoid shops that ask you to return things. These shops will double the time that you spend doing the shop, and the pay isn't any more than a regular shop. And on top of that, you don't get anything to take home.

Mystery Shopping Scams

The secret shopping industry has a mediocre reputation because of the number of scams out there. There are people out there who claim that you have to pay them for job leads or pay extra for access to the "good" shops. None of this is true. You never have to pay a dime to mystery shop, nor should you. There are dozens and dozens of companies out there who are always hiring shoppers, and they will be happy to have you sign up with them without any fee involved. Avoid anyone who says you need to pay them to get access to a job database.

More About Mystery Shopping

Updated: 12/04/2011, SDKP
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HealthforLife on 04/02/2012

Thanks for the information! I was always curious about the details of mystery shopping. Just wondering... Would you suggest any specific companies that are highly reputable or that you have shopped for yourself?

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