If you have ever heard of mystery shoppers, you have probably thought that it sounds like a pretty cushy gig. Getting paid to visit and evaluate stores? Sounds easy enough.
What you may be surprised to find out is that it is actually quite easy to get started as a mystery shopper. On top of this, you can even make some decent money from it. If you are looking for a way to bring in some extra cash, you may find that mystery shopping is an enjoyable way to do so.
How to Avoid Scams
The toughest part of getting started as a mystery shopper is not the work you are trying to find, but the work you are trying to avoid.
The mystery shopping scene is full of scams that want to take advantage of what you don’t know about this industry. Scammers will often promise you things that sound too good to be true, only for the opportunity to turn out to indeed be too good to be true. It is annoying and it can be tough to know what is a scam if you don’t know what to look out for.
The most important thing to keep in mind when looking out for scams is that they should not ask you for any money up front. If they want you to pay them a small one-time or recurring fee up front with promises of lavish rewards on the other end of the transaction, they are not legitimate.
So what is too good to be true? If they are guaranteeing you the opportunity for jobs or a set income, it is probably a scam. The normal process for mystery shopping jobs is to find a listing for a job that needs a shopper, and then sign up for the job. There will never be a guarantee that you can get work, as it will be on you to go find that work. If a company is insisting that you will definitely be given work or a set income, there is something fishy afoot.
No reputable company in any industry will ever ask you to pay them to work for them. It is a massive red flag that says something is fishy, and usually it means that they are being predatory. You are getting into this gig to make money, so don’t go losing any to scam artists.
You will also not want to take part in any secret shopping jobs that ask you to transfer money. It is normal for jobs to require you to purchase something up front and accept reimbursement later, but they should not ask you to deposit checks or anything of that nature. This is a telltale sign that you have been caught up in a scam, which means you will not want to proceed with that job.
While it is normal for mystery shopping companies to ask certain information of you, there is a limit to what they should be asking. No employer that has paid you less than $600 should need to ask for your Social Security number, so it is another red flag if they want this information from you up front. Be careful with your private information, as there are plenty of scammers out there that would love to get their hands on it.
If this all sounds like a lot to keep track of, have no fear. There are plenty of sources that help to make it easy for you to find reputable companies to shop for.
Volition.com is a fantastic place to start out, as it provides perhaps the most comprehensive database of reliable mystery shopping companies. The information they get comes from actual mystery shoppers, which means you will be hearing what it is like to work for that company from people that actually have the experience.
There are also a number of groups devoted to sorting out the good eggs from the bad ones when it comes to reputable mystery shopping companies. For best results, make sure that any company you sign up for is a member of one of the following organizations: the Independent Mystery Shoppers’ Coalition (IMSC), the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPR), the International Association of Service Evaluators (IASE), and the National Association for Retail Marketing Services (NARMS).
While not every decent company will be a member of one of these organizations, they provide you with a great indicator of reliability. This can be incredibly useful to those just starting out, as you may not have as good of an idea of what to expect early on. By getting going with companies that you know you can trust right away, you will become acclimated with industry norms and develop a better eye for what is a scam and what is a legitimate opportunity.
How Much Money Can You Make from Mystery Shopping?
So the big question is how much you can actually make from mystery shopping. It is important to know up front that you will probably not be able to make it a career, but that doesn’t mean you can’t generate some useful income from taking this on as a side endeavor.
You can generally expect to make about $10 per assignment. This can vary greatly, but you will usually make something close to this figure for each job you take on.
Sometimes you will also be asked to make a purchase up front, which you will be reimbursed for later. For many jobs, you will be able to keep whatever you are asked to purchase. This is only true for items up to a certain limit, so don’t expect to walk out of the store with a complimentary iPhone. Still, you might be able to get a little something extra for your work.
A big factor in whether you can make mystery shopping profitable is how long the job will take you. All jobs should include a description that gives you at least a small indication of how much time you can expect to spend before completing the task, which will often be useful in determining if a given job is worthwhile. Some jobs may only take you 15 minutes, while others may take a few hours. Make sure that you are being paid enough to justify taking the gig ahead of time.
You may also be paid more if you are asked to make a larger purchase up front. This will be especially common in stores that simply don’t sell many cheap items, as you will be more or less required to buy something expensive if you intend to get the full shopper experience. Because of the added inconvenience of purchasing a more expensive item for the task, companies will often be willing to give you a little bit of extra money to make it worth the trouble.
In the end, the best method for making good money while mystery shopping is simply to take on a lot of work. While this won’t be something you can pay all of your bills with, you can pull in a few hundred dollars a month during your spare time if you are diligent and willing to take on as many jobs as you can get your hands on.
There are no guarantees in mystery shopping, but there are plenty of opportunities for the taking. In the end, it is your responsibility to go out there and find the jobs that are right for you. If you are able to do this, you can start to make surprisingly supple cash in a relatively short amount of time.
They’re Paying Me, So Is it a Job?
It is important to understand that mystery shopping is not like working at the drive thru or in an office building. You are being paid to do work, but you are not an employee. Instead, you are an independent contractor.
An independent contractor has a few important distinctions from an employee.
Firstly, there are no benefits or guarantees. You will not get a health plan or a 401(k) for working as an independent contractor, which is a big part of why it is not recommended that you pursue mystery shopping as anything more than an additional source of income. You will want to do it as a supplement to your career, not as your career.
This also means that you will be expected to keep track of your earnings for when tax season comes around. You will not have the benefit of a company tracking these earnings for you, so it is important that you stay organized. You do not want to save it for later when it is time to report how much money you have earned, as you may have a more difficult time finding the exact numbers months later.
Most people do not go into mystery shopping expecting to make a career out of it, but it is important to understand that it is different than being a true employee in several ways. By knowing these differences ahead of time, you will have a better idea of what to expect when you begin mystery shopping.
How to get Started Mystery Shopping
In order to begin mystery shopping, you will actually need to sign up for a few companies and begin taking on jobs. You will want to use the above tips on avoiding scams and finding reputable companies, but once you’ve done that it is time to make sure you are in a position to successfully mystery shop.
There will a few things you will need in order to begin mystery shopping.
First of all, you will need to be at least 18 years old. While there are some jobs you can have when you are still a legal minor, mystery shopping is usually not one of them. If you are not yet a legal adult, you will have to wait before you can start mystery shopping.
You will also need a reliable Internet connection. You will want to be able to use the Internet to find the best sites for mystery shoppers, but you will also need to be able to promptly send them the reports that they are looking for once you have completed jobs. If you do not have consistent access to an Internet connection, you are going to have trouble getting started with mystery shopping.
It is important that you have reliable transportation when you want to mystery shop. While all mystery shopping companies will let you determine which zip codes you are willing to shop in, you are pretty certainly going to have to go to stores that are outside of walking distance from your house. If you don’t have a way to get around conveniently, it is going to be difficult for you to make things work as a mystery shopper.
Most jobs that you take as a mystery shopper will only require casual attire, but sometimes you will need to wear something a little bit nicer. On the plus side, these will often be fun jobs to take. However, you do need to have the proper attire in your closet before you take on these jobs. Be conscientious of which business you are signing up to visit so that you can make sure ahead of time that you will actually be able to go. If you are planning to show up to the five-star restaurant in sweatpants, you may want to think twice.
As mentioned earlier, you will also often need to be able to pay for items while shopping. These will usually be small and covered by the company that is paying you, but you will still be required to have the money to pay for them up front. The company should let you know ahead of time whether you need to purchase anything, whether there is anything specific they want you to purchase, and up to what price they are willing to reimburse you. If you do not have the money to make these purchases up front, you will want to make sure you are taking on jobs that you can afford.
You will often also need a camera, as sometimes the company will want you to take pictures of various aspects of the store. A phone camera works best as it is a subtler way to take photographs that also allows you to easily upload them, but a digital camera will work too.
Your phone will also be useful as a method for keeping track of your notes. You will want to make sure that you can remember various aspects of the store you visit to mention in your report, but it will be difficult to remember everything accurately if you don’t have a note-taking tool with you. While a note pad works fine, it is not subtle and may be a dead giveaway to some employees that you are a secret shopper. A phone is much subtler, and often easier to write on quickly when standing.
If you are able to meet all of these requirements, it sounds like you are ready to start making extra money as a mystery shopper. While it may take you a bit of time to start getting jobs reliably, once you get the hang of things you may find yourself making more money than you expected to.