The Skinny on Mystery Shopping: Can You Make Any Money?

Shhh... Don't tell anyone

Shhh… Don’t tell anyone

Mystery Shopping is one of those “jobs” that sounds too good to be true. Stop the clock. You’re going to pay me to shop and eat out at restaurants? Where do I sign up?

Well, like most things, reality lies somewhere in between your pie-in-the-sky delusions and utter pessimism. The good news is, there ARE legitimate companies that will pay you to secretly audit stores like Abercrombie and Fitch, Five Guys, and Discount Tire. Here’s the bad news: your take home pay from one shop may or may not be enough to pay for a Zagnut bar and there are a ton of predatory companies scamming potential shoppers.

So, how do you know which companies are legit? Thankfully, your fearless hero has done the legwork for you, going so far as to apply for jobs with several companies and complete a variety of secret shops. Hold your applause. I’m merely a humble public servant (who takes cash, credit cards, and checks wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more). Here are my findings.

Find a good company 

Like I said, there are scam companies. They typically charge you a fee and then connect you to a job you could have gotten for free. So, if they’re asking for a fee, avoid it like a ranting lunatic on the NY subway. These are the companies I’ve worked for and have not had a single issue with getting paid:

Best Mark
Sinclair Customer Metrics
Market Force
Experience Exchange

If you want to make a real go of making some extra income from this, sign up for several companies. Each one has contracts with different businesses, so signing up for a bunch will give you a wide range of shops to choose from.

Have Realistic Expectations

No one is going to make a living as a mystery shopper. There is one woman who was able to turn it into $14,000 a year, but not without an enormous amount of effort. Expect to make $5-15 per shop (plus reimbursement if you have to buy something) for the average job and expect it to take up about 2 hours of your time.

You’ll spend about 30 minutes reading all the stipulations. For example, you may have to do the shop after 5pm, try on two pieces of clothing, call ahead to get directions, or dance on a pogo stick at the Wendy’s. Each jobs has a unique set of requirement that must be followed to a T. If not, you may not get paid.

You’ll then spend anywhere from 20-30 minutes actually doing the shop. Make sure you get the names of everyone who helps you and keep an eye out for small details as you may be asked later.

Finally, you’ll usually need close to an hour to submit your survey of the shop which involves answering a plethora of questions and writing a few paragraphs about your experience.

So, don’t expect to do a Scrooge McDuck into your in-home bank vault after this, but do expect to be reimbursed for a meal or product plus a decent fee. I’ve heard from several people that, the more jobs you do, the more lucrative the jobs become and I’ve seen some that offer $65 and up to get your taxes done or pretend to shop for a car.

One final note: there are some well paying shops that require you to take out loans from those “fast cash” places for a healthy $60. For the love of all that is right and good, I beg you, do not get a loan from those predacious carnivores. Thank you.

If you have any questions or insights, feel free to let me know!


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