Free food and trinkets are great but they don’t exactly pay the bills.

In a former post on I’ve Tried That, I noted how mystery shopping may not be worth the effort, especially if you’re looking to make money from your efforts instead of just scoring free meals and services.

I have since delved further into mystery shopping and discovered that it’s a much bigger world than I previously imagined. In fact, mystery shopping is so big that it even has a dedicated forum, called the Mystery Shop Forum, which lists over 200 mystery shopping companies.

Mystery Shopping and Compensation

In the course of reviewing a restaurant or car service shop, you are often compensated with a meal or oil change, respectively. However, if there is no easy way to barter for your time and effort, most mystery shop companies will pay you a flat fee per shop evaluation.

What’s nice about this arrangement, aside from making money, is that you don’t need to spend your own money first. Typically, with barter-based mystery shopping, you must first spend your money on a meal, etc., and then wait for reimbursement from the company. With payment-based mystery shopping, you just wait for payment.

Thus, for a shopper hoping to score some cash rather than goods and services, her best bet is on shops that involve businesses and niche services. Thus, when looking for mystery shops, think product demonstrations and taking photos of businesses rather than accounting for the fixings in your submarine sandwich.

The overall money can be quite good for payment-based mystery shopping. This is especially true if you learn to evaluate a few specific businesses and keep that niche knowledge fresh in your mind when going out and generating new evaluations. In fact, for some high-end business evaluations, your pay might move upwards of $20/hour.

High-Paying Mystery Shopping Sites

Ellis, Partners in Management Solutions

This company has been around for almost 30 years and offers apartment mystery shopping. Mystery shoppers with EPMS pose as interested renters and talk to the property management staff and leasing agents.

The entire shop typically starts with a phone call to schedule the visit, followed up by a physical visit to the office. Shoppers are instructed to critique the agent on how well an apartment is shown, whether the agent is knowledgeable about apartment features, etc. Shoppers may also evaluate the area landscaping and leasing office conditions and cleanliness.

Site evaluations and reports take 2-3 hours to complete, with payment being $30-$40 per shop. Some mystery shoppers with EPMS complain that the reports take a long time to complete and contain highly repetitive questions.


This global market research company offers mystery shopping opportunities in the United States as well as Ireland and Great Britain. GFK spans a number of different industries and fields and considers mystery shopping to be just one arm of its marketing efforts. Therefore, the shops that can be performed include anything from going to a casino and speaking with 10 different employees to evaluating the speed and detail of a gas station to eating a five star restaurant.

Given what GFK shoppers have noted, restaurant shops often reimburse purchase costs and pay for the shop itself, enabling shoppers to earn at least some money (up to $15/hour) for their time. Retail and service shops pay from $10-$50, while detailed visits to casinos or hotels pay as high as $90. GFK has also been noted to pay out bonuses for rush work or finished reports that then had processing issues.

GFK shoppers have complained that shop forms are detailed and take several hours to complete. Also, GFK has been reported to have issues with shopper-agent communications, which can delay reports and/or their payout.

ICC Decision Services

This mystery shopping provider comes with some great reviews and commendations by shoppers, with one shopper noting how the company should be a model for other mystery shopping providers to emulate and follow.

ICC DS offers great transparency for shoppers, with contact names and information provided right on its website. Shops are mostly focused on retailers and grocery chains and pay well; some shoppers have noted making an average of $25/hour. The shop assignments are rather long, however, and in some cases require up to six hours of work.

While ICC DS offers longer and more detailed assignments, the actual assignments seem to be fewer in number. Shoppers have expressed frustration and simply not finding work at times.

Northwest Loss Prevention Consultants

NLPC works with businesses in several different aims including apartment, restaurant and retail mystery shopping. The business will also hire out shoppers to perform competitor analysis, such as by checking prices of items at competing stores. Finally, NLPC offers integrity shops, which entail shoppers observing or even videotaping employees and noting transactions.

NLPC offers apartment shops from $25-$45 and retail mystery shops from $10-$40. Competitor analysis tasks are typically short and pay out about $10, while integrity shops pay anywhere from $30-$60 depending on the length of time involved and whether a client wants video footage or photographs.

The only noted issue with NLPC is that submitted reports are rather long and detailed. New and/or inexperienced shoppers report getting burned due to reports that are submitted and then never accepted by the client because of either insufficient detail or word count.

Want to collaborate with mystery shopping providers directly?

Finally, mystery shoppers who want to collaborate more closely with the providing companies can now join the shopper membership program hosted at Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America (MSPA-NA). This trade association was originally organized to represent only the provider companies, but has since opened up its virtual doors to accept shoppers.

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