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Is Mystery Shopping Really Worth the Effort?

For those of you who may not have heard of mystery shopping, it is an information gathering and quality assurance tool used by market research companies on behalf of their commercial clients. Mystery shopping may also be used by watchdog organizations or even companies themselves to measure certain parameters such as customer service, product selection, agent fairness, etc. The mystery shoppers who are contraced by the market research company or other establishment do not (usually) disclose their identity to the surveyed shop but act as typical customers.

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They are also sent to the surveyed shop with a specific set of instructions; for example, a mystery shopper surveying a restaurant may be asked to observe whether the hot items on the restaurant’s buffet table are actually hot. When the mystery shopper has finished surveying the assigned shop, he or she fills out a detailed questionnaire at home and submits receipts. Once that paperwork has been successfully filed, the mystery shopper is reimbursed.

There are many market research companies that offer mystery shopping to everyday folks like you and me as a way of making extra money. There is no special training required to become a mystery shopper; in most cases, you simply submit your personal and contact information to the company and then check for shops that fit your profile. However, some mystery shopping companies do ask that potential shoppers go through their certification program before those shoppers can receive assignments. This certification ensures that the shoppers know and understand the company’s guidelines before engaging in mystery shopping. In such cases, the certification program is specific to the hiring company and is free.

For mystery shoppers who would like to get immediate preference on assignments from mystery shopping companies, the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, or MSPA, provides two levels of certification, termed Silver and Gold. These certifications are not free. Keep in mind that no mystery shopping company should require you to have MSPA Silver or Gold certification before you can start accepting shop assignments; however, having one or both of these certificates helps you get more and better assignments.

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Mystery Shopping Scams

As with almost any work-at-home opportunity, there are mystery shopping scams out there too. “Middleman” sites that appear to be legitimate mystery shopping companies on the outside will ask you to pay an up-front or monthly membership fee before you receive mystery shopping assignments from them. Once you pay that fee, you receive the shopping assignments; however, these assignments would’ve been available for free had you gone to the mystery shopping companies directly instead of through the middleman site.

One of the best ways to ensure that you aren’t getting scammed is to check if the mystery shopping company is a member of the MSPA. Not every legitimate company belongs to the MSPA, but if it does, you can be assured that it is legitimate.

Is there money in mystery shopping?

So, how much money can you make through mystery shopping? Here is an example shop assignment that I completed not long ago:

We are currently looking for shoppers for great Italian restaurant shops in Madison WI.

Reimbursement amount is up to $70.

Shop must be performed with at least 2 adult diners.

We have lunch and dinner shops available in April and May. Shopper and guest must order two different entrees, a side dish and appetizer or dessert plus beverages. Children are welcome.

As you can see, this assignment did not make me money per se but I did get two free meals out of the deal. The shop report that had to be filled out within 24 hours of completing this assignment was rather lengthy and involved. Still- two free meals!

Here is another shop assignment that I applied for a few months ago (but was not assigned):

This batch of shops can be performed by a female or male shopper shopping alone or by a couple pretending to be getting married.

The main person doing this shop must be over 18.

Whether shopping alone or as a couple you need play the role as someone who is part of a committed couple looking for bridal sets. You can also perform the shop as though you are part of an established couple looking for “the set we couldn’t afford the first time.”

I need detail oriented shoppers between who are reliable and can write well.

These shops normally take between 15 and 20 minutes.

You are not required to make a purchase.

For this shop, you will be scheduled to go to a specific jewelry store. In order to complete this shop correctly, you will:

–Call ahead to the location ahead of time and ask their operating hours and confirm the address.
–You will visit the designated jewelry store, as a couple who is looking for engagement rings and wedding sets.
–Obtain a business card from the location.
–Submit your well written shop online within 24 hours.

Each shop pays $20 via Paypal.

As you can see, this assignment involves a call and visit to a jewelry store followed by a written evaluation of the shop. The compensation is only $20. Depending on where you live and how long it takes for you to visit and evaluate the shop, you could easily spend two hours on this assignment.

The Bottom Line With Mystery Shopping

To begin with, mystery shopping is not a scam but neither is it a full-time or even steady job. If you sign up with several mystery shopping companies, you will probably be doing 1-2 assignments per day at the rough equivalent of $10/hour. In some cases, your compensation will not be monetary and may include free meals, clothing, oil changes, product discounts, etc.

Personally, I’ve been able to do mystery shopping only because I’m now a full-time freelance writer and can therefore set my own work hours. Back when I was employed with an outside company, there was no way I could mystery shop around my work schedule. In many cases, the assigned shops had a completion hour assigned to them and that time typically occurred during business hours.

I’m not the biggest fan of mystery shopping but I’ve seen some of my friends “work it” and make several hundred bucks every month. As for me, I spend way too much effort on the assignments to really make them worth my time (which could be spent writing). Also, with gas prices rising ever higher, it’s hard to justify driving all over town for an extra $20.

Mystery Shopping Companies That I Have Worked With:

Here is a list of some legitimate mystery shopping companies that I have been associated with and some company reviews:

Confero Inc.

KSS International: This company offers shop assignments that pay anywhere from $5-$20 as well as high paying assignments like $40 oil changes. Payout is really slow though; my last assignment took almost two months to pay out by Paypal. I don’t do new shops with KSS until I’m paid, so I’ve done only three shops with them thus far.

NSite Inc.
SurfMerchants LLC
Summit Scheduling

TrendSource: This site passes out a lot of easy-to-do mystery shops that pay $8-$20/each. However, I did have trouble with a Papa John’s assignment that was rejected on the basis of my photos- and similar complaints against PJ’s have been heard from other mystery shoppers. Payout is twice a month by direct deposit or check. Canada/UK payout is by Paypal only.

If you’d like to find mystery shopping companies in your geographic area, you can do an online search using keywords like “mystery shopping” and input your town or region. Alternately, you can peruse the mystery shopping member list published by MSPA and find out if any of the listed companies operate in your area.

11 thoughts on “Is Mystery Shopping Really Worth the Effort?”

  1. Tax write-offs people. Work full time in a 9-5 job and part time as a mystery shopper. When you mystery shop, combine this with other errands and write off the gasoline. Go overnight to a casino or beach, fit in a mystery shop, and write off the gas and part of the lodging. Use it to your advantage.

  2. Stay away from Mystery Shopping. I can tell you from experience, you will NOT make money. The jobs pay $5.00-$10.00 each. You pay your own expense & fuel. Factor in on-site time, travel time and the time to do those lengthy reports, you will make $2.00 per hour. I did this for a year before giving up. Anyone who tells you they make hundreds per month is fabricating truths. They may make hundreds per month, gross, but profit is low. And then there is the maintenance, gas, oil changes and thousands of miles you are putting on your car. Do not fall for this. The only ones making money in Mystery Shopping are the mystery shopping companies who will lure you into their scheme.

  3. Mystery shopping is a amazing an fun way to earn in your free time. It has been a very rewarding experience, I have been associated with a company called bare international and so far I have had a very good experience. the best part of mystery shopping is its according to your convenience and you get to choose what you want to do and what you don’t.

    • I tend to agree with you. I have worked with Bare a few times lately. I find it rewarding. My husband doesn’t get out much, he’s disabled. I recently been doing apartment shops. Those pay $50 minimal. The report is grueling. They take at least 1 and a half hours to input. I just enjoy it.

  4. I think it depends on the type of product being offerred. I worked in an electronics shop and it was pretty easy to tell who was a mystery shopper because they asked lots of questions about special offers, details, colours, and seemed to know what they wanted to buy before asking.

  5. C’mon you have mixed views doesn’t know what to think after reading this. mystery shopping is great gig for people who need part-time money. I mean there is gonna be some effort people are going to have to do. It is not free.

  6. People can realistically make a part-time income mystery shopping, and not all assignments require an out of pocket purchase. Some assignments are simple telephone calls that are made from home, and others require a visit to a retailer or business. Assignments range from evaluating cashiers and employees to verifying the location of a business or the signage and menu items displayed. There are many different types of assignments and literally hundreds of legitimate companies to work with. It’s free to mystery shop, always has been, always will be. A legitimate mystery shopping company will never charge you to register, or to receive training, a list of companies, or access to “the best jobs.” There are many great resources available, and they’re all free. To find legitimate companies, try visiting the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), International Association of Service Evaluators (IASE), or National Association for Retail Marketing Services (NARMS), and remember to vet companies with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Below are some resource links to help you get started. Happy shopping!


  7. No, it’s not worth it! You may never recieve the money and you did the work. Some will say your grammar is lacking and deside not to pay you, others will just never pay without any reason. Most of the time it takes them 3 months to pay. Maybe if they paid me interest I would not mind it. Lol! Why risk working for free or being out the money? Some assignments are only a free meal or two and a huge form to fill out. But you decide if you think its worth it. You have to find the shop online, reading it, driving there, doing it, put up your money , driving home, filling out the form, scan and fax receipts and waiting for a payment. Most don’t pay for your gas which is $4 per gallon. With options such as Living Social and Groupon why waste your time? You can have a fabulous stress free meal for two for $25 and no hassle.

  8. Yes for sure ! Mystery shopping is really a worth the effort. Because Mystery shopping provides a form of customer feedback. Businesses pay for the feedback of mystery shoppers and use it to improve customer service, product quality, or adherence to certain rules. Because the identity of a mystery shopper is a secret, mystery shopping allows stores and restaurants to know what a customer experience is like when treatment is unbiased. Not to mention, businesses hope that customer service will improve overall if employees know any given customer is a mystery shopper.


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