1. Money
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shopping

How to Shop and Eat and Get Paid to Do It


Imagine having a job that pays you to shop. If that sounds enticing to you then you may want to look into applying for a position as a mystery shopper. The position may not pay much and most people cannot do it as a full-time job, however if all you want to do is earn a little pocket change or eat at a good restaurant for free, than mystery shopping could be a viable option for you to explore.

Why Would a Company Employ People to Mystery Shop?

One of the most difficult things for any service type company to get a good grasp on is how their employees are representing the company when no one is looking. Comment cards and follow-up letters are sent from companies such as hotels, but one of the biggest trends in the past decade has been for companies to hire people to go into their businesses and shop and secretly rate their experience.

How Does Secret Shopping Work?

Different companies seek different types of feedback but most all want to know if their place of business was clean and if the employees were engaging and courteous. To help them determine this they may hire a research company and in turn the research company will hire, on a contract basis, local mystery shoppers. The mystery shopper hired is given a questionnaire and basic instructions to complete within a specific time range.

Do I Need Special Training?

The position as a mystery shopper does not require extensive training.
  • Being detail oriented would be helpful because there is some out-of-pocket expense involved.
  • A certain understanding of industry standards is also helpful so it is best to stick to businesses you feel comfortable visiting.
  • For training, books on the topic of mystery shopping are available however most information can be found for free online.

Points to Consider Before Getting Involved In Secret Shopping

  • Avoid companies who want you to pay to list with them as a mystery shopper. Such companies are often times scams. Real research companies will not charge you money to list with them. However it will cost you in out-of-pocket expenses to get started.
  • You are required to keep track of approved expenses and include any documentation necessary as proof, such as receipts and any actual merchandise you may purchase in order to be reimbursed.
  • Most companies will have you complete an expense report and attach all appropriate receipts and then they will send you a check within four to six weeks.
  • Travel expenses are sometimes reimbursed and sometimes not. Hiking gas prices could eat up any profit you might gain and it is an important expense to consider.
  • Read the contract carefully and have a complete understanding of reimbursable expenses before you agree to do the work.
  • By setting yourself up as a home business any non-reimbursable expenses may qualify as a deduction on your yearly taxes. Designing a good record keeping system to log in expenses will be beneficial at tax time.

How Much Will You Be Paid?

Not very much. The average assignment will pay around $10 - $15 per establishment. The more you get paid per assignment the more competitive it is to land the job. Some companies may not pay you anything but you will get their service for free such as restaurants, movie theaters and amusement parks.

The Bottom Line

If you are looking for a way to earn a few extra dollars or a free meal, mystery shopping could be a source of free entertainment for you. Just take a look at the whole picture before jumping into it. Remember, your time is of value too.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.