Mystery Shopper Jobs: A Beginner’s Guide

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Since you’re reading these words, you’re likely the type of person that nobody has to ask twice to go shopping. You’re down to visit any store at any time, from Walmart and Target to T.J. Maxx and Best Buy, because you love scoping out good deals and seeing the latest seasonal trends. 

If that sounds like you, you’ll be happy to learn that you really can get paid to go shopping and spend money. This is called mystery shopping — and many people regularly do it to bring in extra money on the side. Some even do it full-time.

This article explains what mystery shopping is and some of the best mystery shopping companies to work with. You will also learn how to take advantage of this opportunity and get paid to do what you love. 

Here’s a disclaimer before moving forward: Mystery shopping won’t make you a ton of money. But every drop in the bucket counts, so it’s worth knowing about. 

Top 4 Mystery Shopper Jobs to Consider 

Most companies arrange mystery shoppers through third-party organizations. Here are some of the top mystery shopper organizations that you should look into.

  1. Secret Shopper
  2. Field Agent
  3. BestMark
  4. Intellishop

1. Secret Shopper

Secret Shopper is one of the oldest mystery shopping companies, having been around since 1990.

The company’s mission is to provide actionable intelligence based on demographic and other specific information to clients across multiple industries — including banking and finance, healthcare and medical, and fitness and salons, among many others. 

Workers typically receive payments between $15 to $25 for shopping or they receive reimbursement for a meal. You have to be 18 to sign up and agree to their terms and conditions. 

2. Field Agent

Field Agent is another leading company claiming to have a network of over 1 million shoppers across the world. Sign up for a free account, and then fill out a list of questions to help the company get to know your shopping profile. 

Once you sign up, Field Agent gives you jobs to do in your local area. They’ll let you know what you have to accomplish and when they need it done. You’ll have a few hours to do most of the tasks, so you’ll need to work quickly. 

You can use Field Agent for mystery shopping, buying items, and auditing stores. 

3. BestMark

BestMark operates a bit differently than some of the other providers in this space, as they are a bit more selective. The company requires you to fill out an application for work as a Field Representative.

BestMark Field Representatives may include mystery shoppers, intercept interviewers who gather information from people when they exit a store, compliance auditors, and panelists who participate in moderator-led panel groups or focus groups.

4. Intellishop 

Intellishop is another premier company that works to maintain customer experience and reputation management. The firm works across multiple industries — like real estate, home goods, and shopping malls, to name just a few. 

Intellishop pays via PayPal and they pay by the job. You can work as a mystery shopper on location, over the phone, or online.

What is Mystery Shopping?

Mystery shopping is a job where a company pays you to shop for market research purposes. 

You basically go undercover, enter a store, and walk around collecting intelligence for the company. Many companies offer mystery shopping opportunities, including home goods stores, fast food locations, grocery stores, and retailers. 

Mystery shopping may include making phone calls, filling out questionnaires, or attending events. When working secret shopper jobs, there are a variety of different tasks you might be asked to complete.

Why do companies pay for mystery shoppers?

In recent years, the customer experience has emerged as one of the most critical business drivers. In fact, according to a study from PwC, 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience.

As such, companies are willing to go above and beyond to protect and improve the customer experience, And sometimes, the best way to get a true measure of the customer experience is to use actual consumers, who will give honest and unbiased feedback.

This is where the mystery shopper role comes into the equation. With that in mind, here are some of the things a mystery shopper looks for in any store they step foot in.

Customer service

Mystery shoppers are usually asked to investigate a store’s overall level of customer service. For example, the company will want to know whether an attendant greeted the customer upon entering the store, how easy it was to find a staff member to ask a question, and how knowledgeable that individual was about their products and location, among other things.

Cleanliness and organization

Retailers and grocery stores are famous for conducting last-minute clean-ups and spot checks before an auditor comes in to avoid negative reviews. Therefore, part of your job as a mystery shopper may be to compare the cleanliness and organization of a store to the previous inspection. 

For example, the store may ask you to notice if clothes were neatly folded and put away on the shelves or whether products were in their right location. You’ll also look at the quality of the floors, restrooms, and dressing rooms, along with whatever else your employer asks you to keep tabs on.

Product offerings 

Stores need to make sure that branch locations are stocking their shelves properly. As such, you may need to search for specific products and then purchase the items. If you have to make any purchases, the store typically reimburses you.

Tips for Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopping sounds like a walk in the park. But it’s not the easiest way to make money. Here are some tips to consider as you begin determining whether mystery shopping makes sense for you. 

Work with multiple companies 

Most mystery shopping companies don’t restrict you from working with other companies. Of course, you’ll want to check the rules to be sure you don’t violate your agreement. However, the trick is to try and work for as many mystery shopping companies as possible if you want to maximize this opportunity. 

Watch your mileage 

If you do a lot of mystery shopping, your gas mileage could quickly add up. You’ll pay gas and tolls and you’ll put wear and tear on your vehicle. 

Consider consulting with a tax advisor, and look for ways to write these expenses off as business costs since you’ll be working as an independent contractor. You may be able to reduce your taxable income this way, putting money back in your pocket at the end of the year. 

You should also keep a running tab of any additional items that you purchase for this line of work — like professional attire, office supplies, or any other reasonable expenses. Again, talk to a tax advisor to see what you should consider writing off. 

Avoid buying too many items

Mystery shopping can be dangerous from a financial standpoint — especially if you’re shopping for expensive items and bringing in extra cash. A watch here and a nice pair of pants there can add up. 

If you’re not careful, you could wind up spending more money than you bring in while mystery shopping — going over budget and racking up high credit card bills. 

Remember that you’re not going to stores or malls to shop personally — you’re going to work. Treat it as a profession — and not as a hobby — so that it remains a profitable endeavor. 

Be on the lookout for out for scammers

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has advised consumers about mystery shopper scams. According to the FTC, legitimate mystery shopping opportunities exist but there are a lot of scams in this space. 

According to the FTC, you shouldn’t have to pay an application fee, deposit a check, or wire money to someone else to participate in a mystery shopping opportunity.

The FTC recommends you research mystery shopping opportunities and research reviews and comments to get a sense of whether an opportunity is legit. You should also avoid doing business with mystery promoters who advertise in local newspapers, require you to pay for certification, guarantee a job as a mystery shopper, or sell directories for companies that hire mystery shoppers.

For more information on these scams, check out the FTC’s advisory.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you make a lot of money from mystery shopping?

Unfortunately, mystery shopping is not an easy pathway to profit — or a very lucrative side hustle for that matter. Jobs typically pay by the hour and they don’t all pay very much — and some will only reimburse you for your expenses. 

Look into mystery shopping jobs if you want to bring in a bit of extra money on the side, or you want to receive perks like free products, free food, or gift cards for services. If you mystery shop with the goal of getting rich, you’ll probably wind up disappointed.

Is mystery shopping a scam?

There are many scams to watch out for in this space. However, many mystery shopping companies are perfectly safe. Do your research, and never give away money, make personal payments, or link a bank account when engaging with a mystery shopping opportunity. 

Why do companies pay for mystery shoppers?

Companies hire consulting firms with mystery shoppers so they can get a direct look at what happens in their stores. Businesses are typically concerned about the conditions of their branch locations, and the quality of customer service.

Is mystery shopping fair for participants?

As a mystery shopper, you need to be cautious about taking on too much responsibility and not getting paid adequately for it.

It’s one thing to receive perks like free meals, products, or entertainment. However, if you start participating in part-time focus groups or writing reviews, make sure that you receive adequate compensation for your time.

Always be on the lookout for companies that try to exploit mystery shoppers by asking you to take on more work than you’re getting compensated for. Never hesitate to walk away from an opportunity if it doesn’t feel right.

What is the MSPA?

The Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) is an advocacy body that protects mystery shoppers and provides thorough certification.  

As you assess mystery shopping companies, look for MSPA credentials to determine if you are dealing with a reputable company. The MSPA is a great way to find legitimate mystery shopping companies and secret shopping opportunities from reputable businesses. 

For further assistance, you can also look into the Better Business Bureau if you have questions about mystery shopper companies or mystery shopping apps. 

The Bottom Line

When it boils down to it, your time is precious. And while mystery shopping is fun, it’s not going to lead you to a lifetime of riches or financial independence. 

Your best bet is to try it in your downtime, as a way to have fun shopping and make money in the process. If your goal is long-term financial independence, look for more lucrative side hustles like delivery services, helping businesses with social media, or babysitting.

While mystery shopping might help you bring in a little extra cash, it’s not really a career for most people. Don’t be afraid to try it out to make some money, but don’t think of it as something that is going to transform your financial situation.

Here’s to making the best decisions for yourself on the road to financial freedom!

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