8 Truths From a Mystery Shopper You Must Read Before You Get Started

By Linsey Knerl on 1 November 2008 (Updated 8 June 2011) 98 comments

I have a few friends who have started mystery shopping for extra cash. All in all, it's a respectable gig for someone with some time, ambition, and a desire to do something different. Having mystery shopped for dozens of companies over the past six years, however, I have some advice to share. These eight tips are vital to making money in this somewhat misunderstood profession. (See also: Fine Dining on a Take-Out Budget)

1. Mystery shopping can be tough to get into.

If you're OK with starting out doing $8 gigs for ordering a fast food meal, then chances are great that you can begin right away. The higher paying shops, however, are usually reserved for those with experience. If you want to earn a reputation for being a dependable shopper, I suggest visiting the MSPA's website and getting at least a silver status certification. Yes, it costs money. (Think of it as a "move to the head of the line" pass for most mystery shopping jobs.) Many reputable companies will only schedule certified shoppers for their jobs.

2. You can't earn money if you don't spend it.

Guess what? Mystery shopping requires you to shop (in most cases). Since they don't mail you cash up front, it is your responsibility to be able to cover your purchases for the shop. It also takes between 30 and 90 days to get reimbursed. If you can't spare this money, this may not be the job for you.

3. A successful shop requires an eye for detail.

I loved doing the fine dining shops. The problem was, I had a difficult time remembering all the details I needed to complete the shop. I had to covertly keep tabs on the names of every person I came in contact with, what they were wearing, what they said, what my food tasted like, etc. Needless to say it was work! If you are looking for mystery shopping to be your free meal ticket, understand that there will not be much time for relaxing. While it is true that some shops require little work, others require much, much more.

4. Payment depends on your performance.

Unlike a typical 9-5 job, you are not guaranteed payment unless your shop has been performed satisfactorily. If you forget the names of your wait staff, don't leave the right amount of tip, or accidentally reveal your shopper status, you are putting your reimbursement in danger. I have never had a shopping company not pay me, but I have also been very diligent about doing everything perfectly. If you don't take it seriously, you may not be paid — and you'll be out whatever cash you put into your shopping experience.

5. There are other costs involved.

In addition to the cost of your shopping (which is usually reimbursed partially or in full), there are other costs. Gas to drive to the shop, the cost (if any) to put an item on your credit card until reimbursement, or the cost of a tip (which is often not covered) are just a few expenses that may come up during a typical shop. Obviously, the best strategy is to shop close, only take shops that reimburse in full (and with an extra shopper's fee, if possible), and turn in your reports on time.

6. You are responsible for your own taxes.

As a mystery shopper, you are considered an independent contractor. While it is unlikely that you will earn over $600 a year for any one company, you will still be responsible for reporting that income on your tax returns. You can count it as self-employment, deducting expenses as needed, so keep track of the cost of your new mystery shopping job.

7. Some mystery shopping isn't shopping or a mystery.

Many shopping companies have begun scheduling work for companies that aren't even related to mystery shopping. Audits, merchandising, and other tasks (including headstone cleaning) often come up on the mystery shopping job boards from time to time. If you don't have an interest in these types of jobs, don't feel obliged to take them. They can be a good source of income for you, however.

8. A reputable mystery shopping company will never ask you for any kind of fee.

I'll say this again: You should not have to ever pay for the "privilege" to shop. You are performing a service, and should get paid. Any fee that is guaranteed to get you a list of jobs is bogus. For a genuine listing of most every single shop service on the planet, see Volition.com or check out JobSlinger.com. It costs nothing. (And be sure to read up on the latest mystery shopping scams — I have never, ever, ever been asked to cash checks in my six years of shopping. Ever.)

After some time, I gave up on mystery shopping. The $8-10 an hour wasn't worth the work (especially as my family grew). For some, this could still be a really good deal. Just be aware of the facts, and decide what's right for you. I still enjoy a nice hotel shop from time to time. (Hubby and I enjoy getting away for a night at an eventual cost of free.)

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Guest's picture
Kate

Good info! I've been trying to write a post about this for a long time, but I was overwhelmed with the amount of stuff that I wanted to include. You did a great job of summarizing it.

Guest's picture
Guest

Hello-

Thanks for all the great info, but I have 2 questions about Mystery Shopping.
1. can you trust the one's that pay thru paypal? or should I only accept checks?
2. Should I trust the site if they ask for my SSN?

Thank you!!

Carrie Kirby's picture

Wow, hotel shops, that sounds nice. I belong to one service, and every once in awhile they list a shop for a certain toy store that's conveniently located to me. I jump on it and manage to get one or two birthday presents out of the shop every time. I would do that one even without the fee. The other job they offer over and over pays the same fee, but you have to return the stuff. Ugh! I did it once and it was so awkward.

I blog at www.shopliftingwithpermission.com.

Guest's picture
Mom of 6

I found a great blog that covers these points plus practical tips on how to actually do the job. It's called Mystery Shopping Demystified. It's less than a year old but the shopper has been at it a while and has some good tips.

Guest's picture
Beatriz

if you have no children? I've heard that they want shoppers that have a family. I only have pets!

Guest's picture
Guest

If you have a family, it is a burden to most most mystery shoppers. You have to leave them at home as a rule, for nearly every cpmpany's policy. There was one exception, but even a drive through tke away require you to be alone.
I do mystery shopping full time. I average $2 hour, as it is a round the clock job. Today I was invited to do 3am jobs.

Linsey Knerl's picture

It depends on the shop.  Some ask that you don't bring kids.  Other ask for it specifically.  As a Mom of 4 tiny kids, I found it difficult to bring them all on the ones that requested it.  (Shopping for myself is a chore, without all the requirements of many mystery shops.)  Others don't say either way, so it's safe to assume that if they won't hinder your experience, it's fine.  (Like drive-thru shops.)

There are shops for pet-owners specifically, including vet, grooming, and pet store shops.  They need people of all ages and demographics to fill mystery shopping roles.

Guest's picture

What kind of writing are they looking for? I've always been interested in doing this, but don't have many writing samples to show...

Guest's picture
Guest

Mystery shopping reports - some are simple yes/no with only a few full sentence explanations. Higher end shops (restaurants especially) require great detail and they expect perfectly written reports-no grammar errors, no spelling errors....full sentences is a must. Sometimes a dinner shop can produce a report that takes 2-3 hours to type. It's not fun and games, it's work! Believe me!

Guest's picture
Another Guest

I agree with Guest. However, I feel that it is nearly an understatement.
Some reports are quite complicated.
Try driving all day to an accommodation job. You have already made your booking, researched the venue and written a 3000 word report on the booking process.
You now have to write another report on the venue, the reception process, the exit process at reception and a meal report.
Remember now, you have a 24 hour time limit to return your 5 essays which have about 3000 words each, and about 20 questions for each division. If you miss your deadline, you won't get reimbursed.
Be sure you book out of this venue by the customary 9. 30 or 10 am or else you spend more money that you will be repaid.
If you wait a month or two, you might get your "remibursement only" pay.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Usually on the applications, all they require is a sample paragraph or two describing a recent shopping experience.  They are looking for details, as well as proper grammer, spelling, etc.  If you can take good notes and write exactly what you experienced, it's usually all you need to be able to do.  Many of the shops are multiple choice or Yes/no questionnaires, as well.

Myscha Theriault's picture

This is very interesting, Linsey. I'm not sure it would work for me as a salary supplement, but as you and others pointed out, it could be a great way to reduce travel costs on an occasional get away, save on some pet products and pick up a gift or two. Thanks for breaking this all down.

Linsey Knerl's picture

That's how I felt.  When I lived in the metro, there was much more opportunity.  I could schedule 5-8 shops on a given day and earn over $100 in cash, plus free meals and some merchandise.  Since I have moved very rural, the opportunities are fewer (and they seem to pay much less.)  If your town doesn't have a franchised shop of any kind in it, the odds aren't good that there will be a shop there. 

Guest's picture
Lee451

I have been mystery shopping, product recall and retrieval and quality assessment for 11 years now. I started doing it full time 3 years ago. Last year I made about $20K, which isn't much, but I set my own hours, get to volunteer at the local animal shelter 2 or more days a week, vacation when I wish to and the only butthead I have to put up with me. The only downside was when gas became so expensive; I was still reimbursed at the rate I had been getting a year before. This is not really a job if you have a family, but as I am single I do well.

Guest's picture

Hi - I run a Mystery Shopping company and and incoming President of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association - Asia/Pacific (real mouthful).

Excellent article.

Would you mind if we repost this on our new shopper blog? http://www.shoppersource.mysteryshop.org/

Linsey Knerl's picture

Please contact me via my profile here on Wise Bread.  Thanks.

Linsey

Guest's picture
Ernesto

I have been working Bestmark Mystery Shopping Company and it has been fun. Though some of the assignments have been product demos. Cool.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I've worked with them, too!

Linsey

Guest's picture
Heather

I have worked with them too. All they seem to have for me in my area are car shops, or best buy....they ALL got to know me...BORING!!!!It cost more to drive than I was making. Not so great....

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm working for BestMark now, too. It's okay, I guess, just sorta "so so" work. I find it weird that they never sign their emails with their names, only "BestMark." And all they ever have in my area are tanning salons (all are the same company, just different locations) and a few automotive "oil and tire" shops, and one Best Buy. The tanning surveys take me two hours to complete...for only 10 dollars. That's pretty silly. Three hours of work for only ten bucks and a free tan. And they are BOMBARDING me with shop offers, which would normally be great, but there is only so many times you can walk into a tanning salon and claim it's your first time without them wondering why you are already so tan! Also, the tanning salon employees rotate to the different locations, so I am going to be busted by someone who recognizes me from another salon soon. Already, because of the measely pay, I am getting a bit bored and disinterested. Gas is too expensive now to drive 20 miles to do a tanning shop only to get $10 in return. :(

Guest's picture
Guest

Guest
I have been researching mystery shopping companys for quite some time, do you know which co. are legit?

Guest's picture
kd

this post has some very good tips.. i have looked into this field before and to only think what a scam this all is.. and from what you have said here makes teh most senes than all the countless hours i have spent sifting through meanlingless lists of scams.. i will take your advice to heart.

Guest's picture

Just go with a great company that has a ton of shops. Like a couple of the other commenters, my company is BestMark also.

Guest's picture
Guest

Thanks for your article.

I understand very well that you quited doing mystery shopping because of lousy salary. I still do some mysteryshopping but I am constantly telling people to ask for better compensations. 10 dollars is just not enough. Not at all. But I guess if 90 % is happy for 10 dollar they will never raise the compensations..

I started my Mystery Shopping blog few months ago. (Sorry, it´s in Finnish :-)

Guest's picture
Guest

Mystery shopping is hard work. I have been doing it for over 10 years. There is no free lunch as the saying goes.

The high and dining shops require extensive narratives as stated above. They also require observations, timings and details that make the experience a little more than simply going in, eating and leaving. If you do a really high end shop, the narrative requires a detail of the entire experience in terms of who delivered the bread, who cleaned the crumbs, if the water was refilled, at what intervals and by whom. The biggest challenge is reading name tag in dark dining areas and recording the information without being seen. The company asked you to go to the rest room several times to make notes and send your partner in alternating trips to do the same.

Even shops that pay lower amounts, say $7.50 for a fast food shop require timing to the second. If thee is a delay in some set time point, you are asked the reason for the delay. How should you know the reason for a delay in the payment process for a car 3 cars in front of you? The shops also require you enter the times in and out two times, have warnings about managers watching cameras to be sure you are sitting there for 15 minutes and also cameras to check that you shopped alone. All this for $7.50! If the company decides you did not time properly or explain in enough detail the report can be rejected and you are out the out of pocket expense. There are also time perimeters and if the location's clock does not match your watch and standard time- and believe me- I have shoppped fast food places where the time on the receipt is off by one hour- especially when the time changes- you risk not being paid. The money you put out for food that you may not even eat as the company dictates exactly what must be ordered at each of the order points is in limbo until you get paid- which can be 4-6 weeks in the future. You are to remain unobserved despite the fact that you go thru the drive thru and then eat inside within a period of 15 minutes or so.

I was taken off a fast food shop recently because the manager IDed me. Well, I had been there twice in the past and I was the only white person who ever went into the place. The rest room was locked so I had to ask for the key each time and well, they figured it out. That did not take Sherlock Holmes to investigate!

There are also higher paying bank shops that require you to role play that you have $500K to invest. You have to make all sorts of observations about signage, disclousres and then detail the facts for a big $30- $35 fee. An appointment has to be made. This can take several phone calls. The visit alone will take over an hour in most cases and then there is the phone training to qualify for the shop. The report can take a long time to write as the editors can be really picky.

Shops are rated for quality. If an editor does not like your writing style or if you make errors your report is given a lower score. Lower scores translate to less jobs in the future.

Companies seem to have a double standard that drive me crazy. If they are late paying, late in getting forms out to shoppers, they say it was unavoidable and apologize. Once I made a one number error on a report. It was a simply typo on $2.00 phone shop. Yes, a $2.00 long distance call phone shop.

The report was rejected. I was sent a curt e mail about mystery shopping be an exact science that requires perfectdion at all times- for $2.00!

In my experience the shops are getting lesser in number and the $8 to $10 an hour is accurate if you give the reports the time and detail required to get paid. It is by no means an easy job nor something that any of my friends think is worth the time and effort.

Guest's picture
Guest

Hi, I agree with your comment. Companies have double standards. They expect you to follow the instructions and guidelines perfectly, however, when it comes time to pay you for the assignment, if the payment is not received on time (via paypal) all they do is apologize. Mystery shopping is very demanding and time consuming for the amount of monies they want to pay you for the assignment.

I had one company tell me they were going to look at the video tape to confirm my report. I welcome it and then they decided to reject my report. I contacted the scheduler to discuss the situation and she said it was not on the video camera. I told the scheduler I had a video camera also and I wanted to be compensated for this assignment because I have proof of following the instructions per the assignment. I explained to the scheduler that the company that I mystery shopped is lieing. Once I provided that information to the scheduler, they reconsider. It is a doggie dog world and they don't give a crap about you as a professional shopper. You have to go thru extremes to receive a measly paycheck.

Mystery shoppers need to demand more pay. The mystery shopping companies makes monies and pay the shopper crap for the service. This has to stop..... Mystery shoppers have to demand more to get more pay and respect.

Also every editor have there on unique writing style and they expect you to write like them. I had one editor inform me of my writing style to include the name of the person I am evaluating as associate instead of the employee name. When I followed those instructions, that editor commented negatively to me about the report and told me I was supposed to include the employee name instead of writing the words associate. I responded back to the editor and redirected the editor to review the instructions that was given to me per the shop. I also recommended to the editor that they need to update or have a staff meeting to make sure everybody (which includes the company, scheduler, editor, etc) were working according to the guidelines that are given to the mystery shopper and have updated information so the mystery shopper rating is not penalized for their mistake.

mysteryshopperguru

Guest's picture
Guest

It is organizations like the MSPA that ruin this industry. Did you know that they make you pay for certification?? Truth is that the recruiting companies for this industry don't require, nor care about this so called certification. This is probably the largest scam going in the industry.

At the end of the day, all the recruiters really care about is finding good shoppers to get the job done.

Watch out for the MSPA, all they want is to charge you money for a common sense 'exam', then tell you are certified. The more you pay, the higher your certification.

Guest's picture
Tony

Like most any other field of business, if you want to excel in your craft you need knowledge. You get certified to become a teacher, a mechanic, an architect. Why not a mystery shopper? You would be surprised to see how many people can't pass a "common sense" exam. I have an example that just happened to me this week.

I have be a MS for 5 years. I accepted a few bank jobs and was supposed to do an inquiry for Business Checking. I didn't read the guidelines, as common sense would dictate and now I have to redo them over. I have been doing Personal Banking for a month and "assumed" it was the same.

I personally am not certified, but I don't see a problem with the MSPA charging a fee. It's just another business expense for my taxes.

Guest's picture
BEBooth

Hi! The certification is completely optional on the shoppers part. No one is required to become certified. In fact, I would guess that many, if not most, companies listed on the MSPA site use shoppers that are NOT certified. The site has some very useful information, whether you are certified or not.

Guest's picture
Chris

With so many mystery shopping scams out there, I decided to put together a list of companies that are legitimate at Free Mystery Shopping.Info. Hope your find it helpful!

Guest's picture
secret shopper

Having a good experience as a mystery shopper is all about finding the right mystery shopping company (or a couple great ones to work with). I worked with a lot before I found companies like BestMark, Second-to-None and About Face. All great companies from a shopper perspective.

Guest's picture
John P

Kudo's to the great information. Another little known way to get rewards for trying products is through Nielsen Ratings. They have a program that allows select volunteers to be involved with their consumer product research panel. The website is http://www.nielsenratingsvolunteer.com

Guest's picture

Mystery Shopping, Paid Surveys, and Freebie Trading have helped stretch my budget for sure! Mystery Shopping is a great way to get a free meal, and maybe a few extra bucks. Not big money, but a nice supplement.

There is lots of information on where to get started here: http://www.momswallet.com/mysteryshopping.html

For companies to sign up with, visit here: http://www.momswallet.com/mysteryshoppingcompanies.html

And don't forget to check out Paid Survey opportunities here:
http://www.momswallet.com/surveys_focusgroups.html

Guest's picture
Harvard Housewife

Wow, this is the most useful post I've come across on the internet. I just wish I had read it before heading out on my first shop. Anyway, its helps for next time and I high recommend it for any newbies.

Check out my first time out mishap.
http://www.harvardhousewife.com/2009/10/mystery-shopping-instead-of-clea...

Guest's picture
Gus Hampton

Really good article. I have received a FREE book from www.MysteryShopperMan.info. It has loads of information on mystery shopping and merchandising. I think it's a great beginner guide for Mystery Shoppers and it comes with an updated list of about 400 MS companies.

I started MS about 2 months ago and I love it.

Keep up the great work.

Guest's picture
Guest

That link doesn't work.

Guest's picture

Answering Question #1:

The mystery shopping companies that pay thru paypal can be trusted. Paypal has a reputable site and some strict guidelines to follow to help secure your account. If you receive payment thru paypal, most of the time you will get paid faster than waiting on a check in the mail. I've had assignments from mystery shopping companies that pay via check and the waiting period to receive your check is longer. Receiving payment thru paypal is similar to direct deposit. As soon as you receive it, the monies have cleared for your use. Also if you set-up a paypal account you can transfer that monies to your checking account or you can have a paypal debit card and use it at any atm machine. Just like banks there will be atm fees associated with it.

Answering Question #2

For any business or job you must report earned income. Posting your SS# with a reputable companies that have a secure site will be ok. Make sure you review the website to see if they have inforce key programs for a secured site. If you are not comfortable with that process, there are companies that will allow you to contact them via telephone and give them your SS#. Also, they will allow you to download a tax id form and allow you to fax that information to them. Lately the mystery shopping companies are requesting a scan copy of your social security cards to verify your SS#.

FYI...I've been a victim of identity theft twice. I also have taken the necessary steps to protect my identity. No matter what, there are skillful people out here who will continue to hack the most secure systems available and get your identity. It benefits you to check your credit background, bank accounts, etc...if you want to be secure. I had a security breach at Chase Bank and they adverstise strongly that they have a secure program in place to prevent these type of fraudulent activities. I am very proactive with checking my credit report, banking activities, and credit background. Because I am very proactive, I found the security breach before Chase did. The more automated we become, the less security we will have....
That is unfortunate, however, that is the reality of the evolving world we live in. If someone is a genius to create a secure site, then there is someone who is a genius to hack the secure site........

I hope this helps

Guest's picture

Great article! So many people think that mystery shopping is easy money. Ive only been doing it for a little while, but it's hard tedious work and the money is not that great. However, if you can work it into your everyday errands, it can be a nice little bonus.

Guest's picture
James

I am glad that I read this article before going out there to find a mystery shopping job. I think the information here is very valuable. Thanks a lot.

Guest's picture
mm

So happy I found this site! So glad I see that my decision to pursue mystery/secrect shopping is a good one (even though I haven't started a job yet.)  I've been doing mag merchandising for going on 6 months now and I feel so blessed to have found a gig that suits me and allows some independance and freedom from corp/office/downsizing threats etc.  It's not full time and thus I needed something that would help bring in more moola but provide the same independence and I think this is just the ticket.  I am committed to never allowing some higher up to decide my employment fate again.  I am also pursuing freelance information broker services as well as taking classes in grant writing.  I don't expect to become wealthy let alone rich, but I do expect to have more control over my income and also the time to pursue the many humanitarian efforts I've dreamt of, and time to attend to emergencies should they arise, and time to write, travel and live.

Sorry for getting so carried away but I am so excited!

mm

 

 

Guest's picture
Guest

This artical contained several points of interest for me. Thank you for all of the help in looking further into the business.

http://www.self-storage-unit-locations.com/

Guest's picture
Guest

I have tried to work with an outfit called About Face located in the Atlanta area. They positively are not in the communication business. You never get anyone when you call and in my experience, messages are seldom returned (I never had one returned). Furthermore, they don't know their clients very well and insist that information be provided to them that is not part of the operators SOP. Furthermore, you can't get this bunch of bozo's to drop you from their mailing list.

Guest's picture
Guest

I had the same experience with this company. I'm still receiving email from them. I just delete it.

Guest's picture
Jill

Great post! I learned a lot. I am very interested in mystery shopping and would like to learn more about it. Do you think this would be a good website to do so? http://www.gfkamerica.com/practice_areas/customer_loyalty/mystery_shoppi...

Any other recommendations?

Guest's picture
Melinda

Is the ShadowShopper website legit? I spent all day working on their site and noted that the $4.95 fee I paid will expire in a couple days and then they will charge me $99.00 a year. If this is not the site for me to search for jobs can you direct me to the site that is legitimate?

Guest's picture
Kelsey G

Mystery Shopping can be a very tricky subject. You have to be sure and not reveal the reasons as to why you are there. Sometimes it is obvious when a person is on some sort of mission. I have worked retail in high school for about three years and my boss said that on any given day there could be a mystery shopper. Who knows if we actually ever had one or that I just passed them every time but she never spoke with me about it. Maybe she just said that so we would always be on our best behavior. I have heard of companies doing that to scare the employees into doing a good job. However they never follow through on having the mystery shopper because they end up costing them money. Some people don't agree with mystery shopping but I think it is fine as long as it has the right intentions and is handled in the right way.

Guest's picture
Kelsey G

Mystery Shopping can be a very tricky subject. You have to be sure and not reveal the reasons as to why you are there. Sometimes it is obvious when a person is on some sort of mission. I have worked retail in high school for about three years and my boss said that on any given day there could be a mystery shopper. Who knows if we actually ever had one or that I just passed them every time but she never spoke with me about it. Maybe she just said that so we would always be on our best behavior. I have heard of companies doing that to scare the employees into doing a good job. However they never follow through on having the mystery shopper because they end up costing them money. Some people don't agree with mystery shopping but I think it is fine as long as it has the right intentions and is handled in the right way.

Guest's picture
Kelsey G

Mystery Shopping can be a very tricky subject. You have to be sure and not reveal the reasons as to why you are there. Sometimes it is obvious when a person is on some sort of mission. I have worked retail in high school for about three years and my boss said that on any given day there could be a mystery shopper. Who knows if we actually ever had one or that I just passed them every time but she never spoke with me about it. Maybe she just said that so we would always be on our best behavior. I have heard of companies doing that to scare the employees into doing a good job. However they never follow through on having the mystery shopper because they end up costing them money. Some people don't agree with mystery shopping but I think it is fine as long as it has the right intentions and is handled in the right way.

Guest's picture
David

Avoid any mystery shop that invoives YOU spending money up front. "Working" means YOU get paid. When you put a dinner on your credit card bill, that means you have TWO things to chase down: Payment from the shopping "employer" and reimbursement for the purchase.

If you want a pizza and are willing to spend $15 for it, cool. If you think someone is going to pay for the pizza AND give you money to buy it, you're bordering on naive or nuts.

"Mystery/secret" shopping IS a legitimate business, UNLESS it involves ANY up-front out-of-pocket expense on your part.

Guest's picture
Mystery Shopper

I've done well over 100 shops that require me to pay for the food up front. I submit my information along with a receipt. All of which said companies have reimbursed me and given me a small fee (between $5-$20) 30 or so days after purchase. Like other people have said you have to spend money to make money.

I don't believe in paying to view jobs though, since jobslinger.com has tons of shops listed all of which are free to access.

Guest's picture
Another Guest

In Australia, about 80- 90 % of jobs require you to put up money up front for a purchase.
there are the bank visits, some phone call jobs, police enquiries, etc that do not. Be prepared to ask something very silly and humiliating as required int he job brief though.

Here, some some jobs wil reimburse you 4 months after the job, and long after the job is over, you get a phone call asking you for additional detail about something that was not part of the report.

This is difficult if you do an average of 6 jobs a day, 365 days a year.

Guest's picture
Guest

Economics of Maritz Mystery Shopping

Beware, Mystery Shopping pays even less than mininum wage. Here's an example of maritzmysteryshopping.com by Maritz Research. They claim that it is only a quick 10 minute call for a Chase Mystery Shop for $8.50 dlls The cost adds up.

$5 or $6 dlls of gasoline cost to drive to the bank and return (at $4 dlls per gallon),
then you got only $3.50 left for the job
15 minutes to learn what the job is about and to take and pass the online quiz
15 minutes travel time each way - total 30 minutes
10 minutes waiting in the Bank waiting list
10-15 minutes at the Teller to do the shop
20 minutes - You come back and do the de-briefing (reporting) which takes about 20 minutes to answer about 15-20 online questions and to scan and upload the documents
Wait for your $8.50 dll check and another trip to deposit it in the dumb case you make a special trip for that.

Total Pay: $8.50
Fuel cost: $6.00
Residual: $2.50 dlls

So in all you spent about 30+10+15+20 minutes = 1.25 hours

So, $2.50 / 1.25 hours = $2.00 dlls per hour (what is the minimum wage in the US?)
Great deal for Maritz, they charge Chase probably about $50-$100 dlls per visit, and only pay $8.50 to the mystery shopper.

Now, for a Texaco or Chevron visit Maritz pays $20 dlls. It takes an average of 15 photos of the different areas, pumps, restrooms, parking, cashier, prices, signs, pump deficiencies. They send you an inspection manual Chevron/Texaco Image Execution Guide (48 pages + 4 page addendum) that is very detailed and takes about 2 hours to read in order to pass the qualification test.

2.5 hours to learn what the job is about and to take and pass the online quiz
15 minutes travel time each way - total 30 minutes
1 hour to do the inspection / pictures and form filling
1 hour - You come back and do the de-briefing (reporting) which takes about 1 hour to answer about 60 online questions and to scan and upload the photos

Wait for your $20 dll check and another trip to deposit it in the dumb case you make a special trip for that.

Total Pay: $20.00
Fuel cost: $6.00 (conservative)
Security Vest: $6.00 dlls (mandatory, since you even have to submit a photo of yourself wearing it.
Residual: $8.00 dlls
Time invested: 4.75 hours
Hourly Wage: $8.00 dlls / 4.75 hours = $1.68 dlls per hour

So in all you spent about 4.7 hours to do the job responsibly and professionally. Anybody
could just checkmark all the questions and submit an unrealistic inspection report.

Total pay per hour for a Maritz Mistery Shop at Texaco: $1.68 dlls per hour
Total pay per hour for a Maritz Chase 10 minute shop: $2.00 dlls per hour

To round up the case, I estimate that Maritz charges at least $80 dlls to Chase,
and $100 dlls to Texaco or Chevron for the visit.

These are realistic numbers.

Judge for yourself before you consider Mistery Shopping as a solution to your
extra income.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Thanks for the breakdown! I agree, that this can happen, and the key to actually earning money via mystery shopping is to be as efficient as possible. Ideally, I would never take one assignment any distance from my house. I live about 40 minutes from the nearest city, so I would schedule at least 3 shops in any given day and perform them all on the same day as I was to go run errands, anyway. My day would look like this:

Drive 45 minutes (cost $0, as I was headed to the city, anyway)
Stop at shop #1 (fast food, which means I'm buying a lunch I would have bought, anyway) $8.50 payment plus reimbursement
Stop at shop #2 (fast food, which means my spouse is now getting to eat the meal that I purchased for the shop -- he has to eat, too!) $8.50 payment plus reimbursement
Stop at shop #3 (usually a mall or speciality retailer. This trip isn't planned, but I can shop in the area and not use any additional gas.) $10 payment

Total time to do the shops: 1 - 1.5 hours because I try to do shops for the same kind of companies, reducing my "study" time and making me more efficient

Drive home: 45 minutes (which I was doing anyway)

Time to compile info, enter reports online and scan receipts (1.5 hours)

Total earned: $27 plus two free meals
Total time spent in addition to to typical shopping day: 3 hours

So, in theory, I earned $9 an hour.

This is the ideal scenario, and they don't come up often. If you can work your mystery shopping to revolve around your existing habits, it's much more profitable.

Guest's picture
Kristin

I always research the company before I do any shopping for them. I use the better business website & the mystery shoppers provider association. Both websites are helpful and help guide me to valid companies. I just completed one for BestMark and found them to be awesome! Sure it was a little work and time into my survey, but these companies need to know the facts to better improve their service. BestMark assigned me my own scheduler I can call or email about questions or get me signed up for the "good" shops. Something to look into for all the shoppers out there.

Happy Shopping :o)

Guest's picture
Kat

I like the tip on keeping an eye out for detail. This includes having a good memory. But really you want to know what you're looking for, prior to going into a shop. :)
-Kat

Guest's picture
Vicki

I just had a very bad experience with GFK, I applied and they had me pay for a drug test and back ground check that cost me 30 bucks, I would get it back after doing 2 audits. I was to be paid 130.00 to audit Best Buy. It ended up taking me 15.5 hours to just do the audit and another 5 hours to input the report and pictures. The scheduler didn't tell me to use Google Chrome and so I was kicked out of the report online and had to "next" through to where I was kicked out, I was ready to quit, it was so frustrating, but the scheduler begged me to finish, offering me a 75 dollar bonus, so I did. I then was sent an email that said they are refusing to pay me because I stayed in the store a couple of hours longer than I was suppossed to, even though the store manager told me it was fine with him. There are places in their briefing notes saying that if you do such and such you wont be paid, but it never said I wouldnt be paid for staying longer, if that is the case you should be warned. I think this is just an excuse not to pay me . The company has completely cut me off from contacting them through email, but I plan on telling my story on every blog there is and by taking them to small claims court, I spent almost 3 days on that job, paid for the gas to go out there twice and they just cut me off. I am also going to write to Best Buy and let them know what kind of company they are using to do their audits!
I would not recommend that anyone work for GFK, it is way too much work for the money and there is no gaurantee that you will be paid.

Guest's picture

I've been mystery shopping for over a year, and I've found that the best shops are the ones that I roll right into my normal life, as Linsey mentioned in her April 2011 comment. I shop the stores and restaurants that I normally shop, or ones that are within a twenty-mile radius of my home. Spending an extra twenty minutes at the grocery store, and another half hour to report the shop, is worth twelve dollars, in my opinion.
Another strategy that I use is to look for shops whenever we're traveling. Last summer we traveled around 300 miles each way several weekends. Since we mystery shopped while we were there, the mileage was a tax write-off, plus we saved money on meals we would have had to buy anyway.

Guest's picture
Grace

Bestmark is also a scam. They've changed their policies so much it's almost impossible to get full compensation. The most you can hope for is reimbursement when you have to front the money. I shopped for them for years with no problem but they've gotten greedy over the last year. Many of my mystery shopping friends have had issues with them as well. They started out with good intentions.

Guest's picture
Guest

you are right on, and be sure not to piss off Jessica Remmers because she will shut you down as a shopper with no recourse.

Guest's picture
Murray

I have shopped for Bestmark for 2 years now. I think they're great! I've never had a problem and the schedulers are as nice as could be. They pay promptly and often. I wish they had more shops in my area .

Guest's picture
Sally

I've worked for a lot of companies but I wanted to share with you one of my favorites;
http://mysteryshopperservices.com/ They have free registration & they are an MSPA registered/legit company that I have enjoyed working for, for years now.

Professional and kind employees to talk to, they always put a smile on my face... and great pay for pretty easy mystery shops. A lot of their shops are just evaluations so no money even comes out of my pocket. Any of them that do require you to pay for a meal you are always reimbursed for :)

I would suggest to check them out and register. Good luck!

Guest's picture
Brandy

I have also been mystery shopping for a number of years as a job on the side- mostly for fun, I could never make a living out of it.

BARE International is another one for shoppers to look out for- in one recent shop they were extremely nit-picky and negative about my shop log (I covered everything, checked spelling and grammar and was truthful); claiming a receipt jpg was the wrong size or cut off and not able to be read and not allowing a resubmission (it had looked fine to me and was within the posted guidelines); or asking me to redo a shop (for free) when the CSR failed the shop so (I assume) that they can give the results their customer wants to see and then claiming they never asked me to redo the shop (even though I have the email!) and therefore they would not pay.

I am very highly rated with every other company I have done shops for, so all this has come as a big surprise to me. Once- maybe a fluke. Twice- new guy? maybe? or a misunderstanding? But three and four times? Not cool and probably a scam.

Guest's picture
oscar

Hey great info! One question, how can an average mystery shopper make a week?

Guest's picture
Brandy

It varies so unpredictably. Depends on your area (rural vs. urban vs suburban), what the company you're signed on with has going on, what types of shops (most are reimburse shops), and the time/energy you have to put into it.

Guest's picture
Guest

I mystery shopped for BESTMARK until they docked my pay for a late submission. Their policy is review deadlines are at 10 am, I submitted mine at 10:02 am. Two minutes? You are going to haggle about two minutes. The customer service personnel at Bestmark then berated me when I told them I thought this was bad for business and fostering an unpleasant working relationship. I will not be working for a company that squabbles over 2 minutes, I don't care what their policy is. My policy is work for people you respect, and I don't respect nickel and dimers, and neither should companies looking to hire them to mystery shop for them.

Guest's picture
Guest

Oh, I know, get this. BestMark berated me for turning in my first shop report in caps. The guy completely talked down to me, whined that he had to retype "the entire report," threatened to deduct my pay next time, etc. I explained that I was new to mystery shopping, that I also shop for Ritter and their system auto-generates all my reports INTO CAPS so I thought that typing in caps was some sort of an industry standard. I told him not to scold me like a child, that I was a 42-year-old woman with a college degree and that I would not continue to bust my butt to answer 65-question surveys for a measley $10 only to be treated like that. The whiny ahole. BestMark has 1 strike in my "2 Strikes Allowed" book. We don't get paid nearly enough to be treated like that. They should be THANKING us.

Guest's picture
Guest

Linsey It sounds like you have some pretty good knowledge of shopping, Do you have any names of legitimate mystery shopping companys? I've been researching companys for quite some time and i'm afraid to apply b/c of being scamed.

Guest's picture

I totally agree with this especially no. 3 on the list. It is such an effort to pay attention to details without getting obvious. But it takes more experience and you'll really get the hang of it.

Guest's picture
Lorna

Thank you for all the great information about Mystery Shopping. I had been looking for a legit company for awhile so I had a good reason to get out and shop and also make some extra money while doing it.

Guest's picture
Guest

An individual would have to be desperate to do this work. BestMark will give you 1 hour of pre-shop study material(all their specifications as to just what and how you must do everything, including a test) ... then 1 1/2 to 2 hours to complete their detailed shop and driving time, then another hour to complete the actual paperwork submitted online with all the details of the 'shop' written up for them. In my case, it was $15.00 offered for what would have been 4 hours of work plus gas expense out of my pocket. I did not do the 1st shop requested because of this negative financial impact.

Guest's picture
Guest

Hello guys!

so you reckon that Bestmark is not a good company for mystery shopping at all? I am currently looking for companies based in vienna and prague..any suggestions?

Guest's picture
Guest

I looked into mystery shopping with Maritz. They want your social security number and to sign a W9. Is this standard for all of the mystery shopping companies.?

Guest's picture
Jennifer

Yes. I've been a mystery shopper for 8 years and recently they require it for tax - reporting purposes.

Guest's picture
Guest

I don't want to doubt anyones word, because I don't know to much about this type of job, but i just signed on as a new mystery shopper.
I ffilled out a email on line, last week and on 07/16/2012, I resceived a check in the mail
for $3,445.00.
I was instructed, to deposit in my account and as soon as the check clears, i call them,-
and set up a work scheduale, $250.00 was for 2 hours of my time and the rest was for my personal training and alond with the check that i received, were two forms, that i need to make a copy of and these 2 form's, that i have to copy, is for my report, weren't
like you were saying, where everything has to be down to a T.
i was asked to fill out, if their clothes were nice and neat, or if in uniform, were their clothes, clean and worn properly

Linsey Knerl's picture

Guest,

Please read this article on common mystery shopping scams.

http://www.wisebread.com/the-mystery-shopping-scam-that-could-cost-you-a...

I believe that this is what you are speaking of, giving the fact that you received a check prior to even completing work AND the check was of such a large amount. This is consistent with the shopping scams that have victimized many good people trying to earn a few extra dollars doing this work.

If you haven't cashed the check -- DON'T! Contact your local authorities if you don't know what to do.

Thanks,
Linsey

Guest's picture
Guest

Oh Boy! That one sounds like a Nigerian Scam. First thing to understand is to never subect your personal checking account information to opportunities where it can be used against you. By cashing a check, you leave a paper trail to be copied again and used to drain your funds from that account. All they need is your NAME and ACCOUNT NUMBER from your bank. Because many business checking accounts are automated, eyes from a flesh & blood person may not be used to process paper checks (or until it's too late).

One company that protects your personal & financial info is PayPal, but again - avoid disclosing your SS# to them, too. They do not need it, especially if you do not transfer more than $500 every month as it does NOT surpass levels for tax reporting requirements. Read IRS Publications for yourself and note down which ones they are so that you can produce them to ANY REQUESTER. Federal Law requires disclosure of your SS# OR Taxpayer ID# when applying for a State Issued Driver's License, Registering a Motor Vehicle, Tax Reporting Requirements, and Child Welfare Programs. The Patriot Act does NOT have a requirement to disclose your SS#, either. So, if a Bank has a sign up stating such disclosure is manditory "Under The Patriot Act," then ask to see what part that bank employee is referring to. If they cannot produce such a document, BE NICE TO THEM and offer your Name and Contact Phone Number to that Bank Employee (or President) and request them to contact their Legal Department regarding the LAW that compells you to release such personal information to open an account with them. Ask them nicely to have their attorney contact you.

Many times, their own attorneys will advise them to either stay away from you OR open a NON-Interest Bearing account for you. ID Theft usually involves having the Victim's SS# to hijack their bank accounts. By keeping your SS# out of the bank account, the ID Thief will be blocked from access because the information they used WILL NOT MATCH UP! Banks are required to match up ALL information including Identifying Numbers before processing a transaction that involves changing any of that info over to the ID Thief's info.

Secondly, being reimbursed for CASH RECEIPTS is not taxable OR reportable for tax purposes. If the company paying you believes it is, then politely request their Legal Department to contact you with the IRS PUBLICATION NOTICES (they are numbered!) requiring such reporting practices. If the Company says they "Called the IRS" and was told over the phone what the policies are, then ask for the Tax Law they are referring to. The answer should start with a Title Number, Chapter number, Section number followed by entries down to the sub-paragraph level. Then go to the Public Library and locate that law to properly comply with it. (Hint! They will not have it nor will the IRS Agent know anything about it because they rely on Tax Attorneys to point the law out to them 100% of the time.)

Back to the SCAM... If you are hurting for money, you are best to stay away from mystery shopping because you will be too easily tempted by anything that screams "Easy Money." Even if you think you are doing something for your church, you can be easy prey. The Devil put priority on infilterating the Church.

Know your laws! Abide by them. Ignorance is no excuse, and if you think it is - you'll subject yourself to being made a "Ward Of The Court" and Heaven help you if it goes beyond to being made a "Ward of the state!" That implies the use of a Correctional Facility. Do the Nigerian scammers care about that? NO! They know they are outside of our jurisdiction and feel they are hurting no one because they cannot put a face to the Victims of their Scams. Really! Try a YouTube Search on interviewing Nigerian Scammers investigations.

To make a long story shorter, start re-reading the article from the beginning and soak it all in. Relax! Read it again. If you are not taking notes, then walk away from this whole thing. You are NOT Learning!!!!!

Guest's picture
Ariana

Very good advice. Mystery shopping has been glamorized in the media as this super high-paying gig. While it's very enjoyable (especially if you're shopping with high-end companies), it doesn't always pay well. It's a nice way to make some extra cash, but don't quit your day job.

Guest's picture
Rick

I have completed some mystery shops and while I don't think I will ever quit my job to become a mystery shopper it has allowed me to perform some shops and get paid a little here and there. I work mainly with Bare International, but have signed up for a total of ten companies and I could keep pretty busy with all of them. I just do it in my spare time to earn a little extra money and have some fun. There is some useful information on mystery shopping to be found here http://theinformationoverload.com/become-a-mystery-shopper/.

Guest's picture
BEBooth

One site no one has mentioned is the MSPA web site, aka Mystery Shoppers Providers Association. www.mysteryshop.org

This site has a huge list of reputable mystery shopping companies. Good luck to all and happy shopping!

Guest's picture
AJ

Bebooth - did you read the article? It clearly mentions MSPA's site.

Guest's picture
BEBooth

I did, but somehow overlooked it! Thanks for pointing that out.

Guest's picture
Debby

Hi, I have been mystery shopping for about a year now, I like doing the work but it takes so long to get paid. I like Market Force the best because I got a check with in two weeks. Also I am signed up for Jobslinger plus which helps, if you organize yourself you can do simple shops and get paid.
Happy Shopping!!!

Guest's picture
Michelle

I just started mystery shopping 6 months ago and I have to honestly say, I love it! I love to shop so why not get paid for it. I wish I could've started out with this years back. I do it part time and my day job full time. I earn an extra $250-$375 week. It really helps me out a lot to supplement my income. Of course you have to be reliable, responsible and you must have an excellent memory. I hope mystery shopping will be around for a while that I can do it for the next 10, 20 or 30 years.

Guest's picture
guest

What company do you use?

Guest's picture
Tom

What would you do if you didn't get paid without justifiable reason? I am in this position now.

Guest's picture
Guest

what so you don't actually earn money, just get the money you had to spend back? Net result doing their quality control evaluation for free. Nice little earner.

Guest's picture
Guest

Hey Linsey. You made so many great points in your article. I've been a mystery shopper for quite some time now and I've found many of your tips to be very true and helpful for a beginner. I specifically can attest to point #5 about payment based on performance. I remember starting off a bit rough when I started mystery shopping and I wasn't compensated for some of my costs because I did the assignment incorrectly. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I've definitely learned now.

I've come across a number of companies now that I've had more experience under my belt, but one that I've been loving recently is SQM. You can find out more about them here: http://goo.gl/dokj3r. They've recently started evaluating flights and you get 50% off, so it's a great opportunity for the person that loves to see the world. Anyways, thanks again for all the tips and I hope you enjoy mystery shopping! :D

Guest's picture
Amy

I have a couple questions.
I put an add on craigslist and then got an e-mail from a company asking if I am interested in Mystery shopping. They said I would get $400 for first job and said I wold continually get that. But that doesn't sound like what you guys are saying....?

Regardless I am still very interested in doing this in the cracks of my schedule.... only
the part where you said you will need to have your own money up front and all this talk of reimbursement... that is a problem.

I am so broke right now and I don't get paid for 4 weeks!
So now what? Do some provide money up front? or will I get the total reimbursed ?
Also, can I use a credit card for shopping and be reimbursed ?

Thanks!

Guest's picture
Guest

It's a good idea to check the company first. I recently came across the discovery that these can be scams, especially if they contacted you rather than the reverse.

Guest's picture
Guest

Hi! I'm writing an article for a feature writing class in college. The paper I'm writing now is about tipping procedure in restaurants and I need some professional perspectives on the matter. So as someone who has been a mystery shopper in restaurants...

How do you tip your server when you are mystery shopping?

What criteria do you base the tip on?

What makes someone a good server?

What's the worst experience with service you have ever had and how did you tip at the end?

Thanks for your time!

Kira

Guest's picture
Jeff in SA

I am enjoying my mystery shopping, which I have been doing since mid-July. I work with about 20-25 companies and can usually match two or three shops together in the same side of town (San Antonio). I average about $600-$700 a month, which adequately supplements my full-time job/income. Plus, it's fu. I've driven new cars, eat out frequently, conducted Best Buy intercepts, used my daughter on some 'M'-rated video buys, have visited dozens of banks, have posed as a potential client at a dozen apartment complexes and new home builders, and am now doing movie theater blind checks and movie counts. I even got paid to open a bank account. A lot of work? Yes. A lot of fun? Yes. It's a good feeling to know you're helping to evaluate people as they perform their everyday jobs ... and let's face it, there's some satisfaction in knowing you're being a bit sneaky and deceptive in interacting with them!

Guest's picture
Angus Pryor

I found mystery shopping works well if (i) I can do more than one job on the one trip (ii) I can coincide it with something else.

At the moment, that involves teaching my son to drive. We drive somewhere (to get his hours up), I do the mystery shopper, fill in the survey on my laptop, then drive back. Two birds with one stone! : )

Guest's picture
Dale

Very good points here. I agree it does take some work and attention to detail to be really successful at this thing called mystery shopping.

I'm not heavily involved so I have not seen the BIG payout mystery shops yet. But I did get a shop request for about $75 recently.

Guest's picture
Patty

I want to get started as a Mystery Shopper, but am reluctant to put my social security number on these sites. Anyone have any trouble with this?

Guest's picture
Dale

I have never had any trouble after entering my social security number. But some of the applications seem a bit intrusive.

My advice, do some research on a company you may want to work with. Try to go with reputable companies.

Some will be better than others, some have a reputation for not paying. Do one shop, wait to get paid before doing alot more.

Hope that helps

Guest's picture

Great post. Mystery shopping is absolutely not an easy job. You need to be very responsible and patient to do the tasks. So the facts you have mentioned here are really useful for the people who want to come into this field.

Guest's picture
John H

mystShopper.com is a great place to go to get the latest information on legitimate mystery shopping companies and to find out which ones just don't pay. They also have a few great mystery shopping tools to help make sure you make the most money possible.