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May 152012
 May 15, 2012  Posted by  Money, Shopping

I love shopping. I love making money, too — so I have more money to shop with. So I guess it’s only natural that I’m a part-time mystery shopper for several companies. I have found that you will not get rich as a mystery shopper, but it can be a nice second income, and you may even get some free items in the process.

Here are my tips for a successful mystery shopping career:

1. NEVER pay money to mystery shop. Many ads will offer to hook you up with mystery shops for a fee. Don’t do this. There is lots of info available online about reputable mystery-shopping companies, and you don’t have to pay any money to get it.

2. Sign up. There are a ton of companies. The ones I like are Sinclair, Customer Service Experts and Consumer Impressions. There may be additional mystery-shopping companies in your area. Go to their websites and sign up as a mystery shopper. You may have to jump through a few hoops and answer some test questions to get registered, but it’s not that hard.

3. Check frequently for opportunities. Most companies will email you with shops in your area when they’re available. They can go quickly, so look at your e-mail frequently. The first to respond usually gets the shop.

4. Take it seriously and follow the rules. If you commit to doing a shop on a certain time and date, and in a certain manner, then do it. Flaking out on a job is the quickest way to ruin your reputation as a mystery shopper. Also, some shops have rules about how you conduct the shop; sometimes you are not allowed to bring kids, or you must be under a certain age. Don’t skirt the rules, thinking no one will ever know. Many times, stores have cameras at the registers, and you can get busted that way.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for a bonus. I do a lot of my mystery shopping in a relatively small town. There’s one particular company that often approaches me to do a shop in a nearby town that’s even smaller. They don’t have many shoppers there and have trouble filling the void. So when I get offers for that town, I ask for a bonus. Sometimes I’ll get as much as $20 over and above the regular shop fee. So if you notice that a scheduler has trouble filling a shop that’s a few towns away from you, offer to do it for a bonus. Doing this helps absorb the extra gasoline costs and the extra time I must take to do the shop.

6. Enter your data quickly. When you’re done with your shop, usually you will be asked to log into a secure website and enter your observations. Don’t put off doing this — most stores are very eager to get the results of the mystery shop, and delaying it will only irritate them. I aim to enter all my shops within 24 hours.

7. Consider MSPA certification. Sometimes, demand for a particular shop is high, like shops at high-end retail outlets and restaurants. If you want to stand out from the crowd, consider getting certified by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. You can get a Silver certification by paying a fee of $15 and taking a quiz (you get study materials beforehand). They also have Gold, which costs $99, but in my experience, most mystery shopping companies don’t care whether you’re Gold or Silver — just that you’re certified. And some don’t care about MSPA certification at all. But some do. Visit for information on how to get certified.

8. Don’t expect to get rich. I would say I make an average of $12 per month from mystery shops, not counting the value of the merchandise I bring home and am reimbursed for. I could probably make more if I lived in a larger metro area. But I still think it’s a fun moneymaker.

Jennifer Acosta Scott

Jennifer Acosta Scott is an Alabama native who got to Texas as fast as she could! Her work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Parenting, Shape, and many more publications. She enjoys spending time with her sons, Patrick and Hayden, and her husband, Mark.

  5 Responses to “How to make money as a mystery shopper”

  1. I’ve done mystery shops for a couple different companies, but stopped because the pay was so low…often starting at $4. Which most of the time is not worth the trip to the store (unless I was already planning to go there) or the time it took. If you wait it out, the pay will raise, but then there always seemed to be someone who would take the job before it got to a productive rate. Other than that, I enjoyed doing it. Although there aren’t many shops to do in my town.

  2. I’ve been doing mystery shopping, merchandising, and auditing for various companies for six months now. Yes, after self-employment taxes (about half), gasoline, printer paper and ink, and time, the income doesn’t add up to much. But I’m doing this mainly to get my at-home-parent self out of the house now and then. I also have saved a LOT of money on dining out, postage, entertainment, and services (hair cuts, car washes, oil changes, etc.). It’s had an effect on my grocery budget, too. I love being reimbursed for purchases on special treats for myself or my family (especially fabric!).

    I also wait awhile for companies to increase the fee they pay me. Usually if they call me to fill an assignment that is not worth it on the fee they quote, I tell them I can’t do it for that and they’ll bump it, especially if it’s an urgent job.

    When I first started out, I took nearly every assignment within a 15-mile radius. Then I decided to narrow it down to 5-10 miles and only certain types of jobs and/or for certain companies. Sometimes a job pays very well and there’s very little time commitment to do the actual job AND the reporting. Other times they pay very little and it is a very long report. So I’ve learned how to pick and choose and which companies are my favorites. For my merchandising jobs I’ve been permanately assigned to several locations, which is nice and I know I’ll have weekly or monthly assignments from those.

    I really like Market Force International, Certified Field Associates, Amusement Advantage, Corporate Research International, BARE, BestMark, Retail Eyes and Strategic Reflections. I’ll be sure to check out the companies you wrote about! If anyone wants to join the companies I’ve listed, please use my e-mail address as a reference; I’ll get referrals – which is another way to make easy money! :-) My e-mail is julie.c.crooks @ (remove the spaces).

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  4. I have done some mystery shopping on and off for a couple years and let me tell you it is not what it is cracked up to be. When you count the time looking for a job, printing and reading the instructions, doing the actual job, and then imputting the survey it can take several hours for only a few dollars. I honestly have no clue why anybody would even do this, you work as an independent contractor which means these companies don’t have to pay you minimum wage and then you have to pay taxes on anything you make. Also the whole MSPA is essentially a scam, as none of the companies require you to be certified and I knew someone that was and one day we checked the jobs and I was getting the same ones she did, it’s just a ripoff. Oh yea and one thing you never hear about but most companies take at least 30 days to pay you while some can take several months and most of the time you have to keep pestering them just so they will pay you a couple dollars. More headache than it’s worth and if you are looking for something to get you out of the house volunteering would be much more rewarding.

  5. Great tips, all! Julie brings up a good point – merchandising and auditing jobs are also offered through the mystery-shopping databases. They seem to pay better than typical mystery shops, but a lot more is asked of you. Betty Jo – it’s been a while, but in the past, I did have jobs that were given to me because of my MSPA certification. Perhaps it’s fallen out of favor in the mystery-shopping world lately.

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