what is a mystery shopper | side hustle | make money | secret shopper

What is a mystery shopper? Can you really get paid to shop?

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Have you ever wondered what is a mystery shopper or what does a mystery shopper do?  I was curious if this was a legit job so I decided to be a guinea pig and try out mystery shopping to find out.

This post may contain affiliate links.  Please read my disclosure for more info.

For years I had heard about mystery shopping.  It was one of those side jobs that I knew existed, but I didn’t know anyone personally who was a mystery shopper.  It didn’t seem like a real job.  I sometimes heard warnings against it but again, nobody I knew had any personal experience with being a mystery shopper.

I came across articles like this one about a mystery shopper who made $14,000/year.  While I am a ways from making this amount, it is a great side hustle to fit into my already busy life of caring for my toddler, being a search engine evaluator, working part-time outside of the home, and now blogging.

What is a mystery shopper?

A mystery shopper is hired to pose as a shopper and interact with employees in an outlet to evaluate customer service.  You are given specific tasks to do while you are in the outlet, sometimes specific people to talk to, and things you need to look for and report on.  After your shop you will fill out a (very detailed!!!) report on your entire experience there, sometimes including exact conversations.

Clients include restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores, car dealerships, casinos, financial institutions, hotels, resorts and more.

For certain shops you are asked to purchase specific items in the store.  Sometimes those things include ordering pizza or a meal in a restaurant.  This is one of the perks of mystery shopping – you get paid to do the shop and at times also get food or an oil change for your car or any variety of things in addition to the pay.

There are also phone and online mystery shopper jobs so you can work while at home in your jammies.  I have only worked the in-person shops so far because I’m not a big phone person (I kind of hate talking on the phone) but I would be interested in trying the web shops.

If you want to skip ahead and apply now to be a mystery shopper, click here.

Related content: Flexible side hustle ideas: how I made $2,300 while my toddler napped

How to be a good mystery shopper

Well I’m glad you asked.  These are some of the skills you should have to be a good mystery shopper:

  • Be detail-oriented
  • Good written communication skills – this will be very important when you fill out the report. You need to be clear or it’s possible you will be asked questions after a review of your shop report.
  • Have a good memory – you can’t write down your interactions with an employee in sight. You have to remember a certain amount before you can get to a place where you can write down notes to jog your memory later when you fill out the detailed report
  • Be discrete – you are a secret shopper and you need to keep it that way. Don’t bust your own cover. This is probably the closest you will ever get to being a spy so enjoy that and be discrete.
  • Have good inter-personal skills – you aren’t just going into a store and buying something. You are interacting with employees in the store so you need to be friendly.
  • Be punctual in all aspects of the job – when you said you would perform the shop, in submitting your report, and submitting your invoices.
what is a mystery shopper | side hustle | make money | secret shopper
Don’t do this if you want to keep your job as a mystery shopper

How do you get paid as a mystery shopper?

You get paid per shop, not per hour.  Your first shop you will probably be a bit slow and maybe slightly confused (I was!) but you will get faster.  The more you do the more comfortable you will get and you will be able to make a good hourly rate.

Most mystery shopping companies that I have seen (including the ones I worked with) pay through PayPal.  You will set this up with them when you are hired.  Once you have completed shops, you fill out an invoice and send it to them with details about your shops and they direct pay you to PayPal within a certain amount of time depending on their terms of payment.  You will get an email notifying you when the payment hits your account.  Some companies pay by mailing you a check or direct deposit to your bank.

Related content: how to make an extra $500 this week

Are there any downsides to being a mystery shopper?

No job or side job is perfect and this one is no exception.  The main downside to being a mystery shopper is the turn-around in getting paid.  If you need to get paid quickly, this is probably not the side job for you.  It can take a couple of months to get paid for your previous shops.  Just keep good track of your time worked and the terms that they should pay you by (net 30, net 60, etc.).  I made a note for myself in my journal on the date I should be paid by and I would have contacted them if I hadn’t been paid by a certain date.  This was never an issue for me but I liked to keep track of dates just in case   🙂

How to become a mystery shopper

You will have to fill out an online application with a mystery shopping company.  Be aware that some of those rumors are true and there are mystery shopping scams out there.  You should not have to send money or pay to become a mystery shopper.  They should not be sending you money before you perform any shops either.  There are many mystery shopping companies out there and it would be impossible to review all of them.  This mystery shop company is legit and reputable and is one of my favorites that I have signed up with.

Related content: 

Final thoughts on what is a mystery shopper and would I do it again

I like guinea pigs and I like being a guinea pig myself.

what is a mystery shopper | side hustle | make money | secret shopper
How could you not like these guys?

If I’m curious about something, I really like to try it out myself and get that experiential knowledge.  Instead of just wondering what is a mystery shopper, I became one.

If as a kid you dreamed of becoming a spy, this is probably the closest you will ever get to that.  My first shop I found it a bit weird because of this.  I felt a bit strange spying on people and pretending to be a shopper.  I got over it though and got more comfortable the more people I talked to in the store.

Would I do it again?  Yes!  I am still signed up with a few mystery shopping companies.  If the right task comes along, something that I find interesting in a good location and where the date fits in with my life, I would do another shop.

If mystery shopping sounds like something you’re interested in you can apply right here

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what is a mystery shopper | side hustle | make money | secret shopper

Have you ever wondered what is a mystery shopper?  Did you ever apply with mystery shopper companies?  Share in the comments!


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26 thoughts on “What is a mystery shopper? Can you really get paid to shop?”

    1. That’s a good question! I’ve never actually seen anything one way or another. For myself there is no way I could have brought my toddler and asked the specific questions (and remembered the names and answers that went with the questions!) that were part of the shop. It would just be too much to juggle. Thanks for stopping by today Sarah, hope you had a great day!

  1. Congratulations! This post won the Inspire Me Monday Linky Party! You’ll be featured on my site tomorrow!
    Janice, your hostess

    1. Janice, thank you so much! I’m very excited to hear this! 🙂 Of course I will be dropping by tomorrow (like I do anyways!)

  2. I mystery shop for BestMark. I can say personally that BestMark is a legit company that pays what they promise…and they pay on-time. I love mystery shopping. It’s a great side hustle….and easy.

    1. Hi there fellow mystery shopper! Thanks for visiting and chiming it. It’s really fun to come across these side hustles that are real and interesting and flexible (super key for me right now!!!)

    1. You’re welcome! Yeah it’s one of those quirky jobs you hear about 🙂 I was glad I tried it!

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  4. I’ve heard of this. And I feel like I get emails about mystery shops all the time but I never do them, ha! I totally should though, I am ALL about critiquing restaurants and stores!

    1. You would be great at it! It was kind of an unusual job for me because I don’t really like shopping!! If you do try it just be careful who you sign up with – not all places are legit.

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  9. There are not much projects for mystery shopping in my country and the rate isn’t good.
    but its a new but not so fun experience for me.

    1. That’s too bad that the rate isn’t great in your country. It’s fun to try new things but they won’t always be a great fit! Thanks for stopping by today 🙂

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  17. Thank you for pointing out that a good mystery shopper needs to have a good memory so that he/she can remember all the details. After reading your article, I think that being a mystery shopper sounds like a fun side job. I will definitely share this with my friends who might be interested in becoming a mystery shopper.

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