That Mystery Shopping Thing

Mystery Shopping can be a great way to try out new restaurants, stores, and other events, and make extra money in the process. Not all shops pay, some only reimburse, or partially reimburse you for a purchase, but then others don’t even require a purchase and pay well. I’ll be providing links to several companies I personally have worked with. Due to non-disclosure agreements, I can’t tell you details on which companies shop which stores, but I’ll give you an idea of what kind of things you can expect.

The First Shop

I did my first mystery shop in November of 2002. I don’t remember how I managed to find the company I did the assignment for, but I remember the shop experience. I had to go to a specific store in a local mall. While there, I had to browse around, and see how long it took a salesperson to offer to help, and then let them try to help me find a product to meet my needs. I remember we ended up with a pretty cool card game. When I was done, I came home, scanned the receipt from my required purchase and filled out an online form telling about my experience. When all was said and done, I got paid $20, part of which covered the cost of my purchase. I don’t know why, but based on my records from the time, I didn’t do any more shops for almost eight years.

This Can Actually Help Us Out!

Eight years later, in 2010, the same company started offering assignments at a national haircut chain. The haircut could be for myself or a child, and they paid about $13 more than the cost of the haircut. After I did the first one, for the next several months, we made money on our haircuts by taking the assignments regularly.

That’s when I realized that this was something that could actually be helpful, not only in bringing in some extra money at a time when I was either unemployed or underemployed but also helping cut the costs of things we had to do anyway. Getting paid $26 for a $12 haircut was a pretty good deal. Yeah, I had to spend time filling out a report after each haircut, but as time went on, the process got easier.

What Else Is Out There

The company I was doing these jobs for didn’t have a lot of options close enough into where I live to be worth doing, and eventually either they cut us off from the haircut assignments, or they lost the contract so those disappeared.  I researched and found several other companies.  Thankfully, all the ones I initially stumbled upon were reputable, as this is an area that is prone to scams.  Eventually, I found the MSPA, Mystery Shopping Providers Association, an organization focused on helping companies and shoppers around the world (The link is to the Americas chapter).  This helped me find even more companies.  At this time, I’m signed up with dozens, of companies that shop everything from Churches to Car Dealerships and even Resorts.  I don’t actively work with all of them, but I do get communications from them, and if an assignment comes up that I like, I take it.

While the MSPAA’s site above can give you some great links. I’m working on a database of companies I’ve worked with and personally recommend. I won’t be able to tell you what places these companies shop, but I can give you general ideas of what you can expect from them.  I also plan to do a few more posts about different types of shops and audits.

Show Me the Money

How much can you make doing Mystery Shops?  That’s not a simple question to answer. There are a number of factors that come in to play on that.  How much time do you have to put into this? Do you have the ability to spend money up-front? Do you live in an area that has a lot of options?  I have had months where I’ve cleared well over $200, and then I’ve had months where I’ve only made $20 or less.  Usually, it’s about the timing and nature of the jobs. January, I tend to be able to load up on jobs that pay decent and have no expenses, other than paper to print out audit forms.  Summer months, I tend to cut back on the jobs I do, because I have the kids at home with me. Then there’s the nature of the assignments.  One company I work for does a lot of shops at a local casual dining spot. They always have shops available, but the shop requires the purchase of beer or wine, which I don’t drink.  They also only reimburse, so I don’t do them.

In my next post on this topic, I’ll talk about the general types of assignments I do. I won’t be able to go into specifics, but I can give general ideas on what is required for this.

Until then…