When my youngest child was born six and a half years ago, I became a stay at home mom. After about a year, I wanted something to do that would allow me to still be with my child, yet make a little extra money at the same time. I heard about mystery shopping and decided to do some research. It took me weeks, but the places I discovered put me on the right path. I got lucky compared to some who are taken in by scams, which I will discuss a little in a bit.
Many are skeptical, but mystery shopping is a legitimate way to make money. I did mystery shopping as my main source of income for over five years, and even now working full-time I still do shops. There are many sites you can visit to find out about companies, but in my opinion there is only one reliable, reputable site to find all of the information you need. I will discuss this site and the benefits of later in the post.
Mystery Shopping Is Not For Everyone
Some companies require detailed reports and some people I have referred to companies have done a shop, then did the report and stated to me, “Forget this, it took too long, and I would rather just pay for it myself.” On that same note, some reports that require in-depth details want to know exactly what happened and what was said from start to finish. However, not all companies require lengthy details and for those that do, if you can just stick with it and do more, they become much easier over time.
As with anything, the more you do it, the better you become and the faster you get. Another important note regarding mystery shopping is you absolutely must be reliable in the shops you accept. A term you will learn after you've done some mystery shopping is “flake.” A flake is someone who repeatedly accepts shops and then cancels them or does not do them at all. This does not apply to having an emergency situation. Schedulers learn which shoppers to rely on and which shoppers take it seriously.
Mystery Shop Reports
When doing mystery shops, you report the facts. The reports are not based on what you think, but rather on what you actually observed. You need to take any emotion out of the reports you do. This is extremely important. The companies do not want to hear that in your opinion someone had on too much make-up, talked too much, and so on. They want to know if the person is doing their job. This does not mean you may not be asked certain questions that pertain to your opinion, but for the most part, reports are based on the facts regarding what happened.
Making a Living With Mystery Shopping
Can you make a living with mystery shopping? It really is dependent upon the area in which you live. I have found the bigger the city, the more opportunities there are for shops. The smaller towns and counties have a few opportunities, but I would not count on the smaller areas for giving you anything more than a free meal or a little extra money.
Becoming a Certified Shopper
As a mystery shopper, you have the option of becoming either Silver or Gold Certified by the MSPA, although neither is required. Being certified has it's advantages in that you are sometimes offered assignments first. Gold is the highest certification, so usually assignments that are offered to certified shoppers first are offered to Gold, then Silver and then to those with no certification. Personally, I am Silver Certified and the fee charged for that paid off in the assignments I was offered in two week's time. To become Gold or Silver Certified, you have to review information (Gold is a DVD that is sent to you) online and then take and pass a test. After passing the test, you are given a certification number that you will find many companies ask you for.
About Taxes and Getting Paid
As a mystery shopper, you are an independent contractor with each company you sign up with. You will be required to provide your social security or tax ID number and you will get a 1099 if you earn over $600 in a year from that company. You will also need a Paypal account and/or a way to have money direct deposited if you want to be paid. All companies pay differently, but those are two of the most common options.
When I first started mystery shopping, I was still somewhat skeptical about it all. I went to the bank and set up a separate account just for the mystery shopping payments. Knowing what I do now, I would not hesitate to provide my regular account information.
As an independent contractor, you have the freedom to accept and decline any shops you're offered. However, each company has their own time frame for you not accepting any shops before you are deactivated. For some shops, you can take children and some are strict and require that you do the shop alone.
You should be able to view the shop details and requirements before you accept each assignment. Anytime you are unsure, there should be an email to send to someone and ask any questions you are unclear about. Do this before accepting the assignment as you do not want to accept it and then find out you have to cancel because the requirements will not work in your situation.
Mystery Shopping Scams
The first and most important thing to remember is that if a company asks you for money just to sign up with them, they are not legitimate. You do not pay to become a mystery shopper. However, know that you're required to spend money out of pocket up front when doing shops. This is perfectly fine. Sometimes you'll receive reimbursement and other times just a flat fee.
Again, this information will be in the details. Some shops are reimbursement only. This usually applies to things like restaurant assignments. You receive reimbursement for the meal (up to a certain amount). Also, many companies grade you on your report, so the more details you provide (in other words they do not have to contact you for more details), the less grammar and spelling errors you have, etc. the better your grade will be.
Where to Go For Mystery Shopping Information & Feedback
In my opinion, the best place to go for all information is the Volition forums. This site has all of the information you will ever want or need and then some. This is a free site, but registration is required to read.
If you find a company that interests you, try to research them on Volition. Read the threads and see what the shoppers are saying about the company you're considering.
While you're browsing the forums, remember that reading a bad review from a shopper does not necessarily mean the company is a bad one to do shops for. Look to see if payments are happening and timely — that would be the biggest area for concern. Use your own judgment and if something does not feel right about the company to you, do not apply.
Good Mystery Shopping Companies to Consider
- About Face
- Market Force
- Second to None
- Service Intelligence
- Shoppers Critique
For a larger list of companies, check the mystery shopping page in the directory.
Each company pays differently and you should find their payment terms on their individual pages, however most pay once a month. Trendsource happens to pay twice a month.
I hope you have learned from this! Please feel free to email me if you have any questions or if I can refer you to Corporate Research International (make sure to include the email you want to use). I only listed a few of the companies here. To reach me, send and email to m_n_mmom (at) yahoo (dot) com. Please put “MS Info” in the subject line.