Mystery shopping can be a great way to earn extra money, working very conveniently on your time and without anyone looking over your shoulder. Many people who are looking for work at home jobs tend to gravitate toward mystery shopping for those very reasons, even though the work isn't always done from home.
But don't quit your day job just yet. From the research I've done, it looks like most people are just doing this for extra money.
In this post, we're going to talk about how much money you can really expect to earn as a mystery shopper to help you decide if this is something you should do.
What does mystery shopping involve?
I have a post here with a longer explanation, but to sum up, you're visiting places of business to evaluate different things and take really specific notes. All the while, you are not supposed to reveal your mystery shopper identity. Most of the time you'll be asked to make a small purchase and then write up a detailed report on your shopping experience. You'll be paid once your report has been reviewed and accepted.
Most of the time, your pay will include what you earned for doing the shop PLUS a reimbursement for the purchase you made, although some shops might only pay a reimbursement OR a fee for the shop — not both. Restaurant shops are a good example of this — most of the time, your pay for these shops is just the meal.
How much are mystery shoppers paid?
The exact amount you earn per shop will vary. Most shops pay a flat rate between $5 and $25, occasionally more. Keep in mind your work isn't done once you're out of the store. You'll spend another 30 minutes to an hour writing up your report for the company you did the shop for after the fact.
How long does it take to get the cash?
You can expect it to take anywhere from 30 to 60 days to see the money you made from your shops because most companies hiring mystery shoppers pay monthly, so if you do a shop in January, you probably won't see that money until the end of February or the first of March. But, if you're doing shops regularly, you'll soon reach a point where you are getting checks every single month.
Things That May Impact Your Earnings
Location. If you live in an area with lots of stores, there will be more shops available for you to do, so there is potential to earn more money. If you live in a rural area, you'll find there are less shops available for you to do. You can still accept jobs that are far away, but you'll have to take into consideration how much you're spending on the gas to get there. When all is said and done, you might not make enough for it to have been worth the trip.
The Competition. You won't be the only person trying to snag available shops in your area. So your overall success will depend a great deal on how many shops you actually land.
Experience. More experienced mystery shoppers often get the shops that pay best over newer, less experienced shoppers. I've often seen it recommended to pay to get registered as a shopper with the MSPA if you want to do this professionally, the advantages being that you learn what you're doing and (at least with some companies) mystery shop schedulers may give preference to people who are certified over people who aren't when it comes to selecting people for shops.
Your Writing Skills. Writing your report after the shop is completed will take time. The better you are at writing, the easier you'll find this part of the process. And it's very important. If your report isn't done just right, the company can refuse to pay you for the shop you did. So if you struggle with writing, this could take a while to complete and will cut into your earnings so that you might not even be making minimum wage once the shop and the report writing are completed.
Is it possible to make more than just extra cash?
Yes, there are some people who do this part-time and full-time who are making a little more than just extra cash. I found a story on LearnVest written by a woman who does part-time mystery shopping and was able to earn $14,000 in her first year of doing it. I realize that amount is far from enough for many people to live off of, but it's still a good bit more than chump change.
That said, I do not believe this amount is very typical. The person who wrote that article worked at her regular (day) job in a location close to lots of stores, so she was able to do shops during lunch, after work, etc. Her location worked a great deal to her advantage there.
How much is realistic?
I polled my readers about this on Facebook. While I haven't gotten many responses as yet, one helpful person let me know that she cleared about $200 during her best ever month, after deducting what was paid out of pocket and reimbursements (which you are also required to claim as income on your taxes).
So, from what I've gathered, earning several hundred dollars per month as a mystery shopper is certainly realistic, but you will have to put in the effort and do shops whenever you have time.
What about mystery shopping scams?
There are so many mystery shopping scams floating around that I can't in good conscience write you a post like this without giving you a warning.
Rule #1 – Never pay a company to sign up as a mystery shopper! Registering yourself as a shopper should be free if you're dealing with a reputable company.
Rule #2 – If you receive a check in the mail, or an email asking for your bank info, for the purposes of a “Western Union” or other financial mystery shop, don't do it. Some scammers will mail you fake checks asking you to wire part of it and keep the rest for a mystery shop. When you do this, you'll get nailed by your bank because the check is fraudulent. And then sometimes these requests will come to your email. Just avoid.
Rule #3 – Before you register with any company, check that they are part of the MSPA. If they are, and you can verify that via the MSPA website, the company is the real deal.
Please do not be alarmed if a mystery shopping company asks for your social security number when you're registering (assuming you have verified they are part of the MSPA). They will need it in the event you earn over $600 in a year so they can mail you a 1099 tax form. If you're uncomfortable providing that info online, you can usually make arrangements to call the company and give the info over the phone.
I have a lot more info on mystery shopping scams here.
Where to get started?
Over the years, we've written reviews of several legitimate mystery shopping companies. You can browse them in list-form here. You might want to sign up with as many as possible to ensure that you get access to all the shops you can.
If you'd like to mystery shop but leaving your house isn't an option, you may want to also check out this list of companies that regularly hire phone mystery shoppers.
For more detailed information, you can read The Mystery Shopper's Manual by Cathy Stucker, a woman who has successfully trained over 10,000 mystery shoppers.
Please comment below if you'd like to share with us how much YOU earn as a mystery shopper!