You never know who I am, when I’m coming, or where I’ll pop up. Today, I’m just a random customer buying a bagel with cream cheese on the way to work. Two weeks from now, I’ll be the stupid lady at the electronics store testing employee product knowledge (and patience) by asking annoying questions about the “features and benefits” of the latest LED TV.
Sometimes I can be spotted from a mile away based on my actions, but more than likely I’ll remain discreet in my behavior, so as not to be obvious and cause a scene. Why? Because I’m a mystery shopper and remaining as anonymous as possible is the name of the game.
What’s Mystery Shopping?
Mystery shopping services are used by businesses everywhere to provide an accurate “snapshot” of actual customer experiences from a non-biased customer perspective. Companies hire men and women from all ages and backgrounds to shop their stores for a number of reasons, which all vary from attempting to determine whether customers love their menu or feel they’re overcharging for service. Some companies even run mystery shop programs to make sure employees treat clients with respect and display appropriate knowledge of policies and procedures.
How I Got Started Mystery Shopping
After discovering that finding work in the small military town I had lived in was nearly impossible (who knew “Air Force Girlfriend” didn’t give you any job preference privileges?), I discovered mystery shopping as a supplement to my other work at home positions as a freelance writer and virtual LiveOps agent.
I was initially turned off from mystery shopping because all the assignments available were ones with low fees. However, as I began to get more involved with “secret shopping,” I observed a few tricks of the trade that I could use to my advantage. For example, I learned that the longer a shop goes unfilled, the more generous schedulers are with fees. This was one of the keys to making more money as a mystery shopper, because instead of accepting $5 mystery shopping assignments that required too much for too little pay and hearing “That’s not within our budget,” I began to learn how to wait until a tired, exhausted scheduler would send an email blast that said, “Make me a deal!” I’ve been able to get as much as $80 in bonuses in shops by “waiting them out.”
Over time, grit, sweat and hustle (along with good music and working auto heat/cooling systems) helped me build my shopper portfolio up to a point where I now sometimes receive preferential treatment and “first dibs” on shop opportunities. It’s also helped that I’ve reinvested my earnings and am a certified mystery shopper.
Mystery Shopping: How Much Money is in It?
Mystery shopping companies are very straightforward in letting shoppers know they’re not interested in paying a lot in fees. Many times, they’ll emphasize that mystery shopping is to be treated as a “fun supplement” to your income, but filling out hours of paperwork on nightmare assignments to get $5 back from PayPal is anything but a fun-filled hobby.
Nevertheless, mystery shopping can pad your pockets quite nicely. While I’m not Mrs. Pennybags by any means, I’ve been able to gross as much as $500 in a moderately busy month.
All in all, I’d say with a little finesse, it’s pretty easy for someone to average $200 – $500 per month with mystery shopping, although I’ve heard of people making way more. It really all depends on drive, relationships with schedulers and ability to correctly report shops consistently.
Perks and Challenges of Mystery Shopping
Mystery shopping is truly a fun, challenging side hustle. I’ve been blessed to enjoy meals at some of my favorite restaurants regularly, purchase clothing and other retail products and give them as gifts for others (or myself) and meet interesting people. I’ve even gotten to test drive a luxury sports car, something I never would have gotten the chance to
However, despite the fun of it all, “getting paid to shop” is still work. I have to keep detailed notes as a mystery shopper, follow all the guidelines and keep records of every receipt I get and expense I incur. I have to report my income on my taxes, and pay my own taxes. Failure to properly account for earned income and expenses not only keeps me from learning how much I’m really making, but can really get me in trouble if the tax man comes a-knockin’.
6 Tips for Starting Your Own Mystery Shopping Hustle
- Search and sign up for mystery shops through the MSPA (www.mysteryshop.org)
- Never pay fees to sign up as a shopper. You may pay for meals or expenses during a shop, but that’s it. Any upfront fees you’re asked to pay before you even become a shopper should be a red flag that you’re being scammed.
- Start small. You’re the new kid on the block in this industry, so you’ll have to take a few small $5 assignments before you’re offered larger, better paying assignments.
- Keep track of all your expenses, including gas and travel mileage. You need to make sure you’re actually earning enough to keep shopping, and not wasting your time for a minimal reward.
- Invest $15 in silver certification through MSPA. Being a silver certified mystery shopper will immediately help you stand out among other shoppers who refuse to step up their game. Later on, invest in gold certification so that you’re gold certified.
- Build relationships with your schedulers, and observe others’ bonus patterns so you can take advantage of higher shop fees and be seen as the “go-to” shopper in your area.
Guest Post by Lauryn Doll – a mostly self-employed internet media consultant from New York. She can be found at SexyFocusedAmbitious.com (Previously known as “Ask The IRS B*tch”), where she shares hip-hop influenced anecdotes and experiences as a young entrepreneur and freelance consultant.
(Photo by Morning theft)