The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Mystery Shopper

People looking to bring in extra cash — and who love to spend their time in stores — can do so as a mystery shopper. This profession has you pose as a normal shopper, visit stores, and provide feedback to the company about the shop’s customer service, cleanliness, and other criteria. Unfortunately, mystery shopping is a profession that...

People looking to bring in extra cash — and who love to spend their time in stores — can do so as a mystery shopper. This profession has you pose as a normal shopper, visit stores, and provide feedback to the company about the shop’s customer service, cleanliness, and other criteria.

Unfortunately, mystery shopping is a profession that is susceptible to scam artists. This article will act as a guide to finding mystery shopper jobs, including a list of nine legitimate companies. We’ll also discuss how to avoid scams, and answer some frequently asked questions about mystery shopping.

What Is a Mystery Shopper?

A mystery shopper is someone who provides market research for companies on the ground level. Companies will pay a shopper to pose as a regular customer, then ask for help purchasing a certain product, query employees questions about a service they provide, or even go through with a purchase.

Shoppers then provide feedback on the customer experience, quality of service, product selection, cleanliness of the store, and many more criteria. This in-store work is meant to help businesses evaluate their employee training and customer service.

Shoppers are paid per visit, and most companies will reimburse you for purchases you make. (Many will ask you to then mail the product back in, but sometimes they allow you to keep the product if you’d like.)

Companies may ask you to shop at grocery stores, fast food establishments, gas stations, drug stores, and even financial institutions or healthcare companies. For people who have a work-at-home job, or even an office job, mystery shopping can be an excellent side hustle, as many mystery shopping assignments can be done during a lunch hour.

How to Avoid Scams

Unfortunately, secret shopping is the type of job that lends itself to scam artists. Because mystery shoppers are, by definition, meant to do their work discreetly, it’s not like you can go and meet with your boss and check in for normal business hours.

Mystery shopping scams will promise money for secret shoppers and send you to do market research at local stores, all with the promise of paying you. With scams, unfortunately, no money is coming.

Open sign on storefront door

One mystery shopper scam is that the “company” will pay you with a fake check for too much money, then ask you to write them a check to make up the difference. Another common scam is that the company can ask you to pay for work materials up front, or ask you to provide sensitive information they can use to steal your identity or drain your bank account.

Some ways to protect yourself:

  • Never wire money to a company with only a promise that they will send materials soon.
  • While you may need to provide banking information to be paid at a legitimate company, you should never provide passwords to your bank accounts, or provide a login and password for a PayPal account. If the company is asking for login and password information, do not provide it.
  • If an “employer” gets on a phone call with you and seems pushy for personal information, be wary.
  • It’s rare to find a full-time job right away as a mystery shopper. If someone is promising a massive salary, do your research. The cliche is true: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Do your research.

The last one is very important, and there are resources to help you even beyond this article. The MSPA (Mystery Shopping Providers Association) is a trade organization that is a resource for mystery shoppers.

They provide information on legitimate companies, provide warnings about known scammers, and can be contacted with questions if you’re concerned. They can also certify you for a small fee, and then provide you with listings for opportunities in your area.

You can also check with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Better Business Bureau to find information about companies and whether or not they are trustworthy.

9 Different Companies Hiring for Mystery Shoppers

While there are scams out there, there are also legitimate mystery shopping companies that are often hiring for mystery shopping jobs. The best mystery shopping companies hire reliable people and pay promptly — either with an hourly rate, a task rate, or occasionally with gift cards. Below are some companies that have been vetted by the MSPA and pay money to mystery shoppers.

1. IntelliShop

IntelliShop is a company that works with a wide range of industries — over 50 — which is nice in that they offer a lot of variety, no matter what you’re interested in shopping for. There’s no charge to sign up. Learn more over at their website.

2. Sinclair Customer Metrics

Sinclair Customer Metrics has been around for over 30 years, and has worked with thousands of businesses, providing market intelligence and observable customer experience. They specialize in having shoppers call in to shops to test the business’s ability to handle telephone questions and provide excellent support.

3. A Closer Look

A Closer Look was recognized as a MSPA “Elite Company” in 2018. They have shoppers perform mystery visits to hotels, restaurants, health and wellness shops, retail stores, and more.

4. Secret Shopper

Secret Shopper was another recipient of the MSPA “Elite Company” award in 2018, and has been providing mystery shopping services for companies since 1993. They offer shoppers the ability to set their own hours, and require no up-front payment to join.

5. Quest for Best

Quest for Best has opportunities for mystery shopping in over 40 states, and are always looking for motivated, smart shoppers who can provide honest, articulate feedback to companies about their shopping experience. Sign up is free, and you can learn all about the company at their website.

6. Perception Strategies, Inc.

Perception Strategies, Inc. was founded in 1998, and specializes in the healthcare industry. They provide healthcare providers the intelligence and feedback they need to make sure their patients are getting the best treatment possible.

7. Market Force

Market Force has won the MSPA Shopper’s Choice Award three years in a row, and is known for giving shop assignments at stores you probably already visit, like banks, restaurants, and retail stores. They ask shoppers to grade businesses on service, cleanliness, product availability, and other key factors.

8. GBW

GBW is one of the largest secret shopping companies in the world, boasting programs in over 105 countries and a workforce of over 400,000 people. They are always recruiting shoppers with a discerning eye and a strong attention to detail.

9. Pinnacle

Pinnacle works exclusively with financial institutions, helping them on their customer service and sales techniques. Pinnacle shoppers only work with banks and credit unions, so if you have experience in the field, or just have a strong interest in finance, it could be worth checking out.

Frequently Asked Questions

Woman smiling with sparkler

We’ve discussed what mystery shopping is, how to avoid scams, and some reliable companies that pay you to secret shop. Let’s get to some FAQs.

1. How much will I get paid as a mystery shopper?

There are full-time mystery shoppers who make salaries in the $40,000 range, according to ZipRecruiter, but those are positions for highly trained shoppers with backgrounds in market research. For your average mystery shopper, companies tend to offer between $5 and $20 for every shop visited, and can reimburse you partially or fully for items they ask you to buy. An article in Forbes has a very good, detailed explanation on how payment works.

2. How do I file taxes as a mystery shopper?

If you are a mystery shopper, most companies will label you as an independent contractor, meaning taxes will not be paid automatically on your behalf with each paycheck.

Filing quarterly will help you stay organized. It will also help you avoid a massive tax bill at the end of the year, which, if you can’t pay it, can incur penalties and affect your bottom line.

3. How do I grade businesses?

The criteria for feedback on a business varies widely, and will not only depend on the standards of the mystery shopping company that hired you, but also on the type of business you are shopping with. Most companies are interested in customer service, whether it’s in banking, retail, or healthcare.

Other criteria may be cleanliness, product availability, even something as distinct as the lighting in a store. While there is no absolute measure of the quality of customer service, these businesses rely on honesty and fairness from their mystery shoppers.

Bring in Extra Money as a Mystery Shopper

Mystery shopping can be a good way to bring in extra income if you love shopping, have an eye for detail, and can articulate feedback clearly and well. It can be a great job for a stay-at-home mom or dad, and if you’re smart and reliable, you can create a steady income stream for the side hustle.

With this list of reputable companies providing mystery shopping opportunities, you can get started on your journey to bring in extra money while shopping.

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