Mystery Shopping for Extra Money: One Shopper’s Experiences

Making Money / Monday, October 10th, 2011

The following is an interview with Travis, a husband and father who balances debt, finances, and family. Travis shares the experiences, struggles and successes of his family as they fight their way out of credit card debt on his blog, Our Journey to Zero.  

Travis also does mystery shopping for extra money. Mystery shoppers are hired by market research firms to pose as a customers and gather information about their experiences at retail establishments.

I asked Travis if he would be willing to share his mystery shopping experiences with us and he graciously agreed. Here’s our Q&A:

Q. I’ve known about mystery shopping for a long time, but recently I was surprised to hear some women I knew at a dinner party talking about it. I didn’t know that I personally knew anyone who worked as a mystery shopper.  How did you become interested in it?

A: About a year ago, I read a post in a user community where the writer documented how he planned his wife’s birthday celebration on a very tight budget.  He was able to sign up for a mystery shopping job at one of their favorite restaurants, and thus the meal was essentially free given that he was reimbursed for the meal. I don’t live in a large metropolitan area, so I didn’t know the extent of the opportunities I may have for mystery shopping.  However, the potential of being able to go out to eat out on someone else’s dime seemed worth checking out.

Q. How does mystery shopping work?

A: For each mystery shopping company that I’ve registered,  I’ve had to read over their terms and conditions, then take a short quiz to prove that you’ve actually read the document.  Once I passed the quiz, I was qualified to do shops for that company.

I check the websites every couple of days  looking for new shops in my city.  The company I use the most posts new jobs on the last day of the month – although sometimes new jobs come up randomly throughout the month.  For each job I sign up for, I have to do the following:

1.)    pick a date to do the shop (there are sometimes restrictions on what day and time a shop can be done).

2.)    Read the instruction documentation

3.)    Do the actual mystery shop

4.)    Fill out the post-shop report on their website.

Every shop requires that you provide some sort of proof that you completed the shop.  Sometimes it’s a receipt, sometimes it’s a business card.

For jobs that are at retail stores, typically I have to talk to employees about particular products.  For these shops I am paid a flat fee usually between $15 and $25.

For jobs that are at restaurants, I take my wife, and sometimes the whole family to eat.  We are reimbursed for our meal, up to a maximum amount.  That amount is usually between $25 and $30.

Q. Do you work for one company or more than one?

A: I have registered with four different mystery shopping companies that operate in my area. However, I only use two of them on a regular basis.

Those two sites are:

Q. How often do you go on shops?

A: I typically go on 3-5 shops a month. For the companies I am registered with, shops for a given month are paid around the 20th of the following month.   I usually earn somewhere between $45 and $80 per month.

Q. What advice would you have for someone interested in getting into mystery shopping?

A:  There are many different mystery shopping companies out there.  If you’re interested in mystery shopping, you just need to find the ones that are most active in your area.  It doesn’t cost anything to register with legitimate mystery shopping sites, so just keep searching until you find one (or a couple) that you like, and really work well for you.

I have never encountered a legitimate mystery shopping company that charges you to register with them.  If you find a company that requires you to pay a registration fee, I would be skeptical and move along.

Keep your expectations in check as to how much money you’ll earn mystery shopping.  I’ve heard of people making hundreds of dollars mystery shopping in a month, but I suspect it would take quite a bit of effort and time to do so.  As mentioned, I earn between $45 to $80 mystery shopping per month.

Finally, know  how much time you want to spend, and evaluate if it’s worth it to you before you jump in.   Between the time it takes to read the instructions, do the shop, and enter the post shop review, a single retail shop probably requires 60-90 minutes of my time.  When you break down your payment in a “per hour” rate, it may not seem worth it.  However,  I never complain when that check for $45 to $80 arrives in the mail.

A big thanks to Travis for taking the time to answer my questions. Have any of you ever participated in mystery shopping? What have your experiences been like?

17 Replies to “Mystery Shopping for Extra Money: One Shopper’s Experiences”

  1. Love this post! I have always wanted to try mystery shopping but was very skeptical because of scams. thank you for providing an “ins and outs” for those that are interested in giving it a try!

    1. It’s definitely worth giving a try, Suzanne! The retail shops one could potentially come to the conclusion are not worth the time/effort depending upon the payment amount. But the restaurant shops are a great way to enjoy a meal out and get re-reimbursed for it. In fact, I’m headed to my favorite pizza place tonight for a mystery shop!

  2. Thanks so much, Julie, for the opportunity to share my my mystery shopping experience with your readers! I’m happy to answer any questions that are not covered in the interview either via the comments section here, or through the “contact” page over on my website.

    Happy Shopping everyone!

    1. Now that is something I would love to try out. We have a Shih Tzu that needs to be groomed monthly. A free dog groom would be great.

      1. That is a fantastic shop, Bestmommy! On a similar note, I live about an hour south of the Minneapolis/St Paul metro area, but sometimes I look to see what’s available there as we go there frequently to visit family. There is a chain of vets that participate in mystery shopping that proves a re-reimbursement of up to $100 for services. That would definitely be worth it as well, and wish a vet closer to me would participate (I have two cats).

    1. Hmmm, I’ve never thought of it that way, Kay Lynn…bigger city means more opportunity…but also potentially a higher cost of getting to the actual shops. I guess when in such a situation, a person would have to ensure that a shop would be in an area that you normally visit as to not be to expensive to make it worth it.

      My city is not that large, so I fortunately don’t have that kind of issue.

    1. There certainly are scams out there, but there are also many legitimate mystery shopping opportunities. As mentioned in an earlier comment, I just went on a mystery shop to my favorite pizza place in town last night. We brought along my daughter’s friend, and went over the max re-reimbursed amount by $10…but dinner out for $10 for the whole family is pretty darn cheap!

  3. I’ve done one mystery shop, which actually didn’t involve me buying anything. It was interesting, but most of the ones available on the site I signed up for are 30-40 minutes away. I’m too much of a stay-at-home person to spend that much time driving.

    1. Hi Jackie! I hardly have any mystery shops that require me to buy anything…sometimes they want me to buy anything (pen, candy, gum or anything cheap) just to get a receipt. Other times I have to buy something, then return it to experience the service counter. But wow, 30-40 minutes away…yeah, I can see how that would be worth it.

  4. […] Mystery Shopping for Extra Money: One Shopper's Experiences@TheFamilyCEO  "There are many different mystery shopping companies out there.  If you're interested in mystery shopping, you just need to find the ones that are most active in your area.  It doesn't cost anything to register with legitimate mystery shopping sites, so just keep searching until you find one (or a couple) that you like, and really work well for you." […]

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