SHHH! I Was A Mystery Shopper


This is the first in a series we are doing about various work-at-home jobs for moms seeking to earn extra income from home.
First, let me say that I am no longer a mystery shopper. That is the only reason I feel reasonably comfortable writing this now. As it is, I can’t share all the details of the work I did because that would break the varied confidentiality agreements I signed back when I did do this work. Seriously, this is no joke to the people who run these programs. What I can share with you are key pieces of information to help you decide if this is something you want to do and keep you from making the common mistakes some people make when pursuing this as a WAH (Work at Home) option.

Don’t Spend Money to Make Money

You do not have to pay to be a mystery shopper. Did you see how I bolded that last sentence? That’s because anyone or any website that tells you otherwise is a scam and you should run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. For more information about this, check out this Federal Trade Commission (FTC) page all about the typical scams you might run into. The most important piece of information they have on that page is that in order to find work as a “legitimate” mystery shopper, you need look no further than the Mystery Shopping Providers Association website. This is where I found all of my work and I never ran into a problem with any of the companies I worked with.

What to Expect

You may be thinking to yourself, “Mystery shopping? That’s got to be the easiest job ever!” I’m here to tell you that while it can be easy and convenient in the right scenario, it can also be difficult, time consuming and frustrating. I worked with three different companies. All of them required me to sign paperwork (both legal and IRS related) and they all had some type of “test” I had to take each time I signed up for a “shop.” In order to pass the test I had to read the instructions provided for the shop and then answer between 5 and 10 questions about those instructions. This is usually easy and they do it to insure that you do everything they ask during the shop and are therefore able to thoughtfully and fully answer their questionnaire. This questionnaire is completed online when you get home but if you do more than one shop a day, I encourage you to print out a paper copy and take it with you to fill out in your care right after the shop. Otherwise, it’s too hard to remember everything. They get really detailed with the questions.


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How Much Money?

You WILL NOT get rich being a mystery shopper. This is a job that you do for extra money, not something you do to pay bills. Typical assignments pay anywhere from $3-$20 per shop and the really nice ones pay a “stipend.” An example would be a grocery shop which might pay $15 but also covers up to $20 of your purchase. That means the shop really pays $35 as long as you were going to buy those $20 worth of groceries anyway. You’d have to do a lot of mystery shopping to make a living that way.

The nice thing about this job is that you can do it on your own schedule. You do as much or as little as you want, since you only are responsible for the shops you sign on to do. Also, you can sign up to do only shops that fit into your day already (e.g. shops at grocery stores, restaurants, etc.) making this just a small extra task and much more convenient.


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Time is Money, Use it Wisely

Early in my mystery shopping career I took any and all jobs that were offered and some were a waste of my time. Because I wasn’t making any money at the time even the five dollar shops seemed like a cool deal. My thinking was as follows – “I’m getting paid $5 to go through the drive-thru at a fast food place. Sign me up!”

The problem is that it wasn’t just going through the drive-thru and ordering something. It was usually ordering something specific and it involved timing the process, taking notes (as secretly as possible) to be able to answer specific questions and then usually taking pictures. Not to mention the form I had to fill out when I got home! So that five dollars took more than an hour to earn. Not a great rate and ultimately disappointing. I learned to take shops that I would already be likely to do (grocery, restaurants) or that paid very well (bank shops, car sales, etc.).


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Final Verdict

Ultimately, I think it was fun to be a mystery shopper and it definitely gave me some insight into how businesses quantify customer service. It’s also gratifying to know that you are helping a company insure quality care/service. If you’ve ever had bad service and wanted to complain but just didn’t have the time or energy, rest comfortably knowing that someone out there is likely taking note and writing it all down!