How You Can Earn Extra Money On The Side As An Undercover Shopper

Becoming a mystery shopper is a valid entrepreneurial side hustle or part-time gig

mystery shopper
(Image: iStock.com/Ruslan Dashinsky)

If you love to eat out at restaurants, shop at retail stores, give your opinion plus you want to earn a little side money, consider being a mystery shopper. Mystery shopping can be applied in any industry; although the more common venues are retail stores, restaurants, banks, hotels, car dealerships, and healthcare facilities.

Essentially, being a mystery shopper means that you get to pose as a real customer by making purchases and then writing a report on your experience. Think CBS’s reality show Undercover Boss.

Mystery shopping has gotten a bad rap due to online scammers. But it’s a legit marketing tool used to measure the quality of that customer shopping experience. Outlets like Costco or Red Lobster may hire independent contractors to operate in stealth-like fashion to assess their business operations. Mystery Shoppers may be charged with specific tasks such as taking photographs, purchasing a product or service, returning a product, registering complaints, asking questions of sales reps, and behaving in other ways, according to marketing experts.

Mystery shopping is not a gateway to a high-paying gig. But it is a way to make money working with reputable companies.

[Related: 5 Home-Based Business Ideas]

Undercover Shoppers

Mystery shopping is estimated to be more than a $1.5 billion industry, with a scope that spans many industries and geographies, according to MSPA-NA (formerly known as the Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America). There are 1.5 million mystery shoppers in circulation, reports MSPA.

They go into stores, restaurants, banks, apartment complexes, and other kinds of businesses. Afterward, they complete a report form. Mystery shoppers gather information about service, quality, cleanliness, and other issues on behalf of business owners.

Paid Gigs

To help distinguish good gigs from false claims Scambusters.org interviewed Cathy Stucker, a mystery shopper since 1995 and the author of The Mystery Shopper’s Manual. She acknowledged that you can get paid anywhere from $10 to $100 or more.  It all depends on the assignment. If you manage to get 20 gigs, that could mean anywhere from $200 to $2,000 extra income annually.

Also, mystery shoppers are paid by assignment while other may make hourly wages. In addition to receiving a payment or getting reimbursed, some get to keep the product, Stucker explained.

Restaurants typically reimburse the cost of a meal for the shopper and a guest, she told Scambusters. “Some of these shops only provide reimbursement with no additional fee, but your reimbursement might be $60, $75, $150 or more. “

Buyer Beware

Scammers create websites where you “register” to become a mystery shopper by paying a fee, warns MSPA, and use free online classified websites like Craigslist and Monster to recruit potential victims.

Becoming a mystery shopper for a legitimate company doesn’t cost anything. Check the MSPA’s database to search mystery shopper assignments and learn how to apply for them. MSPA offers certification programs for a fee, but you don’t need “certification” to apply assignments.



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