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If you’re like me, you probably have heard the term, “mystery shopping,” for quite some time. You probably were also pretty skeptical about what exactly it entailed and if it was a scam or not. At least, those are the assumptions I was operating off of.
However, I am here to tell you that mystery shopping is in fact a legitimate thing, as I have recently partaken in a mystery shop and successfully received payment for it. But, by the same token, I am also here to tell you that it is NOT “easy-money,” as from what I’ve experienced so far, the Dollar/hour payout is quite low given the time it takes to complete a mystery shop. More detail on this later in the post.
What is Mystery Shopping & How I Got My Renewed Interested in It
My renewed interest in mystery shopping was sparked after reading a very interesting article over at ThePennyHoarder.com about how Kyle (site owner) makes $500 per month conducting liquor audit mystery shops.
Essentially, what happens is that companies hire him through the mystery shopping intermediaries to purchase alcohol at local stores and then report back on whether or not he was asked for age verification/ID. In a nutshell, this is what mystery shopping entails. Big companies need to collect non-biased customer viewpoint data on their local stores so they can make tactical decisions on their business. So, they contract the mystery shopping companies as the middle men to find the independent auditors (shoppers), collect the data, and issue payment to the individuals.
Regarding Kyle’s specific article about liquor audits, he states that he gets paid around $18 per alcohol purchase (in addition to getting reimbursed for buying beer), that the shops only take 5 minutes to do, and that he can string together 10 of them in one trip around town to make a nice chunk of change.
After reading this post, I said, “That sounds awesome! I’d like to get a piece of that action!” And, knowing the good reputation of the site owner, I figured that it was likely a very legitimate opportunity/thing. So, I proceeded to look in to it.
Finding and Signing Up as a Mystery Shopper with Legitimate Mystery Shopping Companies
As I found out in my research on mystery shopping, a golden rule to remember is that NO LEGITIMATE MYSTERY SHOPPING COMPANY will require you to pay money upfront for any reason. Those that ask for money up front are a scam – simple as that.
Luckily, in my case, in his post mentioned above, Kyle recommended the names of 3 mystery shopping companies he uses, so I proceeded to sign up for those. I figured that I would sign up in the systems of 3-4 mystery shopping companies to start with and see if I enjoyed the experience and it was indeed worthwhile.
Listed below are the mystery shopping companies I have signed up for:
And, listed below are several additional legitimate mystery shopping companies that I figured I would enroll with if I found the whole process worthwhile with the first 3 I tried:
- Second to None
- Best Mark
- Hauser Track
- Sassie Shop
- Cirrus Marketing
- Ritter Associates
- Insular Research
- In Touch Shoppers
Upon signing up to these programs, some of them require you to take a short quiz. However, it is really not that hard nor time consuming, and likely is just designed to test your procedural reading skills.
What Type of Opportunities Do These Mystery Shopping Companies Offer?
- Sinclair Customer Metrics –
- For the 1 month period I have been enrolled in Sinclair’s system, I think I have only seen one mystery shopping opportunity listed. It was a purchase at a local shop at the mall.
- It sounded like a pretty good opportunity, but the payout was only about $4-5, so I really wasn’t that interested because I wasn’t planning to go to the mall anytime soon.
- Corporate Research –
- There is a pretty consistent stream of mystery shopping opportunities through this outfit in my area, mainly for a local sit-down pizza restaurant and gas stations.
- The commissions for these opportunities are quite low, ranging from $4 to $10 maximum.
- In order to even view what is required for the gas station inspections/shops, you have to take a HIGHLY detailed test. I would rate this test as very hard and extremely specific/annoying. Essentially, you have to remember every little detail about the specific areas of a gas station.
- Moreover, from these qualification tests, I discovered that the gas station inspection that allows you to get the $10 payout is so detailed that it would likely take me an hour to do, and it also involves talking to the station manager after identifying yourself as an inspector. This sounds too much like real work to me. No thanks!
- TrendSource –
- TrendSource also has a nice, steady stream of mystery shopping opportunities in my area, mostly involving the evaluation of a local pizza take-out / delivery joint ($5 payout plus reimbursement for the pizza) or talking at length with employees at a local national chain technology store about products ($10 payout).
- Since the tech store gig sounded like it would also be a little more involved than I would be looking for in a little fun side project like mystery shopping, I decided to give the pizza delivery mystery shop a try first.
- After taking the 20 minute qualification test, I signed up for a pizza delivery shop with high hopes. I figured, hey, they bring the pizza right to my house, I get paid $5, they pay for the pizza, sounds easy-breezy, right?
- Well, I soon found out that you pay a price, especially the first time that you do one of these pizza mystery shops.
- First, they give you a 3 page set of instructions on EXACTLY how they want 3 pictures to be taken of the pizza. Truth be told, there are so many little minute details that it felt more like a job than some fun side project.
- Second, they give you a 6-ish page set of instructions for other details they want to collect about the mystery shop, such as evaluating whether or not the delivery person smiles, reads back your total, or that the person on the phone that takes your order tries to up-sell you. Again, this sort of took the fun out of the pizza.
- Third, once the pizza arrived, I kept making small mistakes in the pictures (such as taking the top shot at an 85 degree angle instead of a 90 degree angle, which they called me out on..ridiculous). Because of the mistakes and retakes, the pizza was cold when we actually started to eat it. Sigh…haha
- Granted, if I were to do another pizza delivery mystery shop with this same company, I could probably take these pictures in 1/3 the original time because of the learning curve.
Uploading the Receipts/Reports and Getting Paid
Conclusions – Is Mystery Shopping Right For You?
So, having gone through all of this, it brings us back to the question we started with in the post title – is mystery shopping something that would be a good fit for you?
Assuming that everyone reading this has sufficient mental capacity to handle the requirements for mystery shopping, I would say that it basically comes down to having/wanting to commit a good chunk of time to trying to make some extra money. In addition, you have to be willing to commit the time to do mystery shops repeatedly in order to take advantage of the initial learning curve involved with executing them.
As I described above, even though mystery shopping is quite legitimate, I was very surprised at the level of detail and time required to complete these mystery shops. It is not “easy money” as some advertisements would suggest. Quite the contrary, I would say mystery shopping is actually a hard way to earn your money (perhaps I just live in the wrong area and don’t have the right types of mystery shops).
So, to conclude, I would say that mystery shopping is a good thing for people that have a good bit of time on their hands (maybe retirees), but not for people that work a full time day job and already have a side business to keep them busy.
Personally, I haven’t seen any mystery shops that would be worth doing again, so I’m going to hold off for now. But, I will keep looking through the systems from time to time to see if some good deals pop up in the future.
How about you all? Have you ever tried mystery shopping? If so, what type of job did you do and what was the payout like?
Do you think that overall, the pay was worth the time/effort required?
Share your experiences by commenting below!