I see mystery shopping talked about on personal finance blogs as an easy way to make some side income… if you love shopping, then why wouldn’t you want to try mystery shopping? Well friends, that’s what I’m going to cover today – is mystery shopping actually a good way to make extra money?
Speaking of mystery shopping, let’s just get this out of the way…
There are good side hustles, like running Facebook ads for small businesses, and others that fall short in some ways. The ones that fall into that second category can still earn you money, but it isn’t the type of money that will make you rich or even let you leave your day job. And, if I’m going to be completely honest with you, mystery shopping falls into that category.
But, there are ways to make mystery shopping profitable for you, which I’ll share later.
Making extra money is usually always going to be a good thing, and there are a ton of ways to do it – blogging, freelancing, running FB ads for small businesses, etc. It’s how you’ll work towards retirement, pay off your debt, and live with a little less financial stress.
But because you came here for mystery shopping…
How mystery shopping works
If you aren’t familiar with mystery shopping, it is pretty simple. It’s basically being a secret shopper who tests out a store or company’s customer service. You sign up to work with a mystery shopping company, find jobs you qualify for, complete a “shop” (the specific job you’ll be working), report back on your experience, and get paid.
Mystery shopping encompasses different types of shops too, like:
- Shopping for and purchasing specific products, like movie tickets, retail, etc.
- Trying out services, like carpet cleaning
- Dining out at casual restaurants
- Pretending to buy things, like expensive jewelry, electronics, a new car, etc.
- Calling to test a store’s customer service
By paying close attention to details, mystery shoppers provide a valuable service for companies – helping improve their customer service experience. The feedback they get from mystery shoppers can help them find flaws in their system and what they’re doing well.
You typically have a certain amount of time to “complete the shops,” which involves filling out a questionnaire on your experience and any other important information that you’re asked about. Many mystery shopping companies make this process easier with mobile apps. You will also need to keep your receipts to prove you did the work and to be reimbursed for expenses.
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You can typically expect payment in a couple of weeks to a month. How you are paid will depend on the company and the type of shop, and it will come in the form of one of the following:
- Cash. This is what you get for things like calling into test a company or store’s customer service.
- Reimbursement. This is really common with restaurant shops. You are paid the amount you spent while doing the shop. This is why receipts are so important.
- Cash and reimbursement. Some shops pay you by reimbursing for the product and your time.
Mystery shopping companies
Just like some other side hustle options, think completing online surveys for money, there will be some companies that just aren’t legit.
A few signs that a mystery shopping company is a scam are:
- You have to pay for access to a newsletter or directory of mystery shopping companies. There are plenty of free and 100% legit mystery shopping companies out there. Don’t pay to access a list!
- The company demands that you pay to complete a certification process. Nope, don’t do that either!
- You are asked to test out a money wire service by wiring your own cash, but they’ll send you a check for that cash first. DON’T FALL FOR THIS SCAM. It’s like being asked to wire money to an African prince with a promise of tens of thousands of dollars, but don’t worry, we'll send you a check first. That check they’re sending you is a fake, and it takes longer to trace the check than to get the money you’ve just wired.
Surprisingly, people fall for this kind of stuff all of the time, and it gives good companies a bad name.
Here are some of the best mystery shopping companies for 2019, and these are all 100% legit:
How much you can expect to earn mystery shopping
The amount you earn from mystery shopping is where it falls short of being a good side hustle option. You aren’t going to be earning much or able to increase your income over time. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea… you are earning free products, meals, services, and also cash. But how much are you really earning as a mystery shopper?
When you are earning cash instead of reimbursement, or in addition to reimbursement, mystery shoppers earn an average of $5-$25 per shop. Trying to find out what that means per hour is a little bit difficult because mystery shopping includes the shop, driving to and from mystery shopping gigs, and the time it takes to report. That could be an hour, two hours… I’m not really sure… but it’s probably somewhere in that range.
The higher paid jobs are going to be the ones that require a little more work, like going into a car dealership and pretending you want to buy a new car. For some companies, you don’t get the higher paying ones until you’ve gained some experience. The lower paid gigs are when you do customer service calls.
M$M tip: Want some out of the box ways to make money? Read 7 Weird (But Legal) Ways to Make Extra Money.
How to get the most from mystery shopping
For any side hustle that pays as little as mystery shopping does (again, think online surveys), you’ll need to start thinking about what it means to trade your time for that kind of money. Is it keeping you from more lucrative possibilities? Is it taking you away from your family? Are you getting enough sleep at night?
I’m serious about that. When you’re working hard to pay off debt, for example, and finding every possible opportunity to earn extra money, the potential for burnout is high. I mean… the pay off is awesome, but it can be exhausting.
To make sure you’re getting as much as possible out of mystery shopping – think utilizing it for more than just the potential cash benefit – here are some tips for success:
- Mystery shop for products and services that you already use or need. It might not always be possible, but if you can mystery shop for something you’d already be spending money on, you’ll be killing two birds with one stone.
- Make restaurant mystery shops your date nights. If you need a night out with boo but are trying to stay within your budget, a restaurant mystery shop is a great way to make date nights happen. You’ll be told how much you need to spend and will be reimbursed for your bill. This is also a great way to appear super generous to your friends… Hey guys, I’ve got the bill.
- Use your time wisely. Trying to schedule your shops on your lunch break, your way home from work, when you’re running errands, etc. will help it fit into your schedule without taking time away from more valuable activities.
But is mystery shopping a good side hustle?
A good side hustle is going to be one that gives you the opportunity to earn more money over time (it’s scalable) and one that doesn’t take much money to start. Mystery shopping is free to start… okay, besides maybe needing to buy something from the store you’re shopping. But there really is no way to earn any more money. There are only so many hours in the day, and even the bigger shops aren’t actually paying that well.
Mystery shopping can be a fun way to earn some extra money, but that’s really it. Mystery shopping will not make you rich. It might help fuel your financial plans, but mystery shopping alone isn’t how you’ll leave your day job or retire early.
More ways to earn extra money on the side
Here’s the good news about making extra money – there are more ways to do it! There are even several ways to earn even more than you would as a mystery shopper, like blogging or freelancing. But my favorite is running Facebook ads for small businesses. It's scalable, pays well for the amount of time that you put in, and has the ability to become a full-time gig (if you want it to).
If you want to learn more about my favorite side hustle, check out my FB Side Hustle Course. I have students who are now earning $5,000+ a month with FB ads.