My Story: A Steady Income in Mystery Shopping

contributed by Lori

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Get Started in Mystery Shopping

Secret Shopping

There are hundreds and hundreds of companies that will pay you to mystery shop. If you have never heard of mystery shopping, I will tell you a little about it. First, you never want to pay money to get on a list or to buy information. Remember that I said that because once you start looking into it you will run across scams. Scam artists will tell you that they can get shops for you, but you can do it yourself. All the information is available online. Most of the time you are being asked to go to a location to evaluate the level of customer service that you receive. Sometimes, they want you to take a digital picture, depending on the laws in your state. Sometimes, they may ask you to record a conversation with a hidden recorder. I have even carried a day timer with a hidden video camera. It just depends on what the client wants. They are all different. Most are very simple and can be completed in a matter of minutes. Your pay is based on the difficulty of the shop. Obviously, you would be paid more for a hidden video shop than you would for walking into a fast food establishment and ordering a biscuit. Payment amount will be determined before you do the shop. If you don't want the shop, ignore the email or decline the shop.

You may receive an email that says a shop pays $10. You may think that you wouldn't want to do that for $10. First, think about how long it takes to do a $10 shop. It takes about 10 minutes. Multiply by six to equal an hour of your time and you are making $60 an hour by picking up that little shop that you almost didn't consider. I don't know about the rest of you, but that is definitely more than I make at my full time job.

I have been mystery shopping for about eight years and have never had a problem with payment from a company. I am selective about the companies that I shop for. I only shop with members of MSPA (Mystery Shoppers Providers Association) at MSPA is very strict and the companies that are members must follow their guidelines. This includes being fair to shoppers and paying them on time. I personally would not shop for a company that was not a member of MSPA.

It is a bit difficult to get into shopping with a company, but be persistent. Call the schedulers and talk to them on the phone. Convince them that you are reliable. Being reliable is the most important thing. Once you get in, if you say you are going to do it, then do it. Nothing will get you marked DNU (do not use) faster than what they call "flaking" on a shop. Once they see that they can depend on you, you are in and they will start to call you for assignments.

You are an Independent Contractor when you mystery shop. You are not an employee. You are responsible for filing taxes, but are not asked to fill out a W-9 (with most companies) unless you exceed $600 in payment.

This isn't for everybody. You have to be organized and have a little computer knowledge. It does seem overwhelming at first and you think everyone knows you are the shopper the first couple of times that you do one, but you get to where you know the forms and it is really easy. Although I do know people who do this full time, it is just part time for me. I cannot remember the last time I paid for groceries or dinner out.

Examples of shops that I am offered:

Grocery Store Shops

They do not pay great, but I pick up several at a time and am able to hit a few the same day on the way home. I average about six per week on two different days. You are required to make a small purchase (about $3), but if I need the groceries, I spend up to the amount that they are going to pay me usually somewhere between $10 to $18 depending on the shop. You can also use coupons. Just imagine how it feels to know you are mystery shopping, using a coupon (sometimes doubling it) and on a buy one get one free item. My cupboards are full.

Restaurant Shops

These are my favorite. I skip fast food shops. They pay OK, but I am not thrilled about my kids eating fast foods. There are a couple of pizza places that we shop, but most restaurants are casual dining or fine dining. We have spent anywhere from around $10 for a take out shop for wings to about $370 for dinner at one of the best restaurants in my city. All monies are reimbursed. Every restaurant I can think of has a mystery shopping program.

Banking Shops

These shops pay pretty good. If you go in to talk to a Customer Service Rep about opening an account, it usually pays around $15 to $25 and a teller shop pays around $10 to $15. Many of the banks do phone shops that pay about $5, but considering you can do these in your pajamas, that is not too bad. Sometimes it is worth opening a small account with some of these banks just to make your shop easier.

Car Shops

New car shops vary quite a bit in pay. The simple ones pay less, but you do not have to go through any type of detail with the salesperson. Many times you can pick up multiple shops in the same area. This makes it worth your while to take the smaller paying shops. Having your oil changed is a shop that I see all the time.

Travel Shops

I have completed quite a few shops where my vacation has been paid for. Hotels may want a digital picture of the shower head and you get the nights stay for free. Others may be more detailed and they may want you to evaluate the checking in process, the bar, restaurant, room service, etc. You are reimbursed for what you spend. I did one once that paid for my room, lunch and dinner in upscale restaurants and then wanted me to make purchases at the gift shops that were on their property. They reimbursed for everything and I got to keep my purchases. I was also paid a shopper fee. If you are driving to your destination, check with your schedulers and tell them the cities that you will be passing on your way. Often, there are small towns that they have trouble finding shoppers and they are happy to give you additional shops.

I have taken my kids to the beach and had my gas paid for, there and back, by shopping gas stations along the way. The hotel stay was a shop. All our meals were shops. Our visits to tourist attractions, gift shops and amusement parks were shops, and we even went to the movies for free. Like I said, you have to be organized, but you can do it.

Golf Shops

Many times they want you to hit a bucket of balls and evaluate the customer service. Sometimes these are more involved and you actually have to play a round of golf.

Retail Shops

Most retail shops require a purchase. You get to keep the item and are reimbursed for the amount that you spent. Also, you are paid a shopper fee for doing the shop.

The shops are endless. The companies are endless. The information that I have given above is basic and not all shopping companies are the same. They all have different guidelines and instructions. If you visit, you will find more companies than you can fill out registrations for. After you get approved as a shopper, they will begin to email you when they have openings in your area. This is a fantastic way to make a little side money and to get things for free.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by

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