In addition to going to school full time, previously for Internet Marketing and now for Media Design, I make money mystery shopping. Some of you may have read my account of mystery shopping when I discussed it on Budgets Are Sexy’s Side Hustle Series. Mystery shopping has allowed me to socialize and enjoy a few sweet perks while making or saving money. Ever since I started shopping in 2007, I haven’t really stopped.
I’ve gotten to test drive luxury cars, get free hair and beauty products, enjoy meals with friends and family, shop for Christmas and birthday gifts and even cover some of my grocery and gas bills.
What’s so amazing about my post for Budgets Are Sexy is that, looking back, if you read the post, I said my best month (at the time) was $500. Ironically enough, that month, I actually hit a new high, and for a period had began grossing up to $2500 a month in mystery shop earnings. This largely attributed to moving out of my comfort zone and trying something new by traveling for my mystery shopping jobs, which I largely did while working for a large electronics retailer. The reason I was able to make more was due to my ability to negotiate on the strength of picking up several shops in an area that had yet to be assigned, mostly because they were rural or out of the way.
Life was pretty good at that time, but today things have shifted. The company I contracted for lost their contract to a competitor company, who has yet to release their audits. From what I’ve come to understand, this retailer is restructuring their audit profile and auditor requirements. I’m not sure if I’ll sign up with them or not.
Today, I still make money mystery shopping, but not necessarily with them – and I’m not pulling down as much as I was before. I’m still getting some pocket change, and the benefits of mystery shopping are still worth pursuing this as a side hustle while you’re on the grind.
What is Mystery Shopping?
Mystery shoppers are the “ears and eyes” of a company. Also known as “secret shoppers,” they provide companies an accurate “snapshot” of actual customer experiences. Mystery shoppers are “regular people;” you can be any race, sex, ethnicity, size or shape to be a mystery shopper. Mystery shopping companies need a variety of shoppers in various demographic categories; this allows them a highly qualified shopper database from which to filter shop controls as needed. Having a diverse pool to segment allows the company to work with the client to test different scenarios and customer experiences, is important to providing more specific, unfiltered perspectives. Suffice it to say, mystery shopping is an important part of any business strategy that focuses on customer service as a priority.
How Much Money Can I Make Mystery Shopping?
Your earnings are a direct reflection of how much work you are – or aren’t – willing to put in. I’ve had months where none of the assignments seemed right, so I made nothing. I’ve also had others where my phone and email wouldn’t stop ringing with offers, and thus I was able to make over $2000. It’s all about what you’re able to do, the relationship you build with your schedulers and how devoted you are to the hustle.
Mystery shopping companies often tell you that mystery shopping is a fun way to make money to “supplement” your income. In laymen’s terms, they want to lower your expectations in terms of how much you can make mystery shopping.
Starting out, I would preferably steer you towards assignments that pay $10-$25 and up. Therefore, if you have a goal of making $400 a month from shopping (gross, excluding the cost of expenses), then you’d only need to find 4 shops paying $25 a month. I find $10 – $40 shops have decent requirements and reports in exchange for the timeframe required to complete and hand your report.
Now, starting out, you’ll find plenty of assignments that have no shop fees and only offer reimbursements. You’ll also find shops that offer a small fee plus reimbursements… and others whose fees piss you off at first glance. ( I swear, you’ll be like, “$3 for all this work? REALLY!? Wait a Minute M****rf****r!”) By getting shoppers to take assignments under budget or for a small fee, they can keep more of their earnings and even save their clients money, so you can’t knock the hustle. However, just because they tell you fees and shops are limited doesn’t mean that you can’t increase your income while mystery shopping.
As a mystery shopper, you’re responsible for keeping accurate notes, thinking quick, remembering details and remaining discreet in the process. Your feedback and information is used to shape company policy and procedures, and in some cases, affect whether or not someone keeps their job.
Stack Up: How to Make Money Mystery Shopping
1. Invest in MSPA certification.
MSPA certification gives you preferred status with mystery shopping companies over uncertified shoppers. Silver certification costs $15, gold costs $75; both have applicable taxes applied in addition. If you’re just starting out, I say invest the $15, because you can pay for your silver certification in just a few shops – and that can be done in less than a week. Once you’re comfortable with mystery shopping, and ready to step your game up, go hard and get gold certification.
In addition set up a distinctly separate email for mystery shopping purposes only. Make sure you use a professional name. No ShawtyThickBuns69@gmail.com or IllestD0p3B0ii@yahoo.com. MyRealNameMysteryShop@Gmail.com is perfectly fine! (This speaks volumes on your professionalism.)
2. Organize & establish your operation.
How you structure yourself as a mystery shopper is up to you. You can opt to create a legal LLC for your mystery shopping company, right away, or just work as a sole proprietor. I currently work as a sole proprietor for my mystery shops, but for Sexy Focused Ambitious I used The Corporation Company to set up my LLC. The Corporation Company is currently partnering with me to help you save 25% when you Incorporate your Small Business with their Basic Package.
3. Study the Game.
Make it your business to invest time into learning as much about mystery shopping as humanly possible. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to make working with mystery shopping companies. To learn more about how you can really make money mystery shopping, I recommend Cathy Stucker’s Mystery Shopper’s Manual. Cathy Stucker is the leading educator on mystery shopping; she’s the facilitator of the MSPA gold certification classes, and a spokesperson for the organization. Reviews on her knowledge of mystery shopping are excellent. This review of her book in particular shows she’s clearly on top of her game. (Click picture to read more reviews.)
4. Go Hard & Keep Your Nose Clean.
Establish a reputation with mystery shopping companies for completing your shops, taking on last minute shops (with bonuses of course), and getting the hang of the industry. Some shops are going to be fun because they’re brands you love, or they provide you the opportunity to experience things you otherwise wouldn’t in your normal day-to-day. I’ve gotten luxury shops where I’ve test driven high-end cars, purchased high-quality hair products and even toured pricey Battery Park condos. You establish a pretty nice change of perspective once you put yourself in a position as a shopper to see things you never get to see regularly. (And it’s highly motivating, because you’re then moved to make things work in your favor so you can actually attain those things for yourself.)
Sites to Get Started with Mystery Shopping
MSPA – Mystery Shopping Providers Association… only shop with the companies on this list. Other companies may not be legit, and even out to use you to collect fraud.
Have More Questions on How to Make Money Mystery Shopping?
Cathy Stucker is really the queen of teaching people how to make money mystery shopping, so I highly advise you to check out her Mystery Shopper’s Manual if you want a thorough overview of making money as a mystery shopper. The book receives amazing. reviews and is a staple in basic mystery shopping education. However, I’m never going to shut you down from asking questions. So if you have any, please ask in the comments below and I’ll help you in any way that I can.