We spoke to a veteran mystery shopper to get the inside scoop on what it’s really like to get paid to hit the stores. The shopper asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitive financial information in the post.
Like everyone else, I have an inbox full of spam. I ignore most of it. But one day, I decided to open an email that read: “Sign up to become a Mystery Shopper!” And for some reason, I clicked the link. I’d heard the pitches: “Get paid to shop!” and “Get free stuff!” But I didn’t know what was required to be a mystery shopper. So I took a chance, figuring, “what do I have to lose?”
It was more like what I had to gain — not only little perks, like free jeans — but also enough money to buy a car in cash.
How Mystery Shopping Works
When I first signed up to shop, I was 30 years old and had just started a new job as an intellectual property assistant (a specialized form of legal secretary) at a law firm. On top of my regular expenses, I owed about $45,000 from two years of law school, but I was earning just enough to afford my overpriced studio apartment on the outskirts of Chicago. And that was about it.
Mystery shopping is pretty simple: Companies hire people like me to visit their stores, pretend to be an average customer and report back on the service and overall experience. For each shop that you visit, companies pay an allotted amount of money and since they often want you to make a purchase to get the total customer experience - they also offer to reimburse for a certain portion of the item. It sounded doable, so I signed up.
Let the Shopping (and Earning) Begin!
My first “shop” was for an electronics store (I can’t say which one because discretion is a big part of the mystery shopping code). The company provided a scenario: I would interact with sales associates in two different departments, ask about a plasma TV or a GPS — and see if they engaged in conversation, were helpful or only answered questions in a cursory way.
It seemed weird to pretend — in fact, it’s still a little weird sometimes. You have to get an employee name, so if the customer service person isn’t wearing a badge, you need to ask, which can be awkward. Afterward, you file reports online, which are structured as multiple choice or two-sentence fill-in-the-blank answers.
At my peak, I’d dedicate four to six hours on a Saturday going to different locations of the same coffee shop and then spend another two hours working on the reports because you usually have to file within 24 hours. And, just like that, I was hooked: I began doing jobs during my lunch hour. I could even do them on my way home from work, since I’d be walking past retail locations anyway. Slowly but surely, the money began to roll in.
My Early Days as a Mystery Shopper
After taxes and other deductions, my daily take-home pay at that time was around $100. Most shops paid me a shop fee which equaled about 15% of what I was making at my “real” job. That extra 15% a day was a big deal for me - even if all it afforded me was the chance to buy lunch during the week.
Once in a while, I’d have a big score like when a sportswear company asked me to buy a $250 watch for reimbursement — and I got to keep it. (Actually, I returned it to the store — making twice the amount back.)
It was amazing how quickly that money grew: Thanks to my mystery shopping, I was able to set up automatic withdrawals each month from my checking account to an emergency fund and an account for house savings. At the height of my shopping, I was probably shopping for 75 companies. I was shopping six days a week, sometimes even on Sundays — for brunch, of course!
But it was worth it: I made about $16,000 that year as a mystery shopper — and that’s not including reimbursements — just pure earnings. In September of 2008, I paid for a 2009 Honda Fit — in cash! There’s no way that I would have been able to do that otherwise. I still love that car to this day.
Why I Scaled Back My Mystery Shopping
Since my early days as a mystery shopper, I’ve changed law firms and I make roughly $20,000 more annually - so I don’t need to spend as much free time mystery shopping. But I can still earn decent extra cash. In an average month these days, I probably do 10 to 15 shops. Although it’s all about convenience now — if I know that I’m going to be headed to a certain restaurant or store, I’ll squeeze in a shop. I can’t see a reason to stop being a mystery shopper!
Interested in Becoming a Mystery Shopper?
Mystery Shopping Providers can get you started. We specialize in connecting new shoppers with mystery shopping jobs throughout the country. Sign up today and you could be getting paid to shop and dine out tomorrow. Visit the link below to learn more.
Sign up with Mystery Shopping Providers.
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