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How to Become a Mystery Shopper

8 Truths From a Mystery Shopper You Must Read Before You Get Started

If you love to shop, then why not get paid for it? Wise Bread shares a few secrets about life as a mystery shopper.

I have a few friends who have started mystery shopping for extra cash. All in all, it's a respectable gig for someone with some time, ambition, and a desire to do something different. Having mystery shopped for dozens of companies over the past six years, however, I have some advice to share. These eight tips are vital to making money in this somewhat misunderstood profession.

Related: Fine Dining on a Takeout Budget

  • Mystery shopping can be tough to get into. If you're OK with starting out doing $8 gigs for ordering a fast food meal, then chances are great that you can begin right away. The higher-paying shops, however, are usually reserved for those with experience. If you want to earn a reputation for being a dependable shopper, then I suggest visiting the MSPA's website and getting at least a silver status certification. Yes, it costs money. (Think of it as a "move to the head of the line" pass for most mystery shopping jobs.) Many reputable companies will only schedule certified shoppers for their jobs.

Read on for more.

  • You can't earn money if you don't spend it. Guess what? Mystery shopping requires you to shop (in most cases). Since they don't mail you cash upfront, it is your responsibility to be able to cover your purchases for the shop. It also takes between 30 and 90 days to get reimbursed. If you can't spare this money, then this may not be the job for you.
  • A successful shop requires an eye for detail. I loved doing the fine-dining shops. The problem was, I had a difficult time remembering all the details I needed to complete the shop. I had to covertly keep tabs on the names of every person I came in contact with, what they were wearing, what they said, what my food tasted like, etc. Needless to say, it was work! If you are looking for mystery shopping to be your free meal ticket, then understand that there will not be much time for relaxing. While it is true that some shops require little work, others require much, much more.
  • Payment depends on your performance. Unlike a typical 9-to-5 job, you are not guaranteed payment unless your shop has been performed satisfactorily. If you forget the names of your wait staff, don't leave the right amount of tip, or accidentally reveal your shopper status, then you are putting your reimbursement in danger. I have never had a shopping company not pay me, but I have also been very diligent about doing everything perfectly. If you don't take it seriously, then you may not be paid — and you'll be out whatever cash you put into your shopping experience.
  • There are other costs involved. In addition to the cost of your shopping (which is usually reimbursed partially or in full), there are other costs. Gas to drive to the shop, the cost (if any) to put an item on your credit card until reimbursement, or the cost of a tip (which is often not covered) are just a few expenses that may come up during a typical shop. Obviously, the best strategy is to shop close, only take shops that reimburse in full (and with an extra shopper's fee, if possible), and turn in your reports on time.
  • You are responsible for your own taxes. As a mystery shopper, you are considered an independent contractor. While it is unlikely that you will earn over $600 a year from any one company, you will still be responsible for reporting that income on your tax returns. You can count it as self-employment, deducting expenses as needed, so keep track of the cost of your new mystery shopping job.
  • Some mystery shopping isn't shopping or a mystery. Many shopping companies have begun scheduling work for companies that aren't even related to mystery shopping. Audits, merchandising, and other tasks (including headstone cleaning) often come up on the mystery shopping job boards from time to time. If you don't have an interest in these types of jobs, then don't feel obliged to take them. They can be a good source of income for you, however.
  • A reputable mystery shopping company will never ask you for any kind of fee. I'll say this again: you should not have to ever pay for the "privilege" to shop. You are performing a service and should get paid. Any fee that is guaranteed to get you a list of jobs is bogus. For a genuine listing of most every single shop service on the planet, see or check out It costs nothing. (And be sure to read up on the latest mystery shopping scams. I have never, ever, ever been asked to cash checks in my six years of shopping. Ever.)

After some time, I gave up on mystery shopping. The $8 to $10 an hour wasn't worth the work (especially as my family grew). For some, this could still be a really good deal. Just be aware of the facts, and decide what's right for you. I still enjoy a nice hotel shop from time to time. (Hubby and I enjoy getting away for a night at an eventual cost of free.)


Read more from Wise Bread:

The Straight Talk on Working From Home

9 Simple Ways to Stop Impulse Buying

How to Convince Your Boss to Let You Work from Home

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