The Best Mystery Shopper Jobs – kathleen@thepennyhoarder.com (Kathleen Garvin)

Want to become a mystery shopper? If so, we’ve for the four best mystery shopper companies to work for.

Mystery shoppers go by a couple different names – evaluators, secret shoppers – but, regardless of the name, the job’s the same: mystery shoppers document their experiences to help businesses who deal with the public a lot.

Workers can score everything from free food to extra money when they work for a mystery shopping company.

Mystery shopping jobs are pretty plentiful, too. The mystery shopping industry has been around since the 1940s and is a nearly $2-billion-dollar-a-year industry.

Ready to learn how to get paid to shop? This post includes information about the best mystery shopping firms around (and what makes a reputable company), average pay, how to avoid mystery shopping scams and more.

What is Mystery Shopping?

Mystery shopping is a job where a company pays you to pose like a regular customer. You’ll provide valuable feedback to the company — from how clean the store was to how the employees interacted with you. In exchange for your feedback, they pay you a fee, and in most cases, you’ll be asked to buy something and then be reimbursed up to a set amount. You will know that amount before you buy.

Many mystery shopping trips entail visits to retail stores, food markets or phone shops. However, for some gigs, you might visit local restaurants (free food!) or even theme parks. There are also phone mystery shopping companies where you interact with call centers and gauge the setup.

Typically, you’ll write up a report on your experience from the customer’s point of view and submit it to the client by a deadline. From there, you’ll get paid.

How Do You Get Started as a Mystery Shopper?

You can look up mystery shopping gigs on dedicated company websites (we’ll get to that soon) or via a job board, like Indeed.com.

After you apply and your application is approved, you simply log in to the company’s website and select the jobs you want to do. These firms will provide you with all the instructions, and after you’ve completed the shop, you’ll need to enter your feedback into their websites. Some pay via direct deposit, but most will mail you a check at the end of the month.

It varies by company, but you typically need to be 18 or older to be hired by a mystery shopping company. For assignments around liquor or alcohol, you’ll need to be at least 21 years old. Some gigs also have ranges. For example, a company might request someone between the ages of 18 and 30 so they can appear to be a college student. Some mystery shopping jobs also require you to have reliable transportation.

Looking for a side gig or even a full-time job that lets you work at home? Check out these 32 companies offering remote work.

Qualities of a Good Mystery Shopper

To be a successful mystery shopper, you’ll need to:

Read thoroughly. Make sure you read the job description completely and understand the requirements.
Be detail-oriented. Watch and listen closely when mystery shopping plus take notes and photos. Successful secret shoppers are meticulous with their data.
Stay organized. Hold on to any receipts, business cards and other items you need to submit to get reimbursed and paid for the gig. Adhere to deadlines, too (put a reminder on your calendar!).

Mystery shopping can be a great way to earn pocket cash, but you’ll want to treat this gig like any other job. Especially since not following the rules means you won’t get paid.

How Much Money Can You Get Paid for a Mystery Shopping Job?

It varies based on the company and assignment. Across the U.S., mystery shoppers make about $800 a week. Gigs run the gamut, from $12 and a free meal to $100 as a flat rate and beyond.

It’s important to note that, as a mystery shopper, you’ll be an independent contractor. That means you’re responsible for paying your own taxes. You can keep tabs on deductions (like paying for gas to get to a gig) to help with your tax burden at the end of the year. Many companies require shoppers to sign an independent contractor agreement (versus signing them on as a w-2 worker), so keep that in mind if you’re looking for a full-time situation that offers health insurance and other benefits.

On the plus side — since you’re not an employee — you should be able to mystery-shop for multiple companies at one time.

How Do You Get Paid?

Similarly, it depends on the company hiring for the assignment — each one has its own rules surrounding payment, from how it’s issued to how often you’ll see your money.

Many mystery shopping companies pay via PayPal, though some do direct debit and physical checks, too. Some offer gift cards in lieu of cash payment, as well.

4 of the Best Mystery Shopping Companies

Here are some of the top companies where you can find mystery shopper jobs. Also, all of them are free to join:

1. BestMark

BestMark has been around since 1986. The firm provides coverage in more than 13,000 cities across the U.S. and Canada in four main categories: mystery shoppers, intercept interviewers (gather information from people directly in in-person shops), compliance auditors (review adherence to company rules and regulatory guidelines) and panelists (moderator-led panels or focus groups).

Once you sign up, a BestMark staffer should contact you within five to 10 days. You can also get bonuses for referring friends and families to BestMark.

Prospective mystery shoppers can sign up here.

Better Business Bureau rating: A+.

How payment is distributed: PayPal, direct deposit or gift card.

When payment is sent: Three to four weeks after a completed assignment.

What you need to get paid: Submit completed assignments on time and adhere to all specifications.

2. Sinclair Customer Metrics

Sinclair Customer Metrics has been in the mystery shopping game since 1987. It specializes in the banking, retail, grocery store, (quick-service) restaurant and convenience store spaces. And on top of in-person gigs, Sinclair offers video mystery shopping to clients, too, complete with a hidden camera.

People looking for a mystery shopping assignment can sign up here.

Better Business Bureau rating: Not BBB accredited.

How payment is distributed: Check.

When payment is sent: You’ll be paid once a month, the last week of the following month after your last completed assignment.

What you need to get paid: Submit completed assignments on time and adhere to all specifications.

3. Market Force

Market Force works with clients in a variety of industries, from health and wellness and movie studios to specialty retail and alcohol and tobacco. The firm has offices in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, and provides gigs in thousands of locations. Market Force also has an app, Eyes:On, which allows mystery shoppers to complete assignments on the go.

People looking for mystery shopping gigs can sign up here.

Better Business Bureau rating: A+.

How payment is distributed: Direct deposit.

When payment is sent: Monthly, on the 15th.

What you need to get paid: Submit completed assignments on time and adhere to all specifications.

4. IntelliShop

IntelliShop is a customer experience research and improvement firm. The firm’s specialties are in the customer experience, online reputation management, and loss prevention and compliance sectors. IntelliShop provides coverage in more than 18K cities in the U.S. and Canada and 180 countries.

Prospective shoppers seeking a mystery shopping assignment can sign up here.

Better Business Bureau rating: A+.

How payment is distributed: PayPal.

When payment is sent: Approximately 30 days after the last day of the month in which your mystery shopping trips were completed.

What you need to get paid: All shop documentation (a business card, receipt, etc. — anything required for a particular task) must be submitted to receive payment for the shopper challenge.

Pro Tip

Never pay to be a part of a mystery shopping company — or to see its list of jobs. Legitimate companies never ask for these things.

What’s Life Like for a Secret Shopper?

You can become a mystery shopper in a number of ways. In fact, our CEO started mystery shopping as a teenager. (He’s also completed more than 5,000 mystery shops to date!)

He got his start mystery shopping at local grocery stores, an Ikea, fast-food establishments, restaurants and liquor stores. On another assignment, he was asked to pretend he was shopping for a car — he took a test drive and everything — and earned a cool $60 for each dealership he went to that day.

He’s since hung up his mystery-shopping boots. But back in the day, he was usually paid between $8 and $25 per secret-shopping trip. And the big one — he was reimbursed for his purchases (you become popular in your early 20s when your work earns you free booze). There were months where he earned more than $5,000, but most months, he earned $400-$500 in extra money for mystery shopping.

Your mileage may vary, of course. But it can be a semi-lucrative and fun gig for the right person.

Warning: Be Careful of Mystery Shopper Scams

Unfortunately, if you’ve looked into mystery shopping before, you know there are a lot of scammers trying to take advantage of this industry’s growing popularity.

A few rules of thumb:

Never pay to join a mystery shopping company. The real ones never ask for a payment from you.
Never pay money to a company to see their list of jobs. Legitimate mystery shopping companies are always short of shoppers, so they never ask for you to pay to see a list of their jobs.
Also, legit mystery shopping companies shouldn’t force you to take a certain number of jobs.

Still confused about an opportunity? The Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) is a trade organization that offers resources for secret shopping companies and guidelines for individuals who are interested in this type of work. Also, check out online reviews for any company before you work for them.

There are a ton of real mystery shopping companies, so do your due diligence to stay away from the scams.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Mystery Shopping

Here are some FAQs when it comes to mystery shopping companies and gigs.

Which Mystery Shopping Company Pays the Best?

BestMark is one of the largest mystery shopping companies, so you’ll have a wide variety of jobs to pick through and choose based on pay.

Overall, though, it’s worthwhile to sign up for a couple different companies and see what’s out there. Also, consider that the types of gigs you go after (visiting three grocery stores in one day vs. answering a 10-minute survey, for example) will have an effect on your pay. If you choose more involved tasks, the pay tends to go up with the workload.

Which Mystery Shopping Companies are Legitimate?

The four companies listed in this article are all legitimate mystery shopping companies. Always do some research before taking a gig and revisit the section on scams so you know what to avoid.

How Much do Professional Mystery Shoppers Make?

Mystery shoppers can make anywhere from a few bucks to several hundred a week. Depending on your availability and the job pay, you have some control over how much you can make. Remember, though, that it will typically take a couple of weeks (minimum) before you will receive the pay for your work.

What is the Best Mystery Shopper Company to Work for in the U.K.?

Market Force and Ipsos Mystery Shopping are two companies mystery shoppers can work for in the U.K.

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Contributor Kathleen Garvin (@itskgarvin) is a personal finance writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida, and former editor and marketer at The Penny Hoarder. She owns a content-writing business and her work has appeared in U.S. News, Clark.com and Well Kept Wallet.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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