The Truth About Mystery Shopping

Sun, Sep 23, 2007, by R.E. Collins

Money Making

Details the myths and truths about the mystery shopping industry.

First, let me start by saying that everything in this article, I know from personal experience. I am a mystery shopper and have been for more than four years. I have received a Gold- level certification from the MSPA (Mystery Shopper Providers Association). This level of training comprises a small percentage of the number of mystery shoppers operating today, approximately only 3%.

For further information about the MSPA, its training program or the 260 international companies that comprise its membership, please visit

In order to determine truth, I think that it is crucial to first dispel the myths.

Myth #1: Make Up To $6000 A Month

Fact: I have one word in response to this statement: HA!. Until recently, I lived in a suburban area close to a larger urban area. At most, I have made about $800 a month. Obviously, if you live in a major metropolis like NYC or LA, the potential for more assignments increases. However, if you live in a moderately commercial area like most people, $6000 a month is simply not possible. Money can be made at this, but you will not get rich, quick or otherwise.

Myth #2: Keep Everything You Buy

Fact: This statement is more misleading than flat out false. Of course you keep everything you buy. The critical information is how much you spend that they reimburse. The sad truth is that it is usually commensurate with the lowest priced item in the store. In addition, several companies do not pay a fee when the shopper will be reimbursed for a decent purchase.

For example, a grocery store assignment may pay $5 and reimburse for $10 worth of groceries. Now I do know shoppers who schedule eight of these and pack ice chests in their cars, and for them it’s worth it for $80 worth of “free” groceries. What is more, reimbursement is never immediate. Usually it takes from two weeks to two months to get your fee and reimbursement whether it be by check, direct deposit or Paypal. The general rule is the month following completion of the assignment.

Myth #3: Negligible Work, Low Stress

Fact: This is not the kind of job for a person who hates paperwork or driving. Paperwork has to be printed out for nearly every assignment, an average of four pages each. Figure into the mix money for paper and ink and gas for driving between jobs. Last year, I put thousands of miles on my car just for my work. Also, every day spent out completing assignments is met with just as much time at the computer at night filing reports.

This field requires you to keep track of everything you make and everything you spend. Taxes are not taken out of your pay as you are considered a sole proprietor, so it is your responsibility to file a Schedule C on your income tax and withhold the appropriate amount. All shopping income must be claimed because mystery shopping companies do report payments to the IRS like any other employer.

Myth #4 (And Probably The Most Important): I Need To Pay For Information To Get Started

Fact: Let me guess- The same charlatans who told you that you could make $6000 a month mystery shopping also told you that you would have to pay your way in and/or will have access to their infinite database of “secret” or “private” assignments for anywhere from $30 to yearly subscriptions of $100. Allow me to set the record straight. Most times, these sites contain out-of-date assignments and no proprietary information. The information you need can be found at three websites and all of them are free.

Volition has several sections on ways to make money, but at their
mystery shopping forum you will find a throng of mystery shoppers and merchandisers discussing companies, job openings from schedulers and a list of mystery shopping companies. You will need to apply with each to be listed in their database. Give it a few weeks and you will start getting assignment offers.

Jobslinger has a searchable database for several companies from mystery shopping, audits to merchandising and other work.

Lastly, the
has information about the industry and about their training program which I highly recommend. Their training is not free, but it is very affordable and worth the money.

Bottom line: Getting started should not cost you a dime.

Don’t click out of here just yet! There are good things about this kind of work.

Truth #1: You Are Your Own Boss

Fact: I got started in this business because I needed a job that was super-flexible. I have a son with a disability and I needed to be able to take off for days or weeks at a time if necessary. This profession allows you to book as much or as little work as possible. You set your schedule. If an assignment does not seem worth your time, you simply decline it- you are not obligated. Want to take off the last half of December to spend time with family? No problem. You decide how much or how little work you accept.

Truth #2: You Can Make A Living Doing This

Fact: It depends on several factors, including your financial needs and your location, but several mystery shoppers do this as a full-time occupation. People support their families through this industry. Yet, it is only through organization and self-motivation that any of that is possible. Procrastinators need not apply. Also, all jobs are dispatched so you have to be ready when the jobs are released or your competition will pick them cleaner than a Thanksgiving turkey. This is a [surprisingly] fast-paced industry. Eventually, through being competent and dependable, schedulers will recognize your hard work and you will begin to get calls for unreleased assignments or last minute work with a savory bonus.

Truth #3: The Perks Are Nice

Fact: Although you might not get to spend limitless amounts of cash at your favorite stores and have it handed back to you for completing a five minute survey, you do get some free stuff. One of the greatest things I have experienced through this job is mystery shopping stores I would never have entered otherwise and later found I loved. And though the free stuff many not be a $60 pair of jeans, you may get those jeans for less out of pocket with your reimbursement, assuming you would have bought them anyway.

Reimbursed oil changes, paying half-price for eyeglass exams or amusement park tickets, and getting reimbursed for a burger run are pretty standard. But keep it in perspective- there are travel, out-of-pocket monies and a decent-sized report involved with each.

Like any profession, mystery shopping is not for everyone, but it is legitimate work. Anyone who has further questions should peruse the three websites I listed. The information is available for free.

Please shop responsibly.

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