For most of us, heading to the store means spending money. Whether you’re grocery shopping or heading to the mall, unless you’re just window shopping, expect to open up your wallet.
However, you might be surprised that some shoppers actually get paid to shop and investigate customer service quality and product offerings in stores throughout their city. These shoppers are mystery shoppers, and there are thousands of them across the U.S. and rest of the world.
If you’re looking for a new side gig and want to make money the next time you head to the store, becoming a mystery shopper is for you. As long as you understand the job requirements and find the right mystery shopping company to work for, there’s no reason why you can’t boost your income with some undercover shopping work.
What Is Mystery Shopping?
Businesses want to understand how their stores perform in terms of custom service. They also want to ensure that products are easy to find for shoppers. Therefore, businesses pay for feedback from mystery shoppers and use it to improve customer service, product availability, and overall store management.
Because the identity of a mystery shopper is secret, mystery shopping lets stores and restaurants know what customer experience is like when treatment is unbiased. Plus, businesses hope that customer service will improve overall if employees know any given customer is a mystery shopper.
Mystery shopping jobs are dynamic because businesses want to test different aspects of store operations. However, there are several common types of mystery shopping tasks, including:
- Asking a store associate a question
- Looking for a specific product
- Ordering food if it’s a restaurant and rating the quality
- Taking photos and videos of in-store displays and isles
- Testing store protocols, such as trying to buy alcohol without identification
Mystery shopping is sometimes referred to as shadow shopping or secret shopping. A mystery shopper is generally paid for their time, reimbursed for a certain amount of their purchase, or both.
Assignments range from the extremely simple (purchasing an item from a deli and noting the quality of service received) to the detailed and complex (noting the timing, flavor, temperature, and presentation of every item in a three course dinner).
How Much Do Mystery Shoppers Make?
Task difficulty and the company you’re working for have the greatest influence on your earnings as a mystery shopper. Additionally, the availability of shopping gigs varies based on your location and how many other mystery shoppers are competing for jobs.
However, if you can find a mystery shopping job, it’s not a bad side hustle.
Here are examples of the assignments I’ve completed in my area:
- Dining for two people at a mid-range sit-down restaurant: $35 reimbursement
- Buying a beer at a gas station to see if they card: $8 payment, $2 reimbursement
- Dining in at a fast-casual sub shop: $20 payment, no reimbursement
- Shopping at a grocery store to buy a deli item and a beer to check for carding: $15 reimbursement, $15 pay
- Evaluating gas station cleanliness and customer service: $7 pay, $1 gas reimbursement, $1 candy reimbursement
- Visiting an upscale home furnishings store: $30 reimbursement, $5 pay
- Taking pictures of beer billboards in daylight and at night: $20 payment
- Opening a new bank account: $50 payment
Clearly, tasks vary quite substantially, as does the pay. However, when you break down the hourly wage for secret shopping, many tasks are quite lucrative. Additionally, mystery shopping is a great way to eat for free or score significant discounts on purchases you would make anyway.
Just note that it’s unrealistic to turn mystery shopping into a full-time job because you probably won’t have enough gigs to fill an entire work week. Ultimately, mystery shopping is a fun side hustle for avid shoppers. If you’re looking for more substantial income, consider part-time jobs that pay well or various gig economy jobs.
Who Can Become a Mystery Shopper?
Mystery shopping jobs require you to be 18 years or older. Additionally, although companies like Field Agent operate in several countries, North America has the most opportunity. Living in a populous city with large retailers also increases earning potential because large companies are typically the main clients that partner with mystery shopping companies.
To maximize your earnings, you probably need to own a car. Apps like Field Agent (below) let you apply distance filters to find nearby jobs, but chances are most tasks won’t be within walking distance. If you decide to drive to work as a mystery shopper, remember to factor in gas costs and vehicle depreciation into your earnings.
Aside from these basics, mystery shoppers also need a high level of attention to detail and the ability to follow instructions carefully. If you don’t meet task requirements, you don’t get paid, so it’s important to closely follow instructions and provide insightful feedback.
What to Look Out For
As a general rule, never pay for mystery shopping information. You don’t need to purchase a mystery shopping guide or pay to be a mystery shopper. If a company requests payment to join, it’s most likely a scam. You can also check the Better Business Bureau and mystery shopper reviews to research companies you’re considering.
You should also be extremely suspicious of any companies that promise assignments that allow you to work from home or entirely online. These are almost always work-from-home scams that either fish for upfront payment or send you a fraudulent check as a fake form of reimbursement for a signup fee.
Furthermore, if a company promises that you can earn $50 to $100 per hour or more by working as a mystery shopper, be skeptical. Most tasks only pay a few dollars, making mystery shopping a humble side hustle, not a full-time income source.
The Best Mystery Shopping Companies
Mystery shopping jobs have changed significantly over the past decade. Mobile apps and the gig economy have made it easier to find work as a mystery shopper. Additionally, you can use multiple apps to ensure you have more work opportunities. Here are several mystery shopping companies you might explore.
1. Field Agent
Field Agent is one of the most popular mystery shopping apps and has over 1 million shoppers across seven countries. If you want to find mystery shopping jobs near you right from your smartphone, this is the app for you.
Signing up for Field Agent is free. Once you create an account, you answer a short questionnaire about your demographic profile to help Field Agent understand more about you. Once you complete the questionnaire, you can start working as a mystery shopper.
Field Agent displays local mystery shopping jobs under a “jobs” tab and on the in-app map of your city. Jobs display their pay, the tasks required, the distance of the store, and any other rules you need to follow. Most jobs provide two hours for completion, so Field Agent is a useful app to have on the go when you’re already out shopping.
There are several types of Field Agent tasks:
- Mystery Shopping. Requires visiting specific stores and completing tasks like finding a product or rating customer service quality.
- Audits. Involves taking photos or videos of store displays and shelving.
- Buy and Try. Field Agent sometimes pays shoppers for purchasing a product or food item to provide feedback.
After completing a task, Field Agent reviews your submission to ensure you met the requirements. After verification, cash appears in your Field Agent account. There’s no minimum cash-out amount, and Field Agent pays you through direct deposit.
Ultimately, not every task is worth the time. However, you can be selective with the jobs you claim. If you’re already out and about, Field Agent is a way to get paid to walk and explore different stores in your city.
Shopkick isn’t a traditional mystery shopping app. However, this versatile rewards app does have a mystery shopping component, and the plethora of earning options makes its worth considering.
Shopkick’s goal is to incentivize consumers to interact with various partner brands. To do this, Shopkick pays you for:
- Walking into partner stores
- Scanning specific product barcodes
- Shopping for offers with a linked credit or debit card
- Uploading receipts
- Making in-app purchases
- Watching sponsored videos
At its core, Shopkick is an app like Ibotta that focuses on rebates. However, walking into stores and hunting down products to scan are essentially mystery shopping tasks. If you don’t want to spend money and are only interested in these kinds of gigs, Shopkick still has work for you.
Shopkick pays you with kicks for completing tasks; 250 kicks equals $1. Shopkick pays through PayPal and free gift cards. Most gift cards require $2 to redeem. Because Shopkick works in more than 250,000 stores across the U.S., there’s no shortage of tasks. If you want to maximize your earnings, stack Shopkick with another mystery shopping app to work more efficiently.
BestMark began in 1986 and is one of the oldest and largest mystery shopping networks in operation. Mystery shoppers are known as “field representatives” on BestMark, and this title encompasses several roles:
- Mystery Shopper. Evaluate customer service, purchase specific products, and complete typical mystery shopper tasks to get paid.
- Intercept Interviewers. Ask customers to complete a survey as they exit a store to provide retailers with valuable feedback.
- Compliance Auditors. Check that stores are complying with product pricing guidelines, product placement, employee procedures, and other rules the retailer has in place.
- Panelists. An easy way to make money from focus groups and product testing.
BestMark states candidates must be at least 18 and have strong written communication skills and full Internet access. You have to apply online to become a mystery shopper. If BestMark approves your application, you can apply for local jobs and begin making money in the different BestMark roles.
4. Market Force
Market Force is another leading mystery shopping network with a track record, having begun in 2005. Currently, Market Force works with more than 250 clients, including numerous Fortune 500 companies, processing over 100,000 mystery shopping tasks per month.
Signing up for Market Force is free. To work as a mystery shopper, you download the Eyes:On app for Android or iOS. This app displays mystery shopping gigs in your area, requirements, and pay. Jobs also list several dates, so you can set your schedule to complete tasks.
Market Force jobs pay with cash or free meals. Fast-food and other restaurant jobs are common, so this is an ideal mystery shopping network for foodies. Overall, the app is similar to Field Agent and makes it easy to find flexible work as a mystery shopper to boost your income. However, being able to schedule tasks makes Market Force more flexible than apps like Field Agent that usually provide two hours to complete a task after claiming it.
If you want an easy-to-use mystery shopping app that lets you earn free gift cards, Mobee is worth considering.
- Find a Mission. Mobee’s app highlights local businesses that need a mystery shopper.
- Complete Task. Missions include common mystery shopping jobs like taking photos of stores, asking for customer service help, and answering surveys about your experience. When you complete a task, you earn Mobee points.
- Redeem. You can redeem Mobee points for free gift cards to companies like Amazon, Starbucks, Target, and more. Most gift cards have a $5 redemption minimum. Mobee sends gift cards electronically within 48 hours.
Like other mystery shopping apps, Mobee jobs usually pay a few dollars. However, you can also earn bonus points if the task is farther from your home and if the Mobee validation team thinks your submission is high quality. Mobee won’t make you rich, but it’s an easy way to earn free gift cards when on the go.
Like Mobee and Field Agent, you find work and get paid through the Observa app, which is available for Android and iOS. Once you create an account, you can accept jobs in your area. You have two hours to complete jobs, just like with Field Agent. After submitting a job, you get paid within 72 hours following approval by Observa staff.
Observa has only been operating since 2016. However, according to Observa, they have paid more than $500,000 to mystery shoppers since inception. Additionally, they state that most gigs take 10 to 15 minutes and pay between $4 to $12. Gigs display their pay, so you can be selective and find mystery shopping work that’s worth your time.
If you never heard of mystery shopping before, the idea of making money while shopping might surprise you. However, in terms of hobbies that make money, mystery shopping has been a reliable option to boost your income for more than a decade.
No mystery shopping job will replace your regular income. However, if you enjoy the thrill of undercover shopping and like giving feedback about your shopping experiences, this is a perfect side gig to try. If you apply some mystery shopper tips and work efficiently, your monthly earnings might surprise you.
Are you going to work as a mystery shopper? Which company stands out to you the most?