Updated: Jul 18
I've always loved side hustles. Finding ways to make money outside of your day job can be fun, but not everything about side gigs is perfect.
It is still work, after all. And if you're going to put in extra hours, you want to make sure you're able to make some money!
One of the side hustles growing in popularity is working as a mystery shopper, which can be a lot of fun! Anytime you can pair fun with work, you've got a potentially winning combination. And that is exactly what mystery shopping can feel like!
But can you make real money as a mystery shopper? And is it worth it as a side hustle in 2023? This article will explore both of these questions.
More: Check out more creative side hustle ideas!
What is mystery shopping?
Mystery shopping, also known as secret shopping, is a process that companies and market research firms use to understand how well a company is doing. By hiring shoppers to go undercover and get a gauge on in-store experiences, brands can get an accurate look at company's:
And while you may not have heard about mystery shopping before, it is a technique used by most companies, since it will lead to more accurate results than sending recognizable executives into a store.
By disguising and hiring mystery shoppers, companies feel like the experience a shopper will have will be much more like what the typical customer experiences, rather than an artificial type of experience. Shoppers are usually given specific tasks to perform while they are at the location, such as:
Making a purchase
Taking pictures of the store's appearance
Observing how employees interact with customers
Afterwards, your assignment will likely include writing and filing a report about your findings.
Can you make money as a mystery shopper?
Before you get started, it is important to understand whether or not you can make money. Furthermore, you'll want to understand your exact earning potential before you decide whether you want to pursue this side hustle.
The short answer to the question is that you absolutely can make money working as a mystery shopper.
How much money do mystery shoppers make?
The amount of money you can make as a mystery shopper depends on a number of factors, such as:
The company you work for
The quality of your work
Type of assignment
Experienced mystery shoppers can make between $15 to $20 per hour, or more, depending on the complexity of their assignments. Some companies also offer bonuses or incentive programs for completing certain assignments which can help increase overall earnings.
We typically hear from mystery shoppers that they earn somewhere between $500-$2,000 per month, depending on the number of hours they are able to work.
In the meantime, let's look at these variables one by one.
1. The company you work for
The largest variable in determining how much money you can make as a mystery shopper may be the company that you work for. Now, it may not matter as much between some of the most popular companies out there but pay could be lower if you opt to shop for more locally based businesses in your area.
I'll go into more detail about some of the most popular mystery shopping companies in a minute, but generally,
2. The quality of your work
Remember - after you drop by a store, you'll likely need to write some type of report afterwards. Now, each gig may be a little different, but some companies offer bonuses for especially well written reports.
In essence, I recommend that you take pride in everything you submit.
Your location will play a role as well. Those who live in or near cities will have an advantage, as more opportunities will arise. On the flip side, competition could be higher in these areas, which could potentially make it a little harder to find recurring or predictable work.
4. Experience level
How long you've been mystery shopping will also impact how much money you can make. Generally, those with a track record of mystery shopping and writing good reports can command higher per job or hourly rates.
5. Type of assignment
Certain assignments will pay for others. Generally, I recommend that you look for more involved assignments that ask you to do more than just walk into a store and complete a simple task.
For instance, certain assignments at certain stores may ask you to ask questions to store employees, evaluate the cleanliness of changing rooms, and perform other duties to write about in your report.
Best mystery shopping companies
Predictably, there is no shortage of mystery shopping companies that you can work for. Businesses have needs for intelligence, after all. In 2023, though, I have a few favorites that stand out above the crowd. This year, my favorite mystery shopping companies are:
Market Force Information (MFI)
IntelliShop is currently my favorite mystery shopping company. They offer a streamlined application process, which will ask for your name, address, payment information, and other demographic information.
From there, you'll be able to start conducting evaluations. IntelliShop is known for having a wide array of jobs to choose from at any given time, which workers appreciate. Additionally, they offer a highly digital experience to both find gigs and upload your reports.
Another great option for mystery shoppers is BestMark. You'll need to be over 18 years of age to be eligible, and you'll potentially be able to take advantage of a number of perks, including:
Free meals or services
Bonuses for referring family and friends
Additionally, BestMark has an extensive network of mystery shoppers across the United States that enables them to provide feedback from different markets. Additionally, their pay rates are highly competitive compared to other companies in their space.
3. Market Force Information (MFI)
Another popular option for mystery shoppers across the country is Market Force Information (MFI). Your goal with MFI is really simple - you are out to evaluate whether brand standards and expectations are being met.
Shoppers online acknowledge MFI's flexibility, but also mention that improvements could be made, mostly in terms of pay transparency. It is also important to note that any work you complete will be as an independent contractor, meaning that you will receive a tax form 1099 if you earn over $600 over the course of a calendar year.
4. Sinclair Customer Metrics
Sinclair Customer Metrics is another huge player in the mystery shopping space. If you work for Sinclair, you'll be employed as an independent contractor, which will allow you to accept or reject any gigs that may pop up in the your area.
The company provides detailed guidelines and instructions on how they should complete their assignments, as well as access to their secure website where they can track progress on their projects and receive payment once the assignment is completed.
Your ultimate pay will depend on a couple of variables:
Time spent on an assignment
The quality of your report
I do like to mention one downside to shopping for Sinclair. First, you may need to wait awhile for your payouts, since Sinclair only pays out once per month.
Tips to make money mystery shopping
Now that you know you can make money as a mystery shopper, here are 10 quick tips to help you maximize your earnings:
Complete shopping gigs when you're already out and about: If you live a little out of the way, you can save time and increase your earnings by completing assignments when you're on your way home from work or already out running errands.
Selectively pick assignments in your area: It may not be worth your time to travel 60 minutes in each direction to complete a $25 project, for example.
Write good reports: This may seem basic, but companies oftentimes have money budgeted to give bonuses and reward those mystery shoppers that put together good reports and do good work.
Follow directions clearly: Depending on the type of assignment you take on, you may encounter some really precise directions. It is not unusual for directions to dictate when you should arrive, what items you should buy, what questions you should ask, etc. Of course, you're going to want to make sure you follow these directions clearly.
Mystery shopping pros and cons
Are you wondering whether mystery shopping is the right choice of a side hustle for you? Check out a couple of the associated pros and cons to help you decide whether this a side gig or second job that may be right for you.
Pro: Flexible work and good pay
Working as a mystery shopper is a side hustle that offers a good amount of flexible work with the potential of good pay. Working for one of the companies I listed above can be a great way to build some supplemental income without having to commit to a full-time job.
Oftentimes, shoppers can choose when and how often they want to take on assignments, so you can more easily work around your other scheduled commitments.
Pro: "Free" perks and product discounts
As a mystery shopper, you may be able to access other benefits, such as:
Discounts on products or services purchased during an assignment
Being invited to exclusive events
This means that shoppers will be able to enjoy additional perks while doing something they love!
Con: Lack of predictability
While the flexibility that mystery shopping offers can be a notable pro, the lack of predictability may mean this isn't the right side gig for those looking for a more stable second income.
And depending on what company you work for, assignments are often sporadic and require quick turnarounds when submitting reports afterwards.
Con: Time-consuming at times
Another con to working as a mystery shopper is that the work can be time-consuming at times. Each of the assignments that you agree to work will be a little different, and you may be expected to turn in a report after your visit.
You'll want to learn how to work more efficiently, since every extra hour you spend on a task lowers the average hourly rate you'll earn from a shopping gig.
Mystery shopping FAQ
I hear a fair amount of questions about the mystery shopping side hustle experience. Here are some answers to the most popular questions I receive.
1. Will anybody know I am a mystery shopper?
No! One of the best parts about mystery shopping is that nobody will really know the real reason you're visiting a store. As long as you don't seem too obvious or tell anybody, it is highly unlikely that anybody will know (or honestly care) what you're up to.
2. Are there any eligibility requirements?
Each company or business is a little different, but in most instances, you'll need to be 18 years of age to work. Given that you are likely to be hired as an independent contractor rather than an actual employee of the business, there are limited other criteria that you'll need to meet.
These are company specific, however.
Is mystery shopping worth it in 2023?
With the caveat that some shoppers will make much more than others in part due to the variables I mentioned above, mystery shopping is absolutely worth a try as a side hustle in 2023.
If you use my money-making tips, you'll be in good shape to maximize your earnings this year and beyond.
I want to hear from you.
Is mystery shopping a side hustle that appeals to you? Have you tried it in the past?
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