Mystery Shopping: Can You Really Get Paid to Shop?

Part fun, part spying – mystery shopping has held its allure on the masses since the 1940’s. What started as a means for companies to keep tabs on employee integrity has evolved into a $600 million dollar industry in the US alone. If you would like to explore one of the most intriguing money making ideas where you can get paid to shop, then this series of articles is for you. In this first segment, we will help you determine if you are cut out to be a mystery shopper. If you think this is the right option for you, then check out the other articles in the mystery shopping category to learn more about avoiding scams, finding legitimate companies and much more.


If you really want to become a mystery shopper, you’ll find these qualities advantageous as you build your reputation –

  • The ability to manage your time, money, and records effectively
  • The ability to write clear, grammatically correct reports, using correct spelling.
  • The ambition necessary to seek out shopping assignments, rather than waiting for them to come to you
  • People skills
  • A good memory; you can’t take notes during a mystery shopping trip
  • A credit card; although you can usually pay for your purchases with cash or check, some (particularly those in higher-paying jobs) may be expensive. As you may have to wait a couple of weeks for your company to reimburse you, a credit card could prove useful.
  • A computer, or easy access to one
  • A cellphone or watch with a stopwatch function, to time transactions when required
  • Silver or Gold certification from the MSPA (Mystery Shopping Providers’ Assoc.). Again, this is not essential, but it will give you the advantage when it comes to landing assignments
  • Clothing that will allow you to “fit in” at the places you shop
  • The ability to give an honest, accurate assessment of your transaction, without worrying that you’ll hurt someone’s feelings.
  • The ability, on occasion, to pretend to be someone you’re not
  • Patience and perseverance: it takes time and experience to work up to those posh shops
  • A PayPal account

Initial Investment

Mystery shopping is a very affordable idea to try out. Assuming you have a computer and a couple of nice outfits already, you will only need to spend money for certification from the Mystery Shopping Providers’ Association (MSPA). Although certification is not (currently) required, the MSPA materials provide valuable training, and the fact that you are willing to invest time and funds into getting the certification shows potential employers that you’re serious, knowledgeable, and reliable. At the time of this writing, Silver Certification costs $15, while the Gold Certification program runs $99 plus shipping and handling, as well as applicable taxes.

How Much Can You Make?

Money Making Ideas: Get Paid to ShopAs with other money making ideas, mystery shopping incomes vary widely, according to the type of assignment, the quantity of assignments a shopper decides to take on, and the area of the country in which she is shopping. Most assignments pay between $5 and $15 for retail and fast food, $20-$40 per shop for more expensive companies (think car dealerships and apartment complexes), to as much as over $1,000 for evaluating an entire mall. If you are required to purchase an item (sometimes you’re not), you’re often given a price range; you will be reimbursed for it later. Most shoppers make a few hundred per month, not something you can live on, but enough to claim that you get paid to shop. Occasionally, in large urban markets, an experienced, motivated mystery shopper might be able to earn between $1,000-$3,000 per month.

When you consider the time spent, for a beginner mystery shopper, the hourly rate of earning usually translates to less than the minimum wage. If you don’t enjoy shopping then this may not be the best money making idea for you.

Advantages to Working as a Mystery Shopper

There are many reasons why mystery shopping is a popular part-time occupation:

  • You can set your own hours.
  • You can often shop with your children.
  • It takes very little monetary investment on your part
  • Your efforts determine the amount of money you make.
  • Nice dinners, small items, and occasionally, trips and amusements, all reimbursed
  • The chance to go to restaurants and businesses which you may have overlooked
  • You can often work as much or as little as you like.
  • You may be asked to role-play by taking on another identity.
  • Did we mention you get paid to shop?

Disadvantages to Working as a Mystery Shopper

Of course, as enjoyable and convenient as it sounds, being a mystery shopper does have its drawbacks:

  • You can make a nice supplementary income from mystery shopping, but you will not be able to support your family on it.
  • The volume of assignments you’ll need to do to bring in good money can lead to burnout.
  • Constantly eating out for assignments can lead to weight gain.
  • It may be difficult to find high-paying, or a large volume of, assignments in small cities, towns, or rural areas.
  • Competition for jobs may be steep, as many people find the idea of mystery shopping intriguing.
  • You will need to keep detailed financial records for tax purposes.
  • There are many mystery shopping-related scams out there; you’ll need to be smart and savvy not to fall prey!
  • If you are a shopaholic, this job is not a way to feed your addiction for free. Find something else.


Related Stories:

Mystery Shopping: Can You Really Get Paid to Shop?

Insider Tips for Finding Reputable Mystery Shopping Companies

What You Should Know About Mystery Shopper Certification

10 Valuable Tips to Spot Mystery Shopping Scams


Services Offered

Your mystery shopping job can take any form you wish. You can specialize in restaurants, clothing, retail, residential services, or other areas (although you may have to prove your abilities doing low-end work before you can move on to high-end companies). You can become a scheduler for a mystery shopping company, managing other shoppers. Mystery shoppers have gone on to form their own companies, to writing mystery shopping guides, and to run websites and training programs to help those who want to enter the field. Mystery shopping is one of those money making ideas that can turn into a full blown dream career.

Further Info

To get started as a mystery shopper, start by visiting the websites of MSPA member companies. Then follow their (reputable) links in order to register with company websites. Be sure to register with more than one; it’s allowed, and you’ll be able to pick up more assignments than you would from one company alone.  When you do go to register, follow this cardinal rule: never ever register with a site that asks for money, either to list you, or to provide you with “valuable materials.” The MSPA code of ethics prohibits agencies for asking for payment to provide listing services or job information, and you can find the “valuable materials” for free online. Remember, too: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t believe an ad that promises large pay for very little work. Mystery shopping won’t make you rich, but for a part-time job that allows you to provide useful services for a little money and a lot of fun, it’s a great choice!

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  1. I plan to try out mystery shopping this summer. It seems like free way to go out to restaurants/fast food and the pay with cover gas.

  2. Sam Baker says:

    That’s awesome! Good Luck – I hope you make a killing and let us know about it! 🙂

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