How to Make Money as a Mystery Shopper

A viewer recently asked the Savings Mom how to become a mystery shopper, and in this month's column, she tells you how.

Mystery shoppers are also known as "secret shoppers," "mystery customers," "spotters" and "employee evaluators."

What Is Mystery Shopping?

Companies use mystery shopping to help evaluate their products and services so that they can improve customer service. Statistics show that two out of three of the customers who stop doing business with a company do so because of poor customer service. Companies hire and pay mystery shoppers to evaluate their products or services while posing as customers. In exchange for some form of compensation, mystery shoppers provide a detailed report of their findings, which is useful feedback for these companies.

Who Hires Mystery Shoppers?

Many types of companies of all sizes employ mystery shoppers. Restaurants, department stores, grocery stores, hotels, cruise lines and clothing stores hire mystery shoppers. Even gas stations hire mystery shoppers to evaluate the cleanliness of their restrooms. Rather than hiring shoppers directly, companies tend to work with agencies that provide a database of potential mystery shoppers.

What's a Typical Mystery Shopping Assignment?

According to Nation's Restaurant News, 70 percent to 80 percent of fast-food restaurants employ mystery shoppers. McDonald's has employed mystery shoppers since 2002, and 13,600 U.S. locations employ mystery shoppers to make one visit per month, per store. In exchange for a free meal, mystery shoppers take note of the front counter and drive-through, the speed of service, the accuracy of the order, and the cleanliness of the restaurant. They evaluate three menu items (a sandwich, fries and a drink) and the friendliness of the staff. When the shoppers get home, they fill out online reports and e-mail them to the companies.

Where Do I Find Mystery Shopping Agencies?

There are various types of agencies. Reputable agencies will not charge you a fee to include you in their database, although signing up does not guarantee that you will be selected. Your best bet is to sign up with several agencies to increase your chances of getting assignments. Skip the agencies that require you to pay a fee to sign up.

You can find a comprehensive list of credible agencies from the Mystery Shoppers Providers Association, a national organization that offers information and training for mystery shoppers. You can find 150 mystery shopping agencies on the association's Web site: www.mysteryshop.org. The site also has an informative forum where mystery shoppers of all levels of experience share information and answer questions.

How Much Are Mystery Shoppers Paid?

Assignments may pay an hourly fee that can vary widely depending on the assignment, beginning at around $10 an hour. Payment may also come in the form of free merchandise or services, or include both free services and an hourly wage. Experienced mystery shoppers can attract very lucrative assignments, such as a free one-week trip to a golf resort in Hawaii. Mystery shoppers with good reputations can get enough assignments to make a healthy salary and perks if they want to make a full-time career of mystery shopping. But new mystery shoppers may start out with few assignments or be offered less desirable assignments, like evaluating the cleanliness of a gas station restroom at midnight.

How Do I Become a Sought-After Mystery Shopper?

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