Pros and Cons of Mystery Shopping

A little over a year ago, while trying to make a few extra bucks here and there, I decided to give mystery shopping a try. I wasn’t approaching it thinking that it would be my primary income or anything, but I was surprised how little you may actually get for your time.

Mystery shopping or secret shopping are both phrases to describe a job in which you critique a store’s or restaurant’s customer service and facilities. You are generally paid a fee in addition to reimbursements for items that you had to purchase.

An online friend gave me a few websites to check out for mystery shopping jobs. Her advice as a seasoned mystery shopper is to never pay for mystery shopping job websites. I often get email offers with subject lines like, “Get paid to shop and eat!” or, “Earn extra holiday cash as a secret shopper,” which I delete without reading. If a company is trying to sell you info on mystery shopping, they are most likely only selling you a list of websites that they compiled by searching for “mystery shopping” or “secret shopper” on a search engine. You can save yourself their low, low fee of $19.99 (or higher) by just searching for those words yourself on a search engine like Yahoo! or Google.

While you shouldn’t pay for a list of websites, you can expect to spend some money out of pocket for the mystery shopping jobs. For most jobs you will pay for the items or services you are evaluating and then you will be reimbursed with your pay for the completed shop. The up front costs are usually pretty reasonable. For instance, most fast food or pizza shops will be under $15. Some jobs don’t pay you a fee, but they do pay for your meal or a service that you receive, such as an oil change.

I started analyzing how much time I spent performing the shops and was disappointed with how little I was making. The following is a break down of an average job for a fast food restaurant, a cell phone service/sales center, and a phone in job to a travel service provider:

Type of job Time spent at location Time spent filling out forms online Travel time Total money spent out of pocket Total pay (including reimbursements)
Fast food 40 20 25 (avg.) $10 (avg.) $20
Cell phone 30 15 25(avg.) $0 $14
Phone job 15 (on phone) 15 0 $0 $7.50

This does not include the 10-15 minutes I spend online looking for available online jobs. Still, when I figured out what I would be making in terms of an hourly rate per job, I come up with:
Fast food- 1.4167 hours/$20= $14.11/hour (part of which was basically compensation with food instead of money)
Cell phone- 1.167 hours/$14= $11.99/hour
Phone job- 30 minutes/$7.50= $15/hour.

While these hourly rates seem reasonable, the frequency with which you get jobs isn’t going to give you more than maybe ten or twenty hours of work a month. Also, you are required to accurately record times, names, and conditions to the minutest of detail, which is almost impossible to remember. Many jobs require you to note the exact minute and second that you enter a location and leave a location. You also need to remember the names and descriptions of the associates who help you. For restaurants you often have to order very specific items for the job; if you mess up the order you may not be reimbursed for the shop. If you have a good memory for detail it might be easy, but for a scatterbrained mom like me it can be a challenge sometimes.

With all of that said about the down side, I still enjoy doing the occasional secret shop. I can get pizza delivered to my home and be reimbursed for it in exchange for an filling out an online survey. I can do a quick copy job at the office supply store when I plan on going there to do some shopping anyway. Or I can go out to eat a nice dinner in exchange for telling the manager that I’m a mystery shopper and filling out an online survey.

So if you have a few extra hours to kill and want to do some secret shops go for it. Just don’t expect the slow, care-free day of going out to shop that some secret shop advertisers sometimes like to portray.

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