Hi there folks!
You may have read about fellow Mustachians doing something called mystery shopping as a side hustle. As someone who's done mystery shopping for the past year and had some experience with it, I decided to make a little guide for what can be another great side hustle.What is mystery shopping?
Mystery shopping is when one goes into a commercial store and does an audit, usually clandestine, for compensation. Typical mystery shops include grocery stores, gas stations, big box stores, and restaurants.How does mystery shopping work?
Typically there will be a 3rd party auditing company who is approached by a retail store. The auditor will be contracted to do compliance reviews, then said auditor "subcontracts" individual shoppers (us) to do the reviews in the form of mystery shopping. How much money are we talking here?
Mystery shopping is completely self-regulated, meaning you go at your own pace. I tend to do a few shops per month when I am already set to get groceries, for example. I need to get groceries, might as well get paid for it at the same time. For my situation, this translates to about $30/month. This number could be much higher or much lower, depending how many shops you do. A lot of shops will have reimbursement for purchased goods. I usually get $5 for the audit, plus a reimbursement of $10.50 for groceries. Score!
There are cases when certain mystery shop assignments pay handsomely, sometimes up to $60. They have assignments in airports, where you have to get through security, adding layers of difficultly. They also have full compliance reviews where you go into a grocery store and approach the management (announced, you are not a mystery anymore), which run in the $30 range. So how do I get started?
I'm going to recommend Market Force. It's a company that I've used for over a year now and is reputable in the mystery shopping community. I recommend this company based on my experiences, but I welcome any fellow mystery shoppers here to recommend others. I choose Market Force because they offer a healthy supply of shops and a user friendly website. With other companies, I found they didn't have shop diversity for my geographic region (i.e. only offered wireless retailers, for instance). In addition, I'm comfortable with Market Force and generally get a very comfortable feel security-wise. I've been paid by check, direct deposit, payment is always smooth, and I don't receive junk mail or spam.
The sign up link is here. http://www.marketforce.com/become-a-mystery-shopper
The one thing I will say is that when I initially signed up and started doing shops, I received an influx of calls from Market Force reps offering me more more shops in my area. The calls were annoying because I just want to choose my own shops thank you, and I told them not to call back anymore. They eventually stopped calling.What do I actually do on a mystery shop trip?
A typical mystery shop trip involves looking around the store and bathrooms for cleanliness, making sure things are stocked well, asking store associates the location of an item, and making note of their names. It's quite straightforward.
After the store visit you simply log in and fill out the survey for the shop you visited. You also scan in your receipt at this time.
The most important thing to note when mystery shopping is that you must do EVERYTHING the assignment says, no exceptions. Just read over the assignment beforehand and do everything honestly. For example, some assignments may want you to put a large item at the bottom of your cart, not say anything about it at checkout, and document how the cashier responds. If you didn't purchase a large item i.e. paper towels then your assignment will be invalidated and you will not receive compensation. Again, these pitfalls are easy to avoid, just read carefully and you will definitely get feel for it after your first assignment. How much time is involved?
A grocery store (most common) takes me a little over 1 hour. This includes visiting the store as well as following up with the required online survey. Payment
Market Force offers payment via check or direct deposit. I've done both, they pay promptly. I switched over to direct deposit after a few months, it's just faster and easier.Taxes
You will be issued a 1099 if your compensation exceeds $600 for a given year. Mystery shop payment (Market Force calls this a "Shop Fee") counts towards your compensation, reimbursements do NOT. So for example if you do an assignment that has a $5 shop fee and $10.50 reimbursement, only the $5 counts towards the 1099.
In closing, if you're looking for a new side hustle that pays decently and completely allows you go at your own pace, give mystery shopping a try. Good luck and happy shopping!