Mystery Shopping - Can You Really Dine Free and Earn Money While Mystery Shopping

Yes, you can make a little money for a little effort and make more money with a lot of effort, just like you can with any other home based business! Mostly, you can get reimbursed for meals, bowling, movies, concerts and small retail purchases for providing the mystery shopping firms with a completed questionnaire detailing your visit.

I live in the New York City area and found it to be a part time opportunity for me. My set up includes the minimum requirements: dial-up internet service, a fax machine, a digital camera, a printer, and a PayPal account. You also need to be able to produce good photographs (usually snapping a store front, a retail display, a bathroom, or a pizza!) and be able to upload them correctly. You must be able to accurately and objectively produce a high quality report that will be submitted for each job.

How to Get Started

Your first step should be to head to, which is the Mystery Shopping Providers website. This is chock full of information regarding what it takes to become a mystery shopper, becoming "certified" as a mystery shopper, and most importantly, lists of providers' links along with current assignments in your area. Check out the website before signing up with any one provider because you will got lots of helpful hints and of course learn that you never should have to pay to become a mystery shopper. You may decide to sign up for just one promising mystery shopping provider who does many shops in your area, or you may choose to sign up with hundreds of providers. It's your business and you are the boss!

Keep in mind that you will need to sign up at each website, and they require your name, address, demographic details, your social security number, and your PayPal account number. Make sure that you give them these details only over a secured form (make sure there is a graphic logo of a gold padlock on the right hand bottom of your screen). They need all of this information so that you can be paid and they can report your self employment income to the IRS. If you make over $600 at any one firm, that firm will send you a form 1099, so you will need to keep track of your income and expenses and perhaps be able to deduct some of your expenses related to mystery shopping, including office supplies and mileage.

Your First Shop

Bookmark the mystery shopping firms that you have signed up with and check their Available Assignments page regularly, with the best time at the beginning and end of each month. Assignments get taken quickly by other mystery shoppers like yourself, so you need to determine the best times to check. There is a lot of competition among mystery shoppers who are looking for the assignments that appeal to them. Sometimes, your situation may make it easier for you to select shops. For example, some shops require a young adult to purchase cigarettes to see if they will be "carded" by the associate. Some shops require two people to evaluate an upscale restaurant. Some shops require that you bring a child to try on shoes, or to check out a baby clothes retailer. Other shops require that you conduct the shop alone. You need to read and follow all of the requirements in order to be paid. Most sites require you to take a knowledge test before being able to assign yourself to a particular shop.

When you have successfully assigned yourself the shop, re-read the project instructions, making sure you have the needed materials at hand. The paramount measure of success is how well you can present just the facts in a well-written summary. Always keep in mind that the mystery shopping provider does not want to have to correct your spelling, take out any subjective language, fix photographs, or re-write sentences. Their goal is to take your report and seamlessly present it to the retailer that has paid for the mystery shopping in the first place. Many times, your comments and feedback will go to the direct supervisor of the employee and can be used for performance reviews and bonuses. Your job is to be factual, informative, and provide actionable results.

Many mystery shopping provider websites have bulletin boards and FAQ sections, so if you have any questions or want to browse other shoppers' questions, you have a wealth of knowledge to help you get started. Many sites have reps available for online chat sessions to answer your immediate questions.

Steps to Success

Once you have completed a few shops, you are ready to start to schedule your time. Try and schedule multiple shops. For example, I might try and schedule Saturday shops at my local shopping mall. I have done as many as 10 shops in a day, but more likely, can only find three jobs in any one place and any one time. Here is an example taken from real life: shop for eyeglasses (free exam, $20 shop fee, must buy eyeglasses which are not reimbursed - at 50% off); Shop for a maternity outfit ($7 fee plus $2 reimbursed retail purchase); Eat at the food court at an assigned shop ($7 plus reimbursed meal price). Then you need to get online, usually within 24 hours, complete your questionnaire, upload any receipts or photographs, and then wait for the money to get posted to your PayPal account in 2-6 weeks. The goal would be to schedule yourself to shopping opportunities where you are already doing your personal shopping or errands.

After you have been shopping for certain providers over a length of time, you will establish yourself with higher ratings and be offered "plum" assignments that only get offered to the best shoppers. You will start to build your business and your track record and make additional money. You can also make additional money per job assignment by taking rush jobs that are paid a bonus because they are nearing their completion date.

There are mystery shopping opportunities all across the country. If you enjoy acting, shopping, are detail oriented and enjoy giving feedback, then mystery shopping may be the perfect part time job for you.