Mystery Shopping: What it's all about

Let me guess. You've heard of mystery shopping, but have no idea what it is, how much it pays, how to get started, or whether you should be one.

We'll start with what it is. A mystery shopper is an Independant Contractor who is asked by a mystery shopping company (like this one to go to a business posing as a 'regular' customer in order to evaluate that business. A mystery shopper looks at certain criteria set forth by the business being shopped in conjunction with the mystery shopping company. You might be timing how long it takes a mechanic to get to your car, or watching how an employee rings up an order to determine if they are 'pocketing' company money.
I know there are ads out there claiming that as a mystery shopper you could make thousands of dollars a month. Realistically, don't quit your day job! MSing (Mystery Shopping) is a great way to earn a couple hundred extra dollars a month, but you can not expect to live off doing it. Unless, and this is a big one, you have been doing it for quite a while, have built up a solid reputation with several MS companies, and live in a well populated area. If you live in rural PA where your closest neighbor is Amish, you are not likely to be getting the prime shops. However, if you live just outside of New York City, and don't mind traveling throughout the city, you are likely to be able to make some pretty decent money. When you are starting out as a shopper, you can expect to make between $10 and $45 a shop. Once you have some experience, and know the different kinds of shops, and what they are worth, you will be averaging about $30 a shop.

So, you think you want to give this a try? One of my favorite companies to suggest to people who want to try out mystery shopping is Mystery-Consumer. They are based out of Canada, but hold several really great international chains as their clients. You have to sign up with them in order to shop, and they require that you pass tests for each client you would like to shop. If you can pass their tests, it's a fair indicator you'll do ok as a mystery shopper! They pay reasonably well, and you have an option of direct deposit once you start doing shops for them. Also, and this is the best part, all of their shops are submitted via the internet. No faxing, calling, or looking for paperwork. You go to the website, pick the shops you want to do, when you are ready to submit them, you go back to the site and do it through there. It's great!!