How to Earn Extra Money as a Secret Shopper

The life of a secret shopper is unmasked

Couple dining, paying server with digital tablet credit card swiper at restaurant table

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A secret shopper, or mystery shopper, gets paid to visit certain businesses and evaluate them on their performance. You won't rake in a six-figure salary as a secret shopper, but the flexible schedule and being able to choose your assignments make this opportunity a good fit for many stay-at-home moms who want to make money. Find out how to earn extra money as a secret shopper and how to get started from a secret shopper who's been there / done that.

What Is a Secret Shopper?

You're a customer. You happen to be getting paid as an undercover shopper.
A secret shopper reports on everything from how long it takes an employee to greet you to the quality of the product. Secret shoppers are given a list of items to assess as they complete their shopping trip. You then file a full report on your shop to complete the assignment.

Can the Kids Be Involved?

As long as you can pay attention to the details of your assignment, your kids can tag along to most shops. For example, restaurant assignments may allow you to spend a certain amount of money on food. Your family can eat out together while you evaluate the services and your meal -- with some of it being comped!

Investment Required

None. Do not pay a fee to become a secret shopper.
Businesses pay secret shopping companies to send secret shoppers to their stores. Companies that ask you to pay to become a secret shopper are making money off of you, not legitimate shopping opportunities.

Secret Shopper Payment

A majority of your assignments will be a flat fee, not an hourly rate. Pay will vary based on the assignment. A restaurant shop may pay you $10 to complete the shop but also give you a $30 allowance on food. A shop at a convenience store may pay under $10. More involved shops can pay $100 and up.

Fees typically depend on the company's estimate of how much time it will take you and how involved the shop evaluation will be. If you have a long list of items the company wants you to check, for example, you're usually paid a higher rate than for an assignment that will take you 10 minutes to finish.

You'll know how much time each assignment will take, what's required for you to complete it and how much you'll be paid before you accept any shopping job. You're paid after you submit your receipt(s) and send in your shopper report.

A Day in the Life of a Secret Shopper

Most assignments are arranged online. You log in to your secret shopper account, browse the available shops and the details.

Let's say you found a restaurant shop you want to complete. You accept the assignment and have 72 hours to shop the location and submit your report.
You've been given a list of questions you'll have to answer on your report:

  • How long did it take for the hostess to greet you at the door?
  • How long did it take for the waiter to greet you at the table?
  • Did he tell you about the daily specials?
  • Did he ask if you wanted to buy an appetizer?
  • How long did it take for your food to arrive?
  • How would you rate the cleanliness of the restaurant, the silverware, the dishes, your table, the floors, the bathroom?
  • Did the waiter offer you dessert after you finished your meal?
  • What did you order?
  • How would you rate the quality of your food?
  • After you finished your meal, how long did it take for the check to arrive?
  • How would you rate your overall experience?

You go home to file your report and submit your receipt. Once you login to your secret shopper account, you answer all of the questions from your shop. Many companies do not ask for details on each question. They simply want yes/no answers.

The assignment is complete after your report and receipt have been submitted. Payment generally arrives within 1 to 8 weeks.

Getting Started as a Secret Shopper

Start with the mystery shopper jobs directory to find companies looking for secret shoppers. Investigate each company before committing.

Because of the appeal to be a secret shopper, many work-at-home scams have popped up. These scams try to lure people into paying money upfront with promises of getting them secret shopping jobs, charging application fees or telling them they must pay for certification to become a secret shopper. Legitimate secret shopper companies do not ask you for money.

The Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) requires its member secret shopping companies to undergo an approval process before joining. The organization holds these companies to certain standards for them to remain members. There are companies that don't belong to the MSPA that are legitimate, but MSPA member companies are a good place for newcomers to turn to when researching secret shopper opportunities.