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If you’ve ever considered mystery shopping, you know it can be kind of…confusing. There are companies that claim to be mystery shopping firms but are really scams. Then there are mystery shop companies that never have any offers and just wastes your time. The fact is that if you’re doing it right, mystery shopping can be fun and earn you some free meals, items and actual cash. The trick is getting into it the right way.

Using this tutorial, you should be able to get started with mystery shopping, avoid predatory companies and start enjoying all the cool perks of the gig.

Earn Freebies and Cash By Mystery Shopping

get started mystery shopping

How to start with mystery shopping

The first thing you want to do is ensure that you know what mystery shopping entails. Most shops will require you to purchase goods or services for which you will be reimbursed down the line, and usually compensated on top of that. With that said, it can be a month sometimes before you’re paid out, so setting aside some funds for the sole purpose of this gig is a great idea.

Open a separate bank account or simply keep a ledger of mystery shopping expenses. This way you can see what you’re spending on shops and set aside some of your earnings to pay for future shops. For instance, we went to a local restaurant a few weeks ago, a shop that reimbursed us for the dining experience and paid us, but we won’t get paid for that until the end of the month. Dining out can be expensive with kids, so reinvesting into your side gig can keep costs from spilling over into your normal budget.

Check out the MSPA Americas’ website. Basically the who’s-who of mystery shopping partners and programs, the MSPA will get you started with companies and opportunities in your area, and help you avoid scammers.

Avoid Mystery Shop Scams

Once you know how to avoid scams, start finding opportunities. We were only signed up with Bestmark for a long time, and it allowed us a handful of jobs a month, usually restaurant visits, but hardly enough to really make money. Once we started to really look for local gigs, we found that we could actually earn additional, relevant income from mystery shopping. A few places to look are:

  • The best is always going to be Google. Search for your area and find quality companies with shops in your area.
  • Craigslist is another place where you might find companies scouting your area for shoppers, but be especially wary and only go with these opportunities if you can verify it’s from a reputable company.
  • Bestmark is a A+ Better Business Bureau company and is the largest, most reputable mystery shopping business there is. We’ve had dining, electronics shopping, cellphone shopping, and service opportunities through them and they always pay.
  • Market Force is another tried and tested name in mystery shopping. You can sign up and like the others, you’ll get paid out monthly for your efforts. Typically these are more retail shops than dining or services, but not strictly.
  • A Closer Look is another company that hosts mystery shops. They’re open to shops in both the US and Canada currently, but they are more selective on their shops. This means less opportunities overall but better incentives when you do get one.
  • Secret Shopper is last but not least in our list of reputable, online mystery shopping groups. They also have global opportunities if you’re not in North America.

Take Notes as a Shopper

Keep track of your shops, the companies you worked for and dates you went. This provides you a sort of resume from which you can solicit your own shops. If you know a company in your area is more selective about which shoppers they hire, this can give you an edge.

Be persistent. The best gigs and most opportunities go to the shoppers who are on-the-ball, respond quickly and complete shops regularly. Apply for as much as you can reasonably do, but don’t apply for things you will likely flake on, as that will impact your ability to get future jobs. Finally, complete the exit surveys and questionnaires as thoroughly as possible. Use good grammar, write in-depth, and do a fantastic job and you’ll be much more likely to get more work.

Other things to consider when getting started with mystery shopping

If you’re diligent, you’ll make extra money fast with mystery shopping. That said, be aware of a few things:

  • You will need to apply to forums, look for jobs regularly, and complete tasks to the best of your ability to make good income this way; no being lazy!
  • There will be some weeks where there doesn’t seem to be anything going on and you might get discouraged, but the best season for mystery shopping is around the holidays. This is where your diligence pays off, because by slogging through the summer, you’ll be one of the first people picked for good opportunities around Christmas and the New Year.
  • Never EVER get with a company that requires you to “make a deposit” or send them money to get you on a list or get started. These are always scams. A reputable company will only ever pay you out directly and will never ask for money from you. This is different, however, from shops that require you to make a purchase of dinner or a retail item and then reimburse you later on; these are often how you shops will go.
  • If you can’t get out to locations, some companies like Bestmark and Market Force have “phone shops”. These opportunities allow you to call a company and ask a few scripted questions. They’re quick, and usually pay $3-5 dollars each, which isn’t bad considering you can do them from home in your pajamas!
  • If the payment comes before the shop, or it seems too good to be true, it probably is. There are scammers that will pose as representatives of actual, reputable companies that will send you a huge check in advance of a shop, or just a big payment for a mundane task. These are scams, and you’ll need to be wary. Nobody is paying $100 to walk into a Best Buy and look at televisions!
  • If you get offers through text or phone calls, chances are good it’s not legit. Market Force has a tightly controlled app that they communicate with their shoppers through, and Bestmark communicates via email which links to their secure forums. Each company is different, so learn the channels of communication through which they operate and you’ll be safe.

Mystery shopping is a fun, simple way to earn some nice rewards

With a little effort, attention to detail, and persistence, you can get continual cash flow on the side for shopping at places you’d normally go. Free or cheap meals, discounts on goods and services or freebies are all part of the gig if you’re good at it, and seasonal upticks in business can mean some awesome potential around the holidays!

Be diligent and wary of scammers, write great reviews and make sure you’re applying for everything you can find and you’ll get the hang of mystery shopping in no time.

Do you have any experience mystery shopping, either in-store or on the phone? Do you make good money doing it? Let us know in the comments; our newbies would love your tips!

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