Mystery Shopper Side Hustle $500

I Get Paid $500 Monthly as a Mystery Shopper (How You Can Too!)

All my tips to becoming a paid Mystery Shopper who makes $35 per hour.

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I made $500 my first month as a mystery shopper. 

That’s roughly $35 per hour, a rate significantly higher than both the Federal minimum wage and Massachusetts' minimum wage.

Quite frankly, it’s one of the best high paying jobs I do in my spare time when I’m not writing blog posts.

Despite its appeal, mystery shopping often faces misconceptions.

Some people mistakenly believe it's too good to be true, or that it's only reserved for a select few.

Today, I’m going to debunk myths about mystery shopper jobs, including how to become a mystery shopper with no previous experience. 

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What is a Mystery Shopper?

A mystery shopper is an independent contractor who gets compensated for providing detailed summaries of mystery shop assignments. 

This means that you are not employed by the mystery shopping company nor are you an employee of the client for whom you are performing the assignment.

What Does a Mystery Shopper Do?

As a mystery shopper, you get paid to evaluate the quality of products, services, or customer experiences, while posing as an undercover customer.

This can mean visiting specific locations such as stores, restaurants, or banks, to evaluate things like cleanliness, staff friendliness, product availability and more. 

This is all of course without revealing your secret shopper identity! 

After each assignment, you provide detailed feedback and observations to the mystery shopping company.

Types of Mystery Shopper Jobs

  • Restaurants: Assess food quality, service speed, cleanliness, staff friendliness, and overall dining experience.
  • Hotels and Resorts: Inspect room cleanliness, amenities, front desk service, restaurant quality, and overall guest experience.
  • Fast-Food Chains: Evaluate speed of service, order accuracy, food quality, cleanliness, and staff friendliness.
  • Retail Stores: Evaluate customer service, product knowledge, store cleanliness, and adherence to company policies.
  • Banks and Financial Institutions: Review customer service, wait times, staff knowledge, account opening procedures, and compliance with regulations.
  • Health and Fitness Centers: Assess facility cleanliness, equipment condition, staff friendliness, membership process, and adherence to safety protocols.

This is just scratching the surface of the kinds of mystery shopping gigs you can find.

I've stumbled upon gigs where you get to check out fancy airline lounges, catch early movie screenings, and even score free gas!

The pool of potential work is a vast one! 

How to Become a Mystery Shopper

I became a mystery shopper by signing up with legit mystery shopping companies online, completing their applications, and getting instant approval to work.

Within two days of signing up, I had accepted and completed my first mystery shop assignment! 

How to Become a Mystery Shopper

Before you kick off your mystery shopping side hustle, be prepared to share some standard information such as your full name, address, and social security number with the secret shopper companies. 

It's the usual stuff most employers ask for to ensure you get paid for your work.

In general, you can expect to complete the following 6 steps to become a mystery shopper.

1. Sign Up with Mystery Shopper Companies

  • Avoid Scams by registering with legit mystery shopping companies. The MSPA site maintains an online database of trustworthy companies.

2. Provide Standard Information

  • This includes things such as your name, address, email, age, social security number and cell phone number.

3. Create an Online Profile

  • Create a log-in and password to sign into the portal where you’ll see available mystery shopper jobs in your area.

4. Share Interests

  • Sharing your interests in your mystery shopper profile ensures that you're matched with assignments that align with your preferences and expertise.

5. Complete Direct Deposit Form

  • This will be used to deposit your fees and reimbursements directly into the bank account of your choice.

6. Sign Independent Contractor Agreement

  • This is the agreement that will govern the relationship between you and the mystery shopping company.
Mystery Shopper Independent Contractor Agreement

In general, most mystery shopper companies will require you to be 18 years old, register a physical street address (No PO Boxes), provide a valid email address and phone number, and sign an independent contractor agreement to become a mystery shopper. 

Once you’ve completed the application process and been approved, you’ll be assigned a Shopper ID

Your Mystery Shopper ID is essentially your unique identifier within the mystery shopping company's system, allowing them to track your assignments, payments, and performance.

Now you’re all set to dive in! 

This can be your one day a week job or you can work more or less depending on your schedule and goals.

Secret Shopper Job Assignments

Some shops will be ‘self-assigned’ gigs, others will be ‘non-self-assigned.’ 

Self-assigned mystery shop jobs, as the name implies, are gigs you pick and choose at will that are instantly assigned to you. 

This means, you won’t have to request it and wait for approval in order to do the work. 

On the flip side, non-self-assigned jobs are typically assigned to you by the mystery shopping company after you’ve requested and been approved for the work. 

You also have the option to let the mystery shopping company automatically assign work to you based on your desired interests.

Restaurant Mystery Shopping
A restaurant mystery shop I did where I got to take one guest along with me. I was reimbursed $150 for the food and drinks!

In-Person Mystery Shops

You’ll find that most gigs are in-person. 

Some assignments I’ve encountered are quick and easy, while others are pretty time-consuming for little pay. 

For example, one shop offered $25 for a roughly 90 minute evaluation of a wireless phone carrier store.

This doesn’t include the amount of time you’d spend writing up your detailed observation report, nor the time involved in driving to the location.

One mystery job I did paid me $35 for completing a hotel valet evaluation. My valet fee was reimbursable for up to 6 hours of parking which was perfect. 

It allowed me the opportunity to grab my laptop and work from an upscale hotel lobby for a couple of hours.

Additionally, I was able to run errands in the city without worrying about paying expensive city parking fees.

The evaluation report for this job took me about 45 minutes to complete. 

Essentially, I took this gig because it offered a service that was valuable to me along with payment for providing my feedback on that service.

How much does a mystery shopper get paid

Online Mystery Shopper Jobs

Some companies offer phone and web online mystery shopper jobs that can be completed from home. 

Here’s an example of an online mystery shop that pays $10.

“Quick, easy shops you can do from anywhere. These are simple inquiry shops about the availability of a watch using your assigned method of contacting the retailer. 

…include all required watch specifications in your first message to the retailer.

To describe the watch use: Model name + material + two other aesthetics of the watch like face color, bezel, type of bracelet, etc.”

I’ve not yet done any of the online mystery shops. They don’t sound super appealing to me and on top of that there are so few of them available. 

So don’t expect this to make up a big portion of your mystery shop income.

Restaurant Secret Shopper Jobs

Restaurant mystery shops are my favorite shops to do! 

These will not earn you a lot of money, but if you want to get paid to eat and enjoy a nice meal in the city, then these shops are awesome! 

I’ve done a handful of restaurant mystery shops where I’ve taken my family and friends out to dine for free. 

The caveat is that the reports are rather time-intensive to complete.

Normally, these reports can take upwards of 2 hours long to write!

Restaurant secret shopper jobs

(If you've ever dreamed of being a food critic, restaurant secret shopper jobs are your chance to shine and earn money for sharing your restaurant reviews!)

Also, you'll need to jot down detailed notes, including timestamps for every tiny detail like: when you arrived at the restaurant, time you were seated, when the server greeted you, time your entrees came out, etc.

I discreetly record these things on a notepad on my phone.

Another drawback of these shops is that you have to cover the cost of your meal upfront and then wait to get reimbursed later.

As a frequent restaurant diner, I see it as a way to save money and a chance to try out new restaurants in Boston. So it’s worth it to me! 

Here's a recent restaurant shop that came my way, just to give you an idea of what to expect.

  • Location: Upscale restaurant in the Boston Seaport District
  • Reimbursement: Up to $200 food reimbursement (includes tax and 15% minimum gratuity) for you and one guest
  • Optional Parking Reimbursement: Parking would be reimbursed if I provided a receipt for it
  • Time Requirement: Must arrive at restaurant between 6pm and 8pm
  • Food Requirement: Order 1 appetizer, 2 entrees, 1 dessert, 2 drinks. The same food items could not be ordered twice. So for example, my entree had to be different from my guest’s entree.
  • Job Details: Answer 150 questions and write at minimum a one paragraph summary for each section (normally there’s about 4 – 5 sections)
  • Provide Receipt: Submit a digital image of my restaurant receipt along with tip amount written in
  • Pay Rate: $12

The pay rate for these shops are insignificant. 

Sometimes it’s $0. Other times it’s $8 or $15 bucks.

The way I look at it, this restaurant shop would pay $100 per hour for each hour it would take me to write up the observation report. Not bad! 

Side Note: These shops have so far covered the entire meal for me and my guest. But you can feel free to order more items on the menu. Just note that you’ll only be reimbursed up to the maximum amount shown in your job report.

Fast-Casual Food Shops

Fast-casual food shops are nice money maker mystery shops that are quick and easy to do and that offer you a solid pay. 

I’ve completed about 20 of these food shops to-date and have earned a few hundred dollars in the process! 

Just as it sounds, these shops entail going to a fast-casual food shop, where you evaluate the facility, food, and overall customer experience.

Most of these shops pay me between $15 – $30 per shop, plus I get reimbursed for the food purchase. The survey type observation questions take me about 15 – 20 minutes to complete.

Unlike restaurant mystery shops, fast-casual food shops have few open-ended questions. So you can zoom through these much faster! 

Hotel Mystery Shopping

While some mystery shopping companies may offer hotel shop assignments, it's unlikely you'll land these gigs right off the bat as a newbie.

Most companies prefer to gauge your reliability and the quality of your reports before offering you these types of gigs.

Hotel Mystery Shopping

However, even if you do start seeing hotel mystery shops in your dashboard, you’ll want to think twice before taking them on. 

They're often demanding in terms of time and effort, and they're not typically big money makers. 

Mystery shoppers who accept these gigs are usually more interested in the “experience” offered rather than the paycheck.

Here’s a quick look at a recent hotel mystery shop I was offered:

  • Location: Upscale hotel in the heart of downtown Boston
  • Reimbursement: 2-night hotel stay for you and one adult guest, most meals, spa treatment
  • Requirements: 3 Evaluation Reports detailing things such as: Reservations, Check-in, Bell/Door/Valet Service, Room Amenities, Housekeeping, Food & Beverage Outlets, Photos of Physical Defects Found, Spa Service
  • Additional Requirement: Must enroll in the hotel loyalty rewards program
  • Pay Rate: $0

This feels like too much effort for me, and the “experience” isn't worth it considering the workload.

I also imagine that there’s a bit of luring in of potential clientele to these upscale establishments. Especially, since most of these shops would require you to fork over $1,500 or more upfront and get reimbursed later.

Side Note: I checked hotel rates at the location offered in this mystery shop. Rates started at $640 a night! 

I wouldn't typically book this myself.

So while I do enjoy participating in shopper reward programs, joining this specific hotel loyalty program would be of no benefit to me.

Also worth noting, if you were offered a similar gig in another state, chances are most shops will include a reasonable travel reimbursement in the job description.

So if you wanted to book a family vacation or romantic getaway around this, then this type of hotel mystery shop may be worth it to you.

It really comes down to what you’re looking to get out of your mystery shopping side hustle. 

How Much Do Mystery Shoppers Get Paid?

The pay for mystery shoppers varies based on the complexity of the work, the amount of mystery shopper jobs near you, and the mystery shopping company.

From my experience, mystery shopping gigs often compensate you with complimentary items like meals, hotel stays, or event tickets, alongside cash payments.

On average, paid mystery shops can range anywhere from $5 – $75 per assignment.

Mystery Shoppers Get Paid
As a mystery shopper, I get paid via direct deposit to my SoFi bank account.

Bidding on Work

You can also “bid” on assignments and set your own price for completing them. If an assignment offers this option, you'll typically find instructions on how to place a bid in the job descriptions.

I’ve bid on work and have only had one job accepted at my bid price.

Usually, I bid much higher than the listed assignment rate, especially if I see that the job has been lingering around in my feed for a long period of time.

I figure it doesn’t hurt to try!

The one job where my bid was accepted, I had placed a bid only a few dollars higher than the listed assignment rate.

How Are Secret Shoppers Paid?

Mystery shopping companies pay you through ACH direct deposit, PayPal or by sending a check via mail. Although, many are shifting exclusively to direct deposit to mitigate the risk of checks getting lost in transit.

When Do Shoppers Get Paid?

Mystery shoppers can expect to get paid 2 – 6 weeks from the time an assignment is submitted and approved. 

For instance, Market Force approved shops are paid around the 20th of the month following the month the shop was completed.

In my case, mystery shop assignments I completed in March for Marketforce were paid out to me on April 22nd.

This was also my first paycheck as a beginner mystery shopper! 

When do mystery shoppers get paid
Mystery Shopper Pay

The $258.88 paid to me by Market Force included $132.88 in food reimbursement and $126 in assignment gig pay.

I started my mystery shopper side hustle late in March and was taking on any job at any rate just to get a feel for how mystery shopping works.

Within 2.5 weeks of starting, I was completing my first $20, $25, $30 and $35 shopper jobs. These payments will be reflected in next month’s pay.

This, along with other mystery shops I do for other companies, earned me $500 my first month mystery shopping!

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Mystery Shopper Companies and Apps

There are hundreds of mystery shopping companies to check out. 

I would recommend signing up for a handful of them. You’ll find that some companies offer more shops in your area compared to other companies.

  • Secret Shopper
  • Market Force
  • Coyle
  • Ipsos

You can also find a database of other companies on the MSPA website.

Mystery Shopping Scams to Avoid

Watch out for mystery shopping scams that ask for upfront fees or pricey training materials. It’s free to become a mystery shopper! 

The industry unfortunately attracts its fair share of scammers.

It’s undoubtedly one of the reasons contributing to the myths and negative misconceptions surrounding mystery shopping.

Before you share any personal info, do your homework on the company. 

And remember, legit mystery shopping gigs won't involve depositing checks or wiring money. Stay on high alert for these scams! 

My best suggestion in order to avoid these scams is to sign up with companies in the MSPA database.

How to Make $35/hr as a Beginner Mystery Shopper

To make the most amount of money as a mystery shopper, you’ll want to choose high paying gigs and complete multiple assignments in close proximity to one another. 

Here are other ways to increase your Mystery Shopper Pay:

  • Sign up with multiple mystery shopper companies to have a larger pool of gigs to choose from. It'll also be easier to find multiple gigs close to one another to save time and increase your hourly rate!
  • Do online mystery shop gigs that require no travel.
  • Track your expenses to maximize your earnings when it comes time to do taxes.
  • Be detail oriented and complete assignments according to client specifications. The better you are at your job, the better and higher paying assignments that'll come your way!
  • BID on work to request a higher pay rate for that assignment.
  • Pay with cash back reward cards such as Chase.
  • AVOID at all costs canceling or rescheduling assignments. I did this and my higher paying gigs were taken away for 2 days.

You can also use gig apps such as Field Agent, UberEats, or Observa alongside mystery shopping to make more money per hour with your secret shopper side hustle!

Alternatives to Mystery Shopping

I love mystery shopping because I get paid to eat and shop, but it's not reliable enough for a full-time gig. 

There are plenty of other side hustles with greater potential for becoming a full-time income, like starting a money-making blog

Check out these other alternatives to mystery shopping.

  1. Pinterest Virtual Assistant – manage and optimize Pinterest accounts for clients to increase their visibility, engagement, and website traffic. 
  1. Affiliate Website – this is my full-time side hustle that I do from home. Affiliate links within my blog articles earn me passive online income.
  1. AI Side Hustles – AI is here to stay and if you know how to leverage it then you can make some serious cash with AI! 
  1. Amazon Self-Published Author – You can make money on Amazon by writing a children’s book, self-help book, poetry book or whatever and get paid royalties on sales.

You can also do freelancing work as a graphic designer, videographer or even do some voice acting to make extra money! 

If you need help with improving your current skill set or want to learn something totally new, then check out Skillshare. You’ll get 30 Days FREE to check out as many classes as you want when you join with this link.

Are Mystery Shopper Jobs Worth It? 

Mystery shopping is a great part-time job to earn extra cash for unexpected expenses, savings goals, or treating yourself to something special without dipping into your regular budget.

It’s a worthy side hustle if you pick and choose high-paying gigs and maximize your earnings potential by combining it with other gig apps.

I hope you enjoyed reading my mystery shopper review! 

Next, you may be interested in reading about how to get a discount at restaurants and jobs that pay cash on the spot.

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