Want To Make An Extra $100 A Month? Learn How To Become A Mystery Shopper

Back when I had student loans, one of the things I did was learn how to become a mystery shopper so that I could make extra money. No, it did not make me rich, but it gave me a little bit of extra income, and it also allowed me to go out to eat and…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: April 15, 2024

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via my links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure for more info.

Back when I had student loans, one of the things I did was learn how to become a mystery shopper so that I could make extra money. No, it did not make me rich, but it gave me a little bit of extra income, and it also allowed me to go out to eat and get free things that I probably would have bought anyways.

Mystery shopping also helped me pay off $40,000 in student loans in just 7 months.

I remember when I first heard of being a secret shopper. I was working at a retail store and we regularly had mystery shoppers come in to grade how we were doing. We never knew who the mystery shopper was, but we would get to read their report afterwards.

I thought it was so interesting that people were getting paid to shop!

Not long after hearing about it, I learned more about how to become a mystery shopper and actually became a secret shopper myself.

I regularly earned around $150 to $200 a month mystery shopping, and I earned free items/services as well, such as $100 to spend at restaurants (which I had to grade while I was there), makeup, and more.

Recently, many of you have emailed me and asked me the question “what is mystery shopping?” I know many of you have also been wondering how I was able to earn income through mystery shopping.

Because it has been a while since I talked about how to become a mystery shopper – the last time was back in 2012, I decided it was time to talk about it again and tell you about my experience and how to get started.

So today, I am going to answer your common questions and help you learn how to become a mystery shopper with my secret shopper review. Some of your questions include:

  • How much money can you make as a mystery shopper?
  • Is the mystery shopper job legit?
  • What is a mystery shopper job?
  • How do people become secret shoppers?

If you aren’t familiar with mystery shopping, today’s article will teach you all about mystery shopping and how to find mystery shopping jobs.

Related articles on how to make extra money:

How to become a mystery shopper and find secret shopper jobs.

What’s the catch with becoming a mystery shopper?

I know a lot of you might be thinking it’s too good to be true.

Is it really just getting paid to shop?

That would be the perfect world, right?

Mystery shopping requires work – you will have to keep your receipts, answer a survey, and report to the mystery shopping company about how your shopping experience was. This helps the store, car dealership, restaurant, etc. improve their customer shopping experience.

You can join Bestmark by clicking here. This is my favorite mystery shopping company, and the only one I used back when I learned how to become a mystery shopper. They are one of the best mystery shopper companies.

Mystery shopping is great because it can help you make a little extra income, on your own time, as well as earn free products and restaurant meals.

No, mystery shopping is not a get rich quick scheme, and you most likely won’t be able to turn it into a full-time gig. However, learning how to become a secret shopper can be a fun way to make some side cash, which can help you pay your bills, save more money, and reach your financial goals a little bit sooner.

How is a mystery shopper paid? How much do secret shoppers make?

If you’re wondering “How much do you get paid for being a secret shopper?” then this part is for you.

As you learn how to become a mystery shopper, you will need to learn how you are paid and the typical mystery shopper salary. Typically, there are three ways a secret shopper is paid for mystery shopping:

  1. Cash and reimbursement (you’ll get paid to do the mystery shop, plus get the service/product for free).
  2. Cash payment (an example would be a phone call mystery shop when you don’t buy anything).
  3. Reimbursement (an example would be a restaurant assignment – these typically don’t pay except for free food).

Usually, you’ll receive payment for secret shopper jobs via direct deposit, check, PayPal, or gift card, around 2-4 weeks after you complete the mystery shop.

I was always paid promptly after I completed a mystery shop.

How much does a mystery shopper make?
A check I received when I was mystery shopping.

What are legitimate mystery shopping companies? Are secret shopper jobs legit?

When I was first starting out as a mystery shopper and learned how to become a secret shopper, I found quite a few scammy mystery shopping companies that were not real at all. They solely existed to scam people out of their money.

I think this is a common scam in the mystery shopping world because so many people want to learn how to become a mystery shopper and “get paid to shop.” So, many people are lured in thinking that they can make easy money with any company.

Don’t be afraid, though, there are top mystery shopping companies that are legitimate too!

I only know of American mystery shopping providers, and my favorite is Bestmark.

I primarily used Bestmark for my mystery secret shops, actually I don’t remember using anyone else as they were one of the top mystery shopper companies. I’m not sure which other mystery shopping websites are good, reputable companies, but I know positively that Bestmark is a legitimate mystery shopping website. You can trust me when I say that. I personally received several paychecks from them and didn’t pay them any money in order to complete mystery shops.

That’s usually what separates the fake mystery shopping companies from the real ones – the fake mystery shopping companies usually ask you for money in advance, such as a sign-up fee to get started.

Due to that, when you are learning how to become a mystery shopper and how to be a secret shopper, I highly recommend doing your research and finding a company like Bestmark.

You can read more about common mystery shopping scams and their warning signs with what the FTC has to say about mystery shopping.

Recommended reading: 9 Best Mystery Shopping Companies To Work For

Legit mystery shopper jobs

What types of secret shops are there? How do you become a secret shopper?

There are so many different types of mystery shops that you can complete, so be ready!

Above, you can see a screenshot I took of the Bestmark secret shop listings within the mystery shopping apps. The listings you see above are all secret shops that were available just one month ago, and there are TONS of other secret shops you can sign up for as well.

All you need to do is sign up to become a mystery shopper here.

Then, to apply for a secret shop, you just need to click on one of those listings, choose one of the available dates, and press “Request.”

The mystery shopping company will get back to you fairly quickly on whether or not you can do the mystery shop. Personally, I was almost always accepted, as there are TONS of mystery shops available and they are really in need of more legitimate mystery shoppers.

So, it’s super easy!

There are legit mystery shopper jobs for lots of different things such as:

  • Restaurants and cafes – mystery dining jobs were always tasty!
  • Electronic stores (such as Best Buy)
  • Salons
  • Car dealerships
  • Movie theaters
  • Makeup counters
  • Phone calls (to survey the person who answers the phone and their knowledge of the store or restaurant)
  • Experience exchange mystery shopping

And more! Plus, the best shoppers are given more and more secret shops to complete as well with mystery shopping sites.

Some mystery shopping companies may need you to complete a background check and fill out an independent contractor agreement. But, if so, these are usually fairly easy.

Becoming a mystery shopper is the best job on the side for someone who likes to shop, but also wants to make some side money at the same time.

What does a mystery shopper do?

Here’s how a mystery shop usually works:

  • You join a mystery shopping company, such as Bestmark, and fill out a mystery shopper application.
  • Apply for and find mystery shopper jobs through the platform. This is an easy way to become a mystery shopper online.
  • If you are approved, you then read what the mystery shop job entails (what they want you to look for) and make sure you understand the secret shopping guidelines.
  • Complete the mystery shopping assignment, whether that is by phone, online, in-person, and so on. If you are supposed to buy something, make sure you keep your receipt as you will need it to complete the questionnaire you are given.
  • Submit the mystery shopping questions with your opinions, rate the customer experience, and any proof that they require.
  • Get paid for the mystery shopping job.

Having good written communication skills is helpful when you are a mystery shopper, as after you are done with a mystery shop, you will typically have to answer a bunch of questions in a mystery shopping report. A good mystery shopper is there to help a company improve, and your report will help with that!

Finding mystery shopping gigs doesn’t have to be hard. Simply sign up for mystery shopping platforms such as Bestmark, and you’ll see a lot of different secret shopper jobs for you to check out and try.

Do secret shoppers keep what they buy?

Yes, secret shoppers get to keep what they buy.

I regularly would complete mystery shopping jobs just for this reason. So that I could get free restaurant meals, free makeup, free clothing, free oil changes, and so on.

Do mystery shoppers get paid upfront?

Mystery shoppers do not typically get paid upfront.

Usually, you will have to pay for the item, and then the company will reimburse you after you leave your mystery shopping review.

Companies do this so that the employee does not know that you are a mystery shopper, and so that the company knows that you will actually go in and complete the mystery shopping job, and not simply take the money and run, haha.

How long does it take to get paid mystery shopping?

It usually takes around 3-4 weeks for Bestmark to pay you for the mystery shopping that you have completed.

For other mystery shopping companies it may be longer, but you should still see payment within a month or two.

Do I need a secret shopping certification?

For most secret shopping companies, you do not need any certifications. I have never had one and I don’t personally know of any in the mystery shopping industry.

You can simply just hop on a website, such as Bestmark, and look at their job board to see what mystery shops they are trying to fill. This may be for video mystery shopping, telephone mystery shopping, or in-person mystery shopping.

What skills do mystery shoppers need?

Mystery shopping is a job that many people can do, because everyone shops!

Good written communication skills is important to have, because you will be filling out reviews of the places that you shop at.

What were my favorite mystery shops? – My mystery shopping review

There are many different kinds of mystery shops that I accepted when I learned how to become a secret shopper. At first, I accepted anything and everything, as I wanted to make as much money as possible to put towards my student loan debt.

I made good money, but eventually it wore me out from having to fill out so many reports.

My favorite mystery shops included:

  1. Online shop or phone call shop. I liked these because I didn’t have to go in person and waste fuel or my time driving somewhere. With these you are usually grading the website, the phone call customer service, and/or how an item was received in the mail. Being an online mystery shopper was very easy!
  2. If I had to drive for a mystery shop, I liked the ones that were close to my home or work.
  3. I loved doing makeup shops because I love free makeup. I received a lot of free makeup! That made these some of my favorite because I knew I would use the product I was getting.
  4. Restaurant shops, because I have to eat, of course.

Sometimes surveys take just a minute, but sometimes they literally take an hour.

Restaurant shops usually take a little longer than others because usually you are grading every little detail, from the cleanliness of the outside of the building all the way to whether you were offered a dessert.

If you are learning how to become a mystery shopper, you might be wondering about the types of mystery shops you can do, so here are some examples of ones I have done:

  1. Restaurants. These range from cheaper restaurants where I’m reimbursed for around $30 worth of food, all the way up to nice steakhouses where I would receive $100 of free food.
  2. Dealerships. Bestmark has a ton of dealership shops available, but the only secret shops I have done with car dealerships are ones where I make a phone call or schedule services online.
    • I would do about 4-5 of these a week because these were the easiest shops. You don’t have to drive anywhere and the surveys literally take one minute. And, I would get paid around $3 to $5 for them.
    • They also have dealership secret shops where you go in and pretend you want a car. These usually pay around $20.
  3. Retail. I mainly did Estee Lauder secret shops, and I’ve done a lot of these. I’ve received foundation, lotion, toner, face wash, concealer, lip gloss and so on, all for free! These aren’t samples sizes either – I received over $200 in free makeup, plus paid around $10 for each mystery shop as well.
    • I’ve also done a couple of Best Buy shops. These are easy too. You just survey a certain department (takes like a minute), and then you can just buy something small like a candy bar so that you can prove that you were actually there and performed the mystery shop. Best Buy shops usually paid around $13. Not a ton, but there was a Best Buy on the way home from work so I could easily pop in to mystery shop.

The highest paid shops I did were usually for restaurants. I’ve done a couple of nice restaurants where I had to eat over $100 worth of food. Crazy! I’ve also seen hotel mystery shops (where you stay at a hotel for free), but I was never able to do them because the days didn’t work for me.

One of the other things you should know if you are wanting to learn how to become a mystery shopper is what happens if you can’t complete the task when you are supposed to.

If you find that you cannot do a shop that you sign up for, all you usually do is contact your scheduler and say you need to reschedule or cancel. I don’t suggest doing this too often though. These schedulers will remember you, and if you’re good to them, they will give you good shops, so remember that!

Mystery shopping money will NOT make you rich. I want to make that clear. It’s just a nice little side hustle, where you can get things you want for free!

You may have to make some purchases in order to review a store or product, but you should be reimbursed in the end. You may get free meals, free oil changes, grocery store items, and more as well through your secret shopping assignments! Remember, companies are paying you for your feedback so the things you buy for the mystery shop should be paid for by them.

Also, if you join Bestmark, please say I referred you! My ID is MO4999. You can join Bestmark by clicking here. They are one of the best legit mystery shopper companies and companies hiring secret shoppers. I believe Bestmark is one of the best mystery shopping companies.

How To Become A Mystery Shopper

I hope you enjoyed this article on how to become a mystery shopper.

If you have any doubts on whether something is legitimate, there are things you can do. I recommend doing some research to make sure the company is legitimate, reading up at Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), looking for reviews at the Better Business Bureau, and also remembering that if something seems too good to be true, then you must be much more careful and even decline the job.

Always remember to follow the mystery shopping job instructions if you get a secret shopping job, and keep record of your expenses so that you can be reimbursed. If you are detail-oriented and have an internet connection, then mystery shopping can be a fun way to use your extra availability to make extra money.

As a mystery shopper, you can help companies conduct valuable market research by simply joining a legitimate company that needs secret shoppers and evaluators.

To get started with a mystery shopping service, you just need to find a reputable mystery shopping company (such as Bestmark), and create a profile. Then, you can see what mystery shopping jobs are available to you!

Are you interested in learning how to become a mystery shopper? Did you know that people get paid to secret shop?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. DNN

    I used to see paper flyers back in the day about opportunities to be a mystery shopper. It pays handsome $ gUaP $. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Katiebug

      This is great I signed up I hope I get to become a mystery shopper.

  2. Angela Waterford

    I’m glad that I can get paid with cash if I become a secret shopper. I think I’ll sign up for that if a company offers it so I can make retail businesses better. As a former retail employee, I know how their process works, so this will be a breeze for me to do.

  3. Ari

    Thank you so much for posting! It is difficult to find a credible company for mystery shopping. I have added this to my list of side hustles. I can’t wait to write my own review also, as I’ve completed my first shop. It wasn’t a bad experience.

    1. Smith

      Thanks…I would also like to become a mystery shopper…I have signed up and can’t wait for your response

  4. Sheryl Ross

    Thank you, I am interested in doing this and your information was very helpful! I did apply and used your referral code!

  5. Carol vonDembowski

    The beginning of your report sounds like my life for the past 1 1/2 years. Ripped off, lied to, fake websites to go to, no coach as promised. They just disappeared! I’ve been reading about these secret shoppers. And your article seemed to address all my questions. And fears. I pray you are on the up and up. Please don’t be a scam.

  6. Gabi

    I guess one thing I’m misunderstanding: Do you pay out of pocket to purchase products at the store, restaurant or hotel, and then get reimbursed 2-4 weeks later?

    For example: Do I have to pay for $100 worth of food (plus tip) out of pocket, and then wait 2-4 weeks to be reimbursed for that money? Or will I be given that money in advance to spend there?

    1. You have to pay in advance. The mystery shopping companies would probably have an issue with mystery shoppers taking the money and not actually using it, if they were to pay first.

  7. I’ve always been curious about the process of becoming a Mystery Shopper plus what companies run a legit business. This is great! Thanks for sharing your story.

  8. Isabell

    Thanks for the recommendation I added your reference when I signed up so they know you referred me. I signed up for the ebook too thanks for your help ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Does anyone know if mystery shopping is still happening during this period of pandemics and lock-downs?

  10. Sandra Robinson

    I would like a mystery shoppers job as I need to pay off loans.

  11. Shirley Wotherspoon

    I would love to be a mystery shopper

  12. Jenifer Holstein

    I am interested to be a mystery shopper.
    Could you send me some information on how to get started.
    Thank you!

    1. Hey Jenifer! I highly recommend checking out the company mentioned in this blog post. It’s a great way to get started.

  13. Ashton brogdon

    I wanna b a mystery shopper.

    1. khaled khodor

      yes I have to become a mistery shopper

  14. Tara

    Do you just fill out multiple choice surveys or do you have to write up a report or something like that?

  15. Maya

    How do I get to make money??

  16. DAW

    I was a mystery shopper before the internet was around.. ๐Ÿ˜‚. I don’t even know how I started. I think I did market research and taste testing for a company and they asked me to do some shopping and give them my feedback. I did a lot of these shops and at that time they gave me a reimbursement, no less than $10-30 for my visits but you had to do tons of feedback. It was yes or no questions and a small summary. It was like being in school taking a test ๐Ÿ˜…. When I really started doing it and after the internet was born…I picked up more clients and I made $1000-3000 a month depending on how many visits I took a month. Banks were easy and paid really well. Grocery stores were the 2nd best $20 per visit and up to $10 reimbursement for groceries. I would plan my grocery shopping for the month around mystery shopping. Being a single mom with two athletic sons and their friends really helped fill the pantry and freezers. Allowed us to treat ourselves to special dinners, movies and other entertainment I might not have been able to otherwise afford. I introduced my late ex-mother-in-law to it when she was forced to retire. She did mystery shopping until the day she died. It helped supplement her disability/social security checks.
    She was able to “splurge” on her grandkids like she loved to do. This is something I have always done and fall back to when I need to make extra money. It is probably harder to get jobs depending on your location and how many people in your area mystery shop. I will say this …it helped me tremendously when I was a single mom with 2 small boys that grew up to be hungry teenagers….

  17. Nikki Burden

    I would like to become mystery shopper.

  18. Myrna Hoffman

    Michelle, thanks so much for your insider’s view of Mystery Shopping and for and the caveats about the scammers out there. I especially appreciate hearing about your positive experience with Bestmark and the link to Bestmark’s sign-up form. Mystery Shopper opportunities would be such a natural fit for me. As a product inventor and small business owner myself, I regularly perform many of the same analyses for my own company!

  19. Cathy

    How does it work as far as taxes? Regarding the $ that you would make. Would the company that you are working for send you a 1099??