I have a lot of articles about ways to make money while at school, when you're too busy for a real job but need some extra cash. In addition to paid-to sites, paid research studies, donating plasma and the other suggestions I've made, I'd like to add one powerful new weapon to your money-making arsenal: Mystery Shopping!
What is mystery shopping? Mystery Shopping is a tool that companies use to evaluate their performance from a customer's perspective. A mystery shopper goes into an establishment with a situation provided by the company, in order to evaluate what ACTUALLY happens to a real customer on an ordinary day. They will evaluate everything from customer service, to cleanliness, to whether the correct signage is being used. Then they report their findings back to the company so that the company can see where they need improvements. If you've ever worked anywhere, you know that the day the district managers come to visit calls for a week of deep-cleaning and everyone using their best behavior to make it seem like that's how things always are. Management caught onto this awhile ago, and got sneaky: hence, mystery shopping.. The process of mystery shopping goes like this: Search for job. Sign up for job. Complete job at specified time. Fill out shop report and submit proof of receipts/documentation (to prove you actually did the shop). Receive payment 30-60 days later. (Some payment is sooner, but most is on a delay.)
As a mystery shopper, you are truly getting paid to shop. Or eat. Or get your brakes looked at. Or get a spray tan, or go to the movies, or talk to someone. If it sounds too good to be true, that's because it kind of has a bad reputation as a huge scam. You know, you see those ads like "Mystery Shopper Wanted: make a bazillion dollars by doing absolutely nothing!!! No catch!" which reeks of scam (not even convincing scam, either). While those companies ARE scams, mystery shopping in general is 100% legit. I was skeptical myself when I signed up for a few mystery shopping companies this summer, and I decided not to report back on the blog until I'd gotten paid from these companies to prove that they were actually legit. Several months later, and I'm here to tell you that THEY ARE SO LEGIT YOU GUYS OMG. This is hands-down the best way to make extra cash in college. I've actually resorted to mystery shopping as my primary source of income this semester. I'm in a small town, which means less companies to shop, so I'm making about $30/month on average, but when I was in a big city this summer, I was making MUCH more than that. If you live in a large city with a mystery shopping company located in that city (Louisville, KY is a great example of this - there are TONNSSSSS of mystery shops in Louisville!) it is perfectly doable to turn this into a part-time job, making several hundred a month. If you're willing to travel for a shop, you can potentially turn this into a full-time job. This IS possible, but you also will need to have a lot of mystery shopping equipment, like hidden video recorders, and pay extra to get certified for some higher-pay shops - but it CAN be done!
Still feeling skeptical? To the right is a pay
statement from one of my first months of mystery shopping. It adds up QUICK, guys. Some shops pay you just to go and talk to someone, some shops require you to make a purchase and then reimburse you later. So far, I've mystery shopped at banks, car dealerships, fast food restaurants, electronics stores, cell phone stores, and even an adult store (Indiana University Students: it was College Books. I totally got paid to shop at College Books.). It's fun, it's easy, and I end up making more per hour than most of the jobs I've had so far.
So, ready to give it a try? First, you need to find some mystery shopping companies to sign up with, or see if there are opportunities in your area. (Bigger cities are the best locations to be a mystery shopper.) The availability of the shops depends on the companies located near you and how many companies are employing their services. There are hundreds of mystery shopping companies located all over! To find out what's available near you, search using this handy little website. The sites I linked to are both on the MSPA site - the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. They're essentially a regulating certification board. To be on their site, you have to be a LEGIT mystery shopping company - no scammers allowed. Signing up with a company from their site ensures that you won't get scammed - they do a thorough check of each of their listed companies before certifying them.
So, found a few shops in your area? Interested in giving it a try? The next thing to do is to sign up with the companies that are providing shops in your location. Once you click on a description of a shop you're interested in, it will list which company is providing the shop, usually with a link. Click on that provided link to go to the website of the mystery shop company. Now, you need to sign up for that Mystery Shopping company. It will ask you a lot of information about yourself. Don't be scared - the more personal information they have about you, the better they can match you up for certain shops that are targeted at specific customers. Some companies may also ask you for writing samples, for example, writing about an experience at a store. Just try to give complete unbiased details, and use proper grammar and spelling.
Now, some things that will make you nervous. Every mystery shopping company will ask you for your Social Security Number. This is because mystery shopping is a legitimate form of income - read: job - and as such, they are required to report to the government if you make over a certain amount per year using their company (I think it's $600/yr) for tax purposes. It's no different than giving your SSN to a job in-person. If you look at the browser, it should read https:// instead of http://, which means your information is secure and encripted. I have yet to have a problem giving out my SSN to any of these sites, and I've signed up for about 10 of them. Second nervous-making thing: some mystery shop companies will ask you for your bank account information, to direct deposit your income into your account. Again, this is just like handing over a voided check at a job - just because they have your account number DOESN'T mean they can steal your money. It'd be like giving a check in your name along with a filled out deposit slip to a friend to deposit in your bank for you - all they'll be able to do is deposit that money. If that company is direct deposit only, that's how you will get paid. Many companies pay via paypal or mailed check, but I've also received direct deposit income with no problems at all.
read this detailed overview of what you need to know about being a good mystery shopper. It's long, but very informative and worth reading. Here are the most important points to remember:
1. Mystery Shopping requires acting - aka lying. If you're not good at acting or lying, Mystery Shopping may not be the right job for you. You'll be given a situation to memorize and you must stick to that situation and make it seem convincing - this may require making up additional details on the spot.
2. Mystery Shopping requires attention to details. Details may include things like, "How many seconds before you were greeted? How many TVs were turned off in the electronics department? Was there a coffee machine in the waiting room? What was the featured item on the drive-through menu? Did the sales associate mention the Supreme Extra Special Deal? What did the sales associate look like?" You will need to be able to remember what details you are looking for, AND remember exactly what you saw. I always take notes as soon as I leave a mystery shop so I don't forget them. These details are extremely important, and you must be hyper observant - in some cases, you have to sneak in observations while also talking to a sales associate and trying to remember your made-up situation, which can get tricky.
3. Mystery Shopping requires timeliness. Some shops must be completed at a certain time and on a certain day, and all shops require a report to be filled out and submitted within 24 hours of completing a shop. This is a REAL JOB, so treat it as such. If you turn in a mystery shop report late, you WILL be penalized.
Ok. Ready to get started? Sign up with as many mystery shopping companies as you like (I'm signed up with about 10). Make sure you keep a list of these somewhere and keep track of which shops are assigned for which companies. Select a job, and either request or self-assign it (every company is different). Complete the job, submit your report, and sit back and wait for payment. It sucks that there's a time delay, but after the first couple of months, you'll have income on the regular coming in monthly. It's fun, it's easy, and anyone can do it! What are you waiting for?? Go get paid to shop!!
As a quick reminder, here's where to start finding shops in your area:
1. MSPA lists all of their verified (aka not a scam) mystery shopping companies, and you can search for available shops near you to find which companies to sign up with.
2. Jobslinger is a database for multiple companies using the Sassie user interface system. You'll be able to search multiple companies in your area using your zip code, and sign up for the ones offering shops near you. You'll need to sign up for each individual company offering the shops - Jobslinger is NOT a mystery shopping company, just a search engine!
3. Mystery Shopping Job Board is another site like Jobslinger - it's a search engine for a variety of different mystery shopping companies. Use it to find shops near you and sign up for those companies.
4. Mystery Shop Forum is a great place for mystery shoppers to talk about companies and jobs, as well as find out about more companies to sign up with. If you're curious about Mystery Shopping, check out this forum and browse some of the posts!
As always, contact me with any questions!
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