Looking to earn extra cash for the holidays? Try mystery shopping

With the cooler weather, the lights and the food that comes around on the holidays, also comes the pinch in your wallet or checking account. A lot of folks, to ease the burden (or take advantage of the holiday pay), are looking for a part-time job or work-from-home opportunity to help cushion what could ordinarily be a severe financial blow.

One such job to look at would be mystery shopping.

Mystery shoppers, who’s job is exactly that—shopping anonymously—might sound like a dream come true for those who love to do it anyway, but it still comes with a fair amount of skill and dedication required. We found one of our local residents to be a mystery shopper (we’re not naming her here to protect her job) and asked her what the experience was like.

A day in the life of a mystery shopper

A mystery shopper’s job is never the same from day to day. One day, I may be assigned to shops acting like I’m interested in opening a bank account. The next day, I may be purchasing fast food and reporting back on the service and quality of food received. Of course, the more opportunities you have are usually based on how many mystery shopping companies you have signed up with. If you only have one or two, your type of work may be the same each month.

“You need to be ready to answer every question you mark as ‘No.’ in your report. ‘Yes.’ Is what is expected by the client.”

A mystery shopper needs to have a fair bit of OCD. Attention to detail; whether it’s what you observe in a store, to how you write up your reports, you need an eye for detail. For instance, when you pull up to a fast food restaurant to order a meal, you most likely have to be paying attention to the exterior. Is there an excessive amount of trash in the landscaping? Is the landscaping maintained? Are there crack and potholes in the parking lot? Does the building have any paint chips or cracks in the exterior? Are there fingerprints and smudges on the doors or windows? If it’s in the evening, are the parking lot lights or the lighted sign (if there is one) working? If it’s in the day, is the sign easily visible and good condition? Those are typical questions you have to be considering in your mind before you even go inside the store to place your order. You also need to be ready to answer every question you mark as “No.” in your report. “Yes.” Is what is expected by the client, so they are more interested in the things their employees did not do.

Spotting a scam or fake opportunity

The biggest way to spot a mystery shopping scam is if the email, person calling, or website asks you to pay for more information. I have done this line of work since 2006, and I have NEVER paid to be notified of job openings, etc. If you are serious about this line of work, I encourage you to join the MSPA (Mystery Shopper Provider’s Association) and at least go through the training for your “Silver Certification”. Once you get this certification, when you sign up for mystery shopping companies, they see that you have gone through a “basic training” of sorts, and you may be more apt to get jobs assigned to you quicker than someone who signs up without a certification. There are two levels of certification: Silver (mentioned above), but I cannot remember the fee, I believe it was $20, but that was 2006, and then Gold, which costs $75.00. I have often heard of Gold Level shoppers being recruited for all expenses reimbursed hotel and cruise vacations, etc.

Okay, but does it pay?

Can you make a living off of being a mystery shopper? I have heard, in larger markets, such as Dallas, TX, of people being able to do nothing but mystery shop and be able to afford their bills using their pay. In this area? You have to be a little bit more realistic to your expectations. While the job is not well known, most of these jobs require you to use your own money out of your own pocket, then get it reimbursed plus the shop payment, at the time of the month they pay you. Ultimately, if you only eat out when you’re assigned a shop, you could feasibly get all of your dine out meals paid for in terms of being reimbursed. One of my companies I contract for has a lot of local casinos. You cannot expect to get the same job every month, no matter how good of a shopper you are, as they want to make sure to preserve the shopper’s anonymity. So, I usually can only do the casino shops once every 3 months, unless a shopper backs out of their job, and they use me as a last resort because I’m very good about blending in. So, let’s say I am assigned to play poker to evaluate the poker room employees and dealers. I’m only paid $8.00 to do the shop; however, I have to play as a requirement of my job. I am reimbursed up to $100.00 of losses at the table. So, if I lose and only spend that much, I get it back next month. If I win, I’m allowed to keep it. This month, I had a very large number of casino shops, with reimbursements. I made $366.86, and I received my check in the mail today. It’s not a living, but I am the supplemental income, not the primary income, so that money will help my family gear up for the first of the month.

“most of these jobs require you to use your own money out of your own pocket, then get it reimbursed plus the shop payment, at the time of the month they pay you.”


As you can see, Mystery Shopping has more commitment required than you might be used to, and even then the income isn’t steady or top-dollar, but if your goal is to pad your pockets a little more for the holidays, Mystery Shopping might very well be worth checking into.

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Micah Choquette

Micah Choquette

Micah is the owner/Editor-In-Chief of Sapulpa Times and passionate about telling the everyday stories in the town that we love. You can find him on Twitter at @meetmicah or email him at news@sapulpatimes.com.