The next-best thing to getting cash for your writing is receiving something you otherwise would have paid for. In addition to cash, I have been paid with food, massages, auto maintenance and much more. I am a mystery shopper.
Mystery shoppers visit all types of businesses, make observations, then report to the business owner. A shopper does not give her opinions. Instead, she answers objective questions about what happened during her visit: Were you greeted within 30 seconds? Did the server tell you about today’s special? Did the salesperson suggest the extended warranty? Did the cashier say thank you? Were all items clearly priced? Was the restroom clean?
In addition to answering a series of yes or no questions, the mystery shopper may be asked to comment on those answers and write a brief narrative of what happened during her visit.
Writers make great mystery shoppers because we tend to be observant and we have the ability to write simple, objective prose describing what we observed. Want to get paid to hone your journalism skills? Become a mystery shopper!
You won’t get rich as a mystery shopper, but you can easily supplement your income. The amount you earn will depend on how much time you have for mystery shopping, the types of assignments you choose and where you live. (There are more opportunities in cities than in remote rural areas, although there are mystery shops available almost anywhere.) Even part-time shoppers can earn a few hundred dollars a month in fees and reimbursements, and many shoppers earn much more.
Typical mystery shopping assignments include reimbursement for a required purchase. Mystery shop a restaurant and you will probably be paid for meals for two people. Other assignments may include reimbursement for an oil change, a hair cut, movie tickets, groceries, gasoline and other things. I have gotten “free” massages, eyeglasses, cell phones and more. The mystery shopper may also receive a fee, but often the reimbursement is enough to make it worthwhile, even without an additional fee.
If there is no required purchase, the shopper will always receive a fee. Fees start at a few dollars for a simple shop and report and go up, based on the complexity of the assignment and the time required. Fee-only shops may include mystery shops of banks, car dealers, apartments, home builders and many others.
One thing to be aware of is that there are scams masquerading as mystery shops, and you need to avoid them. Fortunately, that is simple if you follow three simple rules.
– Do not pay to apply. Legitimate companies do not charge you. They pay you.
– Do not sign up for trials and offers. These are similar to the ìfree iPadî scams where you are asked to sign up for free trials, then your credit card gets charged a big fee every month.
– NEVER cash a check or money order and wire money or send the PINs from pre-paid cards. The checks are forgeries, and you will be out any funds sent to the scammer. This is always a scam and it has nothing to do with mystery shopping.
Ready to get started? Mystery shoppers are independent contractors who work for mystery shopping companies, not directly for the companies we evaluate. That means that the first step is to apply to some of the hundreds of mystery shopping companies that hire shoppers. You won’t work for just one company, so apply to as many as you can. There is a free list of nearly 200 legitimate mystery shopping companies at https://MysteryShoppersManual.com/mystery-shopping-companies.
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Want to know more? Cathy Stucker offers a free email course to get you started as a mystery shopper. Sign up at https://MysteryShoppersManual.com/. Cathy is the author of The Mystery Shopper’s Manual, currently in its 7th edition. She has been a mystery shopper since 1995, and has personally trained more than 10,000 shoppers.
I met Cathy Strucker years ago at a mystery shop convention and purchased her well-written book. I only have one caution about doing some restaurant mystery shops. I once signed up to mystery shop a casual restaurant. As I began reading the instructions, it seemed like they wanted an awful lot of detail. I began to copy and paste their “expected sample paragraph” for each section. Then I did a word count – 1,800 words. Yikes! I was only getting reimbursed $35 for the shop with no shop fee. Needless to say, I cancelled the shop. I do shop other types of retail locations and only do food shops with minimal narratives. If you have never mystery shopped before, I would begin with shops that do not have long narratives.