Top 10 Side Jobs – #10: Mystery Shopping

Welcome to a new ten part series at the Outlier Model on the Top 10 Side Jobs available to the average person.  Please check out our intro post and tune in every Wednesday as we count down to #1!

Sitting at #10 on our list of Top 10 Side Jobs is mystery shopping.  Before I became involved in mystery shopping, the idea of secret shoppers was not unknown to me.  I had worked in retail for a long time and we were often cautioned to Follow The Script when dealing with customers, just in case we were mystery shopped.  We had to be sure to ask each customer certain questions (eg. “Do you have a loyalty card?”) and greet them and thank them appropriately.  But I had no idea how someone would actually become a mystery shopper!

They're judging you. Photo Credit via Flickr

They’re judging you.
Photo Credit via Flickr

Then one day, I decided to go for it and signed up with a few different mystery shopping companies!  I ended up doing mystery shopping for several years while I was in school.  I’m still registered as a shopper, but I do it less frequently.

Mystery Shopping

While the companies and assignments differ, all mystery shopping assignments take the same general approach.  You, the contractor, are an average shopper visiting a store or experiencing an event or requesting a service.  During the course of your experience or visit, you observe behavior of the staff and how they interact with you.  After your visit, you record your experiences in the form of a report or survey.

Skills Required for Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopping requires all types of people of all ages.  However, since you are observing and recording your experiences at a store or event, it is important to be able to speak with customer service people and interact with them in a believable manner.  Mystery shoppers also need to be good writers.  While some mystery shops only need a survey filled out, many reports require a description of events or a summary of your experience.

Pros of Mystery Shopping

  • Casual: Only accept the assignments that you want to work on
  • Flexible: Most assignments have a time range in which they can be completed, so shops can be scheduled between other obligations.
  • Free and discounted stuff: For many shops, you get to experience services for free or cheap (eg. flights or spa visits) or receive products for free (eg. restaurant visits and retail visits)

Cons of Mystery Shopping

  • Income: Most shops will only pay you $5-$20 for the actual report.  Sure, you get free stuff or free trips, but if you’re looking for income, it’s not the most efficient way to make money.
  • Scams: There are many reputable mystery shopping companies out there but also many, many scams.  Some companies try to sell memberships or training to prospective shoppers, when in reality, good mystery shopping companies never require money from their contractors.


Mystery shopping is a great way to make some money in between lunch hours, on the way to a vacation or during breaks between classes.  If you’re a student, it gets your free restaurant meals, free haircuts and discounted flights back home.  If you’re a stay at home parent, it’s a great side job that you can squeeze in between picking up the kids or making dinner.  You gain experience in report writing and interacting with a diverse set of individuals.  But while the perks are nice, mystery shopping can only really supplement your income – it doesn’t generate enough money for your time spent to really attack debts or save up for a downpayment.

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