Mystery shopping can be shrouded in, well, mystery. How does it work? How much does it pay? How do I become a mystery shopper? John Fitzsimons tried his hand at shopping in secret, and here's how it went.
How do I become a mystery shopper?
Mystery shopping offers the chance to earn a little cash, but is it really worth the effort?
I decided to try my luck with a site called Market Force.
There are quite a few hoops to jump through before you can head out shopping. You have to pass a number of spelling, punctuation and grammar tests for example. These are pretty short - they only take a couple of minutes, and you need to get a score of 80%. You only get two goes though.
For example, one question I was asked was the correct spelling of a serving of drink served from a keg: draft, draught, drauft or drauhgt.
The idea is that you’ll need to follow the instructions for each shopping assignment carefully, and then file a report afterwards. As a result, they only really want reports from people with good writing skills.
Once you pass those tests, you will be approved as a mystery shopper.
Where can I shop?
Once you are set up and registered, you can take a look at the various assignments available in your local area. Then it’s a case of working out which job would appeal to you, and what you can expect to make from it.
Sadly, my town has rather slim pickings when it comes to mystery shopping assignments; I can basically take my pick between a trip to a betting shop or nipping down to Greggs for some breakfast.
However, if you’re willing to pop into the car and head further afield, there are some more exciting jobs on offer. For example, I could drive 20-minutes round the M25 and be a mystery shopper at Harry Ramsdens fish and chip shop, or for a slightly longer drive there are also assignments in H. Samuel, Ernest Jones and Bathstore.
If you're struggling to find assignments, you can also boost your finances by getting up to 3% cashback on your household bills.
What will I need to do?
With each job posting, it will be made clear what you’ll be paid, as well as what money will be reimbursed for any purchases in the store. The sums here are generally pretty small - breakfast in Greggs will net you £2.50, as well as up to £5 reimbursed for your spending, for example.
Each job has assignment notes, which go on for a couple of pages. Yes, really. These will set out exactly what is expected of you and what you should be looking for. You’ll need a good memory too - you may be expected to note down names of any staff you interact with, and describe their appearance.
Once you pick an assignment that you want to go for, you’ll need to answer some questions based on the assignment notes - you have to make sure that you have read and understood those notes, as it’s very easy to trip up here. You will need to confirm exactly what day you will be carrying out the job too.
Keeping it a secret
Much as I love to start the day with a bacon sarnie, I elected to head down the road to a bookmaker for my assignment. The instructions were pretty clear - I had to linger around the store, giving the member of staff the chance to offer me help, and then place a small bet on a self-service machine.
Images: John Fitzsimons
I can’t deny there was a little excitement there - will they realise that I’m a mystery shopper? Am I blending in sufficiently with the other four people sat in William Hill at lunchtime on a Friday?
Equally, it’s hard not to feel a bit silly, trying to surreptitiously make a note of the posters around the store.
Once I’d completed my mission, £3 bet placed without great incident, I then had to take a photograph of the store’s frontage. Obviously, if you don’t want to give the game away, you’ll need to do this after performing your shopping duties!
You then have until midnight that day to place your report.
In my case it was very simple - was the member of staff friendly, did they offer me a cup of tea and assistance with the gaming machines, that sort of thing. I also had to upload a photo of my betting slip alongside the shop frontage. Now it’s just a case of waiting for payment.
How much could I make a year?
You aren’t going to get rich as a mystery shopper. If all goes smoothly, I’ll be getting a whopping £2 on top of the reimbursement of my £3 bet. Given the time taken getting there and back, and then writing up the report, it isn’t exactly a great return.
That said, if you are looking to supplement your income and can combine mystery shopping with your usual habits - popping into a selected store on your commute for example - then it’s worth a try at least.
Market Force’s press team told me that more frequent mystery shoppers earn as much as a whopping £2,000 per year.
However, the spokesperson added: “It’s not typically a full-time job, but more so a hobby and a way to get free items that one might purchase anyhow. That said, Market Force Information has weekly, fortnightly and monthly shops across a variety of sectors, so plenty to keep its mystery shoppers busy.”
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