How to become a mystery shopper

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Today we’re mighty pleased to welcome guest blogger Ruth Bushi, editor at Save the Student! To MoneyAware. Save the Student is a much-loved hub of money know-know for struggling students everywhere. Over to you, Ruth – show us how to unravel the secrets of getting paid to shop!

Mystery shopping is a tasty part-time gig: you get paid to hit the high street, you work when and if you want, and there may even be freebies to boot!

Lots of big name retailers rely on mystery shoppers to give them an insight into a customer’s experience; what are they doing right? What do they need to work on? It’s the kind of intel that can save a retailer’s research department lots of money in the long run. When done shrewdly, it can have some considerable perks for you too.

There’s a fair glut of mystery shopper work out there, but – and the clue’s in the name, here – you won’t often hear about it. We show you how to get started.

So, what is mystery shopping?

Typically it involves visiting high street or online stores and answering a survey afterwards about your experience. It might mean buying specific products, getting a refund or making a complaint.

Clients can include luxury car sellers, call centres, fast food outlets, and everything in between. “I was a mystery shopper,” one student told us. “I went into the bookies to put a bet on, got to keep my winnings and got paid £20 for putting the bet on!”

The mystery part is that it’s anonymous – the stores won’t know you’re there to rate ‘n’ review them because the gigs, surveys and pay are all handled by an external company.

Sounds too good to be true?

Mystery shopping is completely legitimate, but it isn’t a shortcut to big money. It’s flexible, so a doddle to fit around family and study commitments, but rewards and reimbursement aren’t always the same.

It’s important to keep in mind that you’re not guaranteed work. You register as a mystery shopper through an agency (go with as many as possible to increase the chances of getting work). They then match your stats – things like age, gender and location – to any available job openings and send you the details. It’s up to you whether you take a job or not, but if you always turn down assignments, you may find that fewer come your way in the future.

Rewards can vary. We’ve heard of people earning anything between £3 to £100 per assignment, so earnings aren’t consistent. You may need to pay for items up front and then claim a refund (you may get to keep the item, too!).

It’s also worth checking whether you’ll be paid expenses, such as travel or telephone costs, or if it’s deducted from the job fee. You may not be reimbursed immediately either, so check out how long it takes to get paid when you sign on.

No two mystery shopping tasks are the same: to get paid, you’ll need to make sure you satisfy the criteria of the mystery shopping task you’re undertaking. You may have to provide evidence, too – things like receipts or names of people you talked to. It’s worth completing the survey as soon as possible after you’ve completed your assignment so you don’t forget anything essential.

Which agencies can I join as a mystery shopper?

There are lots out there and, if you’re not big city-based, you’ll want to supplement our suggestions with a local search to increase your chances of finding work. In the meantime, here’s our pick of the big players: they’re free to join.

GfK

This one’s an easy-in – no application faff to join, just complete a survey on their site. It’s a reputable name, and has a host of assignments.

Market Force

One of the UK’s best-known mystery shopping companies, with a massive range of jobs, from opticians to pubs, so chances are they’ll have something in your area. Heads-up: they’re not known for great rates or customer service, but the freebies are said to be pretty decent.

IMS

Another biggie, and with better rates – the catch is the application process, which includes an interview and an online course you’ll need to complete.

Performance in people

These guys claim to be the largest mystery shopping outfit in the UK, with a variety of job types including email, video and telephone assignments.

Insider tips for secret shoppers

  • It’s not a deal-breaker if you hate shopping or live ‘out in the sticks’ – assignments could be online, on the phone, or even by email or post
  • It helps to be organised, with a decent memory and good attention to detail
  • Most agencies will expect you to have a mobile phone and be savvy with basic computer packages (think word processing and spreadsheets)
  • If you’ve got your own video equipment, you may be a good candidate for specialist assignments. Same goes if you’re prepared to travel or have your own vehicle.
  • Mystery shopping counts as self-employment, so keep an eye on your earnings as far as tax or benefits are concerned. Make sure you register with Her Majesty’s revenue and customs (HMRC) as self-employed and keep all paperwork such as pay receipts for completing your tax return.

All-in, mystery shopping is a fun way to earn extra cash while working around your existing schedule. There are even folk who make long-term careers out of it. In the meantime, if you’re lucky enough to get assigned a worthwhile task or two, don’t forget to log your skills and experiences. This way you can upgrade your CV while picking up some lovely freebies!

For more money-savvy tips, as well as housing advice and exclusive student discounts, be sure to bookmark Save the Student!’s website.

Ruth Bushi is an editor at Save the Student, where she writes about saving money and puns a lot. She has degrees in English Literature from Lancaster and Durham Universities, and lives in the North of England.

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