Pros and Cons of Becoming a Mystery Shopper
If the idea of being paid to shop sounds like an exciting prospect, you may want to consider working as a mystery shopper. This is a popular way of earning an extra income and will require you to pose as a regular customer, visiting retailers and other organisations who might be interested in finding out what their customers think and the level of service they receive.
Typical Mystery Shopper Jobs
What's required of you will differ according to each assignment, but could include trying out a new restaurant, visiting a coffee shop or petrol station, staying in a hotel or visiting a bank to enquire about opening an account. You may be asked to have a takeaway delivered or to shop at a supermarket and purchase certain items of food or drink for which you will normally be reimbursed and which you will be able to keep.
There are also mystery shopping jobs which are home based. These can include contacting service providers such as insurance companies to ask a number of designated questions about a product or service they offer, then filling in a questionnaire to assess their performance.
Additionally, there are some much sought after jobs which can include going on a flight, or a cruise. However, these jobs are usually awarded to experienced mystery shoppers who have worked well and built up a good reputation.
All jobs will require you to provide a detailed report on your assignment. You will therefore need to accurately follow any instructions given and be able to answer all questions accordingly. Your report will often have to address issues such as the cleanliness of the premises, staff availability, speed of service and product availability. Payment can vary according to which assignment you are working on, but the more experience you build up, the better choice of jobs you will be given and your rate of pay should increase over time.
Advantages of being a Mystery Shopper
This a great little earner if you love to shop, are observant and sociable - and aren't phased by the thought of writing reports. Better still, if you are struggling financially. You may be offered assignments where you will be asked to purchase an item which you otherwise might not be able not afford. Add to this the payment for your actual assignment and that's another treat in the making. It all adds up!
Another advantage is that the work is fairly flexible. Mystery shoppers are, for the most part, able to work the hours that suit them and their lifestyle - and because the jobs are quite varied there's little chance of you becoming bored. Besides, you'll never be obliged to take on any job which you feel doesn't suit you, although it is worth bearing in mind that the more you are willing to do, especially when you first sign up, the better choice of assignments you will be offered in the long run.
However, perhaps one of the greatest benefits to becoming a mystery shopper has to be that this job offers you the chance to be paid for things you would do normally. Some of your assignments may include visiting coffee shops, purchasing sandwiches at lunchtime or visiting the bank - all fairly routine events. Therefore, when you first sign up as a mystery shopper, make sure you also register your interests (and also whether there are any products or services that you would not wish to try). This will make it easier for the company to match assignments to your lifestyle.
But of course it's not all about you! In addition to the personal benefits mystery shopping can bring, the constructive feedback you provide does go quite a long way towards improving services overall. Knowing that you have helped make a difference can also be extremely satisfying, particularly when it comes to services that you use on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, being a mystery shopper does not guarantee a regular income. The amount of work may vary, and can depend on where you live. This may result in periods of time where you may not be offered any work at all. It is therefore worth signing up to more than one company at a time. Also, whilst there will be sought after assignments, such as going for dinner at a restaurant or a night at a hotel, there are also assignments which may not be suitable in terms of your lifestyle, for example late night activities which would be unsuited to single parents.
Scam websites can also pose a problem. For, whilst there are a good number of genuine mystery shopping opportunities out there, there's always a chance you'll be duped. The golden rule here is never to sign up to a company which asks for payment before they offer you a job - the legitimate companies only ever require you to pay out unavoidable expenses upfront, i.e. for goods at the time of purchase which are later reimbursed.
One of the major complaints when it comes to mystery shopping is undoubtedly the paperwork. Reports tend to be extremely detailed and lengthy and a large proportion of your time can be taken up by filling them in, so very often the pay you receive will hardly constitute minimum wage. Additionally, there are many companies who will want your information and receipts quickly, sometimes within 24 hours of your assignment, so it is very important to set enough time aside to complete these tasks, overlooking the fact that you may be receiving a pittance in return. It's the nature of the job. Take it or leave it!
Remember too, if you make a mistake, you might not get paid. Although some assignments are easier than others, companies will always have a strict set of criteria that they will want you to follow. If you forget to ask for a receipt, or ask a specific question, you may be disqualified, so it is important to always play close attention to detail.
Although you could earn good money as a mystery shopper, you must be prepared to work your way up, earning a good reputation. When you start out, payment rates per assignment tend to range between £5 and £20 (sometimes even lower). Additionally, you will need to pay for items upfront and receive reimbursement later. You will also need to declare yourself as self-employed, so it's essential to register with the Inland Revenue within 3 months of starting and to fill in your self assessment form in time. Further information may be required as well (particularly when it comes to tax credits) so make sure you supply this, keeping a record of all work related income and expenditure as you go along. Even if you do only earn a few pounds a month, it's still important!
But off putting as this may be, do still consider the facts. In these times of high unemployment, redundancy and recession, even a small source of earned income can be better than none. And besides, you know what they say about little acorns!