If there’s one thing better than getting paid hard cash, it’s getting paid hard cash to shop or eat at your favourite spots. Sound too good to be true?
Working as a mystery shopper or mystery diner is a super flexible part-time opportunity for students. You get paid for your time, choose the hours you work and scoop up freebies in the process!
Most of the big chains are signed up to some kind of mystery shopping scheme, so there’s plenty of work out there. However, with around 500,000 people registered as mystery shoppers in the UK alone, competition to land jobs is getting tougher.
So is it really worth it? We’ve reviewed the best mystery shopping companies and put together this comprehensive guide to arm you with all the info you need. ?
What is mystery shopping?
Mystery shopping is flexible paid work which involves anonymously visiting businesses to check that specific standards are being met (eg. cleanliness and good customer service). Mystery shoppers are assigned tasks after joining one of many consumer research panels.
It isn’t just about clothes or groceries either. You could find yourself grabbing a free dinner at a restaurant, having your eyesight tested or even counting trains at a train station – so mystery shopping is also mystery dining, mystery drinking, and… mystery train counting?
How does mystery shopping work?
The process involved in mystery shopping tends to vary from job to job, but most commonly you’ll be given a specific set of instructions to read before venturing into a shop or business.
Mystery shopping jobs typically include:
Once you get home, you’ll usually need to write up a report on your findings and send this to the agency. This can take up to two hours to complete, so make sure you leave yourself enough time afterwards to get the paperwork done.
Other forms of mystery shopping jobs
How can you earn money as a mystery shopper?
The pay for mystery shopping tends to vary dramatically, and in recent years companies have started offering less money.
In the past, some full-time mystery shoppers have reported earning between £30-40,000 per year, but this is after spending many years on the job and earning a reputation in the industry.
Today, you’re more likely to be offered work where you won’t always receive a cash payment, but will be given a budget to spend in-store, and will be allowed to keep what you buy as a freebie (so make sure you choose something you really want/need!).
Keep a close eye on what they require you to buy, as often the brief will say you can return the item you’ve bought the same day or later on, but for mystery dining jobs if the total reimbursement doesn’t cover what they’re asking you to spend, it may not be worth it.
We’ve seen jobs where £15 was offered for a meal for two at a popular pizza chain, which wouldn’t have covered the meal, especially as you’re not usually supposed to use vouchers on mystery shops.
However, the more difficult a company finds it to get someone to complete a job, the bigger the fee will grow. We’ve found that jobs in city centres get snapped up pretty quickly, and rates stay low, but if you’re out in the sticks, doing mystery shopping can be quite lucrative.
For example, we’ve done the same job in the same shop in central London and been paid £5, and when we completed it in a smaller town we received £15 plus travel reimbursement at 50p a mile.
And yes, some companies will offer travel expenses – and while it’s usually based purely on distance, if you ask nicely you could get extra money back for parking or train tickets.
Best mystery shopping companies
Ipsos are one of the biggest consumer panels in the world. There are a wealth of assignments on Ipsos Mystery Shopping covering the whole of the UK and often smaller UK suburbs as well as bigger cities.
You won’t find yourself caught up with lengthy applications here, either. All you need to do is register here first then click the green button below.
One downside is the reporting process for Ipsos can be quite time-consuming as you’re expected to work for your cash, but then again they do pay generously!
Payment: Generous (but undisclosed)
Pros: Generous payment
Cons: Reporting process is time-consuming.
Formerly known as Retail Eyes, this is one of the UK’s most well-known mystery shopping sites and with 300,000 registered members, it’s certainly one of the biggest.
They host a massive range of jobs – with everything from visiting opticians to checking out local – pubs so chances are you’ll be able to find something up your street.
They also recently launched a mystery shopping app that allows you to locate and pick up jobs in your current location – handy to make a quick buck when you’re already out shopping somewhere.
Payment: Very low or just reimbursement for items you buy in-store (worth £5-10)
Pros: Variety of assignments
Cons: Customer service.
Clickworker is a well-established microtasking company that has recently expanded into the mystery shopper realm. Most of the assignments involve going to a shop in your area and taking pictures of product shelves.
The best part is that you can choose whichever shop from the chains provided. They do not make you go to specific addresses so you have a lot of free choice. A short trip to the high street or nearest retail park is all that is usually required.
What’s even better is that there is no purchase necessary for these assignments. Clickworker regularly offers mystery photography jobs for most countries in Europe, the Middle East and the USA.
Payment: Usually around €8 – €12 plus other bonuses
Pros: No purchases required, possibility to rework and resubmit jobs
Cons: Payment in Euros only via PayPal or bank transfer
Mystery Dining by HGEM
Love eating out but hate having to fork out for it?
Mystery Dining offer free meals at certain restaurants to those culinary experts (or near enough!) who are willing to take the time to write a detailed report on their experience afterwards.
To join up you need to first ‘pass’ an application process to see if you’re the right fit. Rejection rates are quite high, so make sure you take the time to do this part properly.
Also worth noting that the more you work and the better job you make of it, you’ll be awarded a reviewer rating badge – go for gold and you could be awarded a Michelin star experience!
Payment: No payment offered for most jobs, but usually you get a big enough budget to pay for your entire meal and sometimes travel expenses covered
Pros: Free meals!
Cons: Reporting process takes longer than mystery shopping as requires more detail.
RedWigWam are primarily a temp working agency but they also offer mystery shopping jobs as a part of this.
They’ll notify you when there’s jobs going in your local area and you have to snap them up quickly.
We’ve seen jobs ranging from heading to a supermarket and asking questions through to handing out vouchers.
Payment: You are paid as if it was a job and payslips are used. RedWigWam also take care of your tax.
Pros: Well paid jobs.
Cons: Can be hard to get jobs in some areas unless you’re quick.
Are you 18 or 19 and looking for a chance to earn a bit of extra money (and get some free drinks out of it?).
You might like to sign up with Serve Legal, as they’re a test purchasing company that try to find out if young-looking people are being ID’d when they should be.
Serve Legal employ mystery shoppers to go into all sorts of shops, bars and pubs to try and buy different age-restricted products. Because they mainly employ people in a small age bracket, they’re always looking for new shoppers to sign up.
Apparently, it’s a huge help if you have your own transport, as some of the locations you’ll need to shop at can be spread far and wide.
Payment: Between £5-£40 per visit
Pros: Free drinks and they reimburse you for travel
Cons: You only have 2 years to get involved in it.
GBW (previously GAPbuster)
GAPbuster have recently rebranded themselves as GBW (we’re still not sure why, or what GBW stands for). McDonald’s is their biggest client so this company is a great choice if you fancy some free Happy Meals!
They have been reported to send out repeat assignments to the same location as well to monitor improvements, so this might not be the best choice if you’re looking for variety.
Payment: Between £5-35 per job
Pros: Paperwork is clear and easy to complete
Cons: Payment is quite low and reimbursement slow.
Retail Maxim is a popular agency with a lot of subscribers, but we have heard complaints that this has resulted in jobs being scooped up a matter of minutes after they’re posted online!
This means you’ll have to be quick in order to bag yourself a job, and also be quite flexible with your time.
They do send out cheques to cover shopping trips in advance, which is good for those of us who can’t afford to wait for reimbursement later.
Payment: £7-12 per job + travel expenses
Pros: Spending money offered up front
Cons: Jobs are few and far between.
Grassroots are the company to go for if you’re not interested in being bombarded with emails advertising available positions.
The best way to find work with Grassroots is to keep checking their website, as it’s constantly updated throughout each day.
Video options are also available which tend to pay more, and payment is normally received around 3-4 weeks after the job.
Payment: £5-10 per job + freebies
Pros: Clear instructions and quick payment
Cons: Jobs normally only available in bigger UK cities.
Tern Consultancy is a nice option if you’re looking to try out some of the different varieties of mystery shopping, as they also offer opportunities for video and audio-only shopping (which also tend to pay a bit more).
However, ironically for a company that assesses customer service, we’ve heard that theirs isn’t all that great!
Payment: Between £10 and £35 but some pay more if the assignment is complex
Pros: Payment is the highest we’ve seen
Cons: Bad customer service.
International Service Check
If you love fashion, this mystery shopping company should go to the top of your list. International Service Check has some of the biggest names on the high street as clients, and their jobs often include trying on outfits and asking for help finding specific items.
The base pay for every job is £12, which is a good starting point, but as jobs are often for a specific type of shopper – ie. 25-35-year-old – males who wear certain sizes of clothing – the rates can go up significantly.
You’ll be emailed and invited to apply for most jobs if you fit the description they look for, so keep an eye on that inbox!
Payment: At least £12 a visit
Pros: The money is good
Cons: The website is very basic, and jobs can be quite complex.
This is a smaller company and the types of jobs are quite diverse – we’ve completed tasks where we had to record ourselves in a bank meeting, and another where we asked to try on designer jewellery.
It’s worth having a look because some of the fees can be as high as £40 a visit.
Payment: Totally depends, but often £10+
Pros: Very quick customer service – it’s easy to get in touch if you have a question
Cons: It’s really difficult to sort jobs by location on the site.
Another lesser-known mystery shopping company, but the jobs are a little bit different to normal.
Tasks usually involve talking to members of staff and making yourself known as a mystery shopper (not much of a mystery then!). The website can be a bit tricky to navigate as a newbie, but just click on Field Team and you should be ok from there!
Payment: Largely £10+
Pros: The jobs are interesting
Cons: The website.
Mystery shopping do’s and don’ts
Signing up is generally pretty pain-free: there’s no need for CVs or references — just fill out an online survey and you’re all set. However, some of the bigger panels on our list require you to do a spelling and grammar test. You get a few tries to fill it out correctly, so don’t worry too much.
What to do as a mystery shopper
What not to do as a mystery shopper
So whilst you’re not likely to be able to pay off your student loan with your earnings, mystery shopping is fun to get involved in, and it’s also something interesting to put on your CV if you do it regularly enough.
On a money-making roll? Find out how you can earn cash filling out surveys online and by reviewing music.