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Mystery shopping: Become a mystery shopper and get paid to shop and eat out

MoneyMagpie team 31st Oct 2023 158 Comments

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Become a mystery shopper and get FREE meals in restaurants, FREE stays in hotels and FREE drinks in bars.

Many mystery shopping companies will provide you with different assignments depending on who their clients are. We show you here how to get mystery shopping jobs and bag lots of freebies as a mystery shopper.


What is mystery shopping?

Mystery Shopper

Nowadays, all industry sectors employ mystery shoppers – retail, automotive, financial services, hospitality, property, call centres, public services, travel, and even the voluntary sector – so there’s a huge range of work available.

If you become a mystery shopper you could be enjoying a weekend break one month and phoning a call centre to complain about your gas bill the next.

You don’t need any formal qualifications to be a mystery shopper – but you do need to have good observational skills and a good memory.

Mystery shopping (sometimes known as secret shopping) has been around for 60 years and is now highly regulated in the UK. The Market Research Society has created a code of conduct, and standards are maintained by trade bodies such as the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.

Good part-time work

Mystery shopping is very flexible and not usually suitable as a full-time job, but it can be good to fit around other jobs in your life.

And remember that mystery shoppers count as self-employed, so you’ll need to declare your earnings to HMRC. Find out here about paying tax when you make extra money.

Want to get a FREE MoneyMagpie eBook about how to be a mystery shopper? Download it HERE


Jasmine’s experience of mystery shopping

See here what Jasmine thinks about mystery shopping after her experiences of it.

Check out our bumper article on freebies and bag yourself even more free stuff.


In-store opportunities

Report-only mystery shopper

This is the most common option. You’ll be given a brief and a checklist of things to look out for. You need to follow your instructions (without letting anybody know you’re testing them), evaluate the response and then provide feedback, usually by way of an online questionnaire.

Covert video mystery shopper

This is specialist stuff and only for well-trained shoppers. Essentially, you’re given a brief; you enter the premises as a customer, and then you record the entire process using covert video cameras. Companies need clear pictures, so don’t go for this if you record your feet at family events!

Site inspection

For a site inspection, mystery shoppers may be asked to do one of two things. You may be asked to go to a store and buy specific items from a specific retailer. This is to ensure customers are getting what they pay for, as well as the availability of stock.

The mystery shopper may also be asked to interact with staff when searching for and purchasing their items. This is to check how staff interact with customers. You will then provide your feedback to the company conducting the mystery shopping.

Eating at restaurants

Getting paid to eat at restaurants? Sounds like the dream. This dream could become a reality for you if you take up mystery shopping, and could be a fun side hustle.

Multiple chain restaurants use mystery eaters to ensure their customers are getting brilliant food and even better service. They will pay you to go to their restaurants, have a meal and report back to them. In some cases, your meal will be paid for and in other cases, your meal will be covered and you will be paid for your time on top.

It is important to be aware that some agencies will offer you a fixed amount of money to eat at a restaurant. Remember, it may not be enough to cover the cost of the meal, so you will need to check beforehand.

watch films

As with restaurants, cinema chains want to ensure their customers are getting the best experience possible. So, if you’re an avid cinema-goer or movie buff, this may be the perfect job for you.

Not only will you be able to watch films for free, but agencies will often allow some cash for snacks and drinks. This allows you to interact with the staff, try the yummy goodies available to munch on whilst you watch the film.

You will be asked to review many things, from the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff, the availability of snacks, the prices and even the comfort of the seats. Your overall experience will be asked for. It is important to keep in mind that reviews can take time and agencies require detailed responses, so keep this in mind when you apply.


Online opportunities

Telephone mystery shopper

If you’re better at playing a role on the phone than in person, you might prefer this option – there’s plenty of work available. You’ll be given a company to call with a set of questions that a typical customer may have. Again, you’ll need to assess the response and provide feedback.

Postal monitoring

This one requires minimum effort. Your home address is simply used for receiving brochures and other promotional material. You return the items, and the content and speed of delivery is measured.

N.B. don’t be conned by ‘mystery shopping’ scams that get you to receive money into your bank account and then send most of it on to a foreign account to ‘test’ the money transfer company. These are totally bogus and should be avoided and, ideally, reported to Action Fraud. Be careful only to use the mystery shopping agencies we mention on MoneyMagpie so that you’re not scammed.

Email mystery shopping

You’ll be sending specific enquiries to websites and monitoring the speed and content of the response. Depending on your personality, writing emails is potentially much easier than talking to businesses in person or on the phone!

Again, you’ll need to assess and then pass on your findings.

giving your opinion online

It’s not mystery shopping as such, but giving your opinions about products or services through online survey companies is the same type of thing.

It’s another easy and quick way of making some extra cash in your spare time.

You have to be careful which online survey companies you join though. These are the ones that we like:

Make sure you set up a separate email address before you sign up to any of these. Give this separate email address to them when they ask for contact details so that your usual inbox isn’t flooded with offers and ads (that’s one of the ways they make their money).

Find out more about online surveys and how to make the most money from them here.


How to get involved as a mystery shopper

Step 1: Find the right mystery shopping agency for you

save money shopping

Check out the list below and sign up with one of the many mystery shopping agencies on offer. It’s not a complete list, the full list of genuine agencies can be found in our mystery shopping eBook (which is absolutely free!)

Some specialise in specific industries, others are more general. You could try investigating the major department stores – Selfridges for example has its own mystery shopping panel.

Be sure to check out…

This list contains some of the better mystery shopping agencies in the UK. We have the complete list in our Mystery Shopping eBook.

Most of the agencies will get you to take a test before they’ll let you in. These can be quite tricky so you might have to do them a few times before getting them right. Don’t be put off though – persist!

If you want to find a company on your own…

  • Make sure they’re based in the UK with a UK phone number and address.
  • Don’t just put ‘mystery shopping’ into your search engine. All sorts of dodgy companies could come up.
  • If you see a company you haven’t heard of before, put their name into the search bar and see what websites like ours say about them. Check the forums too as people who have had experience of them will say what they think.
  • Make sure you keep an eye out for the small ads too. Local papers and recruitment agencies often carry mystery shopping adverts.
  • You should be looking for the ones you’ll get the most out of, whether that’s the pay you receive for the jobs you do, or the freebies you get from the places you inspect.
  • It should never cost you to join a company – they should be paying you for the work you do.

Step 2: Go out in the field

Mystery shopper in disguise

Once the agency accepts you, you can begin looking for jobs on their website.

You need to go and shop – or eat – or enjoy a show – but the main objective is to follow the guidelines exactly, without having the instructions in front of you.

You’ll need to report on products and services, which can include anything from aspects of the decor, cleanliness, atmosphere, how the staff deal with other customers, how many staff there are and what they’re all doing.

Most mystery shopping agencies ask that you don’t write notes or make what you’re doing obvious while you’re ‘on the job’, as it can affect the way you’re treated by the staff. The company’s main objective is to get an impartial experience.

Note that at time of writing, the UK is on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and you should only be doing minimal shopping trips for essential groceries right now. You can however make a note of the in-person mystery shopping opportunities available and apply for them when life returns to normal!

Step 3: Report on your mystery shopping experience.

save money shopping

This will usually involve filling in an online questionnaire with short or longer answers about your experience as a customer.

You’ll receive payment/reimbursement after you’ve reported on your job, which you’ll ideally do within 24 hours of completing the task.

Pay rates differ from company to company and depend on the complexity of the work.

Generally, you can expect to earn £5 – £25 per task plus expenses (but as little as £1 – £5 for phone work).


A Money Magpie’s mystery shopping Experience

Make money mystery shopping

Our Publishing Editor, Marc Crosby, decided to join up to a mystery shopping agency to see just how easy it was to earn money. Here he tells us about the experience:

“I joined up to one of the online mystery shopping agencies and, after putting in a few details, was asked to do a mystery shop for a fast food chain in my local area. It didn’t take long to be offered the job and they were willing to pay £20 for completing it.

It really did feel like going undercover, little did the staff know I was watching their every move, mwahahaha…well, except, they probably did, because mystery shopping takes a little practice. I was told to note down how long it took from asking for my order to the meal being handed to me, which meant using my phone as a stopwatch. That’s easier said than done when you’re juggling your wallet around.

By the time the meal was handed to me and I’d fumbled for the ‘stop’ button, they probably knew what I was up to (which might explain why a member of staff held the door open for me as I left, wishing me a good day – not a normal procedure at fast food stores!) But, hey ho, good service and I gave a good score. All I needed to do was go back and quickly answer a few questions that took no longer than half an hour to complete.

I was paid within two weeks and was offered loads of mystery shopping work after. Honestly, it could have been a nice little earner if I had more time to do it.

So if you’re in doubt, I’d say give it a go. Mystery shopping really is quite easy money, plus the company usually pays for your food/item, so that’s another bonus!”

Whatever you do, don’t miss our number one article 10 easy ways to make quick cash – featuring the very best money makers around including mystery shopping!

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leona povey
leona povey
2 years ago

totally untrue i have used all these money making sites and they are full of bogas talk

4 years ago

Always like the sound of this.

4 years ago

I agree, I am in rural Wales and there is not a lot of chance here. Some of the online work maybe worth a look though, or maybe I should just move!

5 years ago

Great idea if you live somewhere with lots of shops, unfortunately I don’t.

Rebecca Gurley
Rebecca Gurley
6 years ago

I would love to try it but there’s none in my area.

Katherine Wolf
Katherine Wolf
7 years ago

Do you know of any American mystery shopper companies?

Jasmine Birtles
7 years ago
Reply to  Katherine Wolf

Yes there are loads. In fact many of the agencies we mention in the article are worldwide (usually based in the US) so they will have US versions. Try those first.

Paul Houston
Paul Houston
8 years ago

Good evening my name is Paul Houston and I am very interested in the program and I really really need cash

P G Njeru
P G Njeru
8 years ago

It sounds interesting, but are the jobs available in Kenya?

9 years ago

I would be interested if I was confident that the company /ies were grnuine.For some reason I feel suspicious.

victoria thurgood
victoria thurgood
9 years ago

its not really for me think alot of these company just want your details for free

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Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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