Everyone knows that mystery shopping is a hot topic for anyone wanting to earn some extra cash.  I’ve done it quite a bit over the past 10 years, and I admit that it has gotten me through some tough times.  There are some things about the profession that aren’t well-known, however, and they are important facts that you will want to consider before starting out.  Here are some of the sneakier statistics from someone who knows:

1.  You Need Cash to Start Out.  If you don’t have a penny to your name or any room on your credit card, you likely won’t be able to sign up for your first mystery shop.  While signing on with a company is free, you will actually need to pony up your own dough for that first purchase, and wait patiently for reimbursement.

2.  You Don’t Get to Choose Everything.  Yes, you can pick to do a shop at a burger joint in your area.  What you order off the menu, however, may not be up to you.  I remember doing a series of shops with a fast food joint that had me ordering fish sandwiches for six straight assignments (and I don’t like fish sandwiches).  Those hoping to use their mystery shopping assignments as a way to score free meals will need to remember this tricky truth.

3.  It Can Be Awkward.  If you don’t have a good poker face or hate telling “white” lies, it may be difficult to do this job.  Some shops will have you make up a scenario for your shopping trip, one that may be completely different from your actual situation.  Likewise, fast food shops may have you place an order inside the store, then make a purchase in the drive thru just minutes later.  (Try coming up with a reason for ordering two identical value meals from different locations in the same store!)

4.  Payment Can Be Low (and Slow) – If you are hoping to earn anything more than $8 – $20 per shop, this is not the job for you.  While it’s possible to get a few shops done in one hour, the drive time between assignments and the paperwork make it hard to get much more over minimum wage in some areas of the country.  Couple that with the fact that many mystery shopping companies are very far behind on their payments (some owe shoppers from over a year ago), and it’s not exactly quick cash.

5.  You Can’t Expect the Best – The major difference between a regular paying customer and mystery shopper is big; a mystery shopper has to take the level of service that they get – with no exceptions.  If you find your toilet to be sluggish or the sheets to be dirty in your hotel room, it’s something to be noted on your feedback forms.  Unfortunately, you likely shouldn’t switch rooms or ask for a remedy of these items; it’s just one of the perils of doing the job (and one of the reasons why your stay is fully comped.)

If after reading these inside secrets, you are still interested in being a mystery shopper, I say, “Go for it!”  Check out a reputable site like MSPA.com or research companies through Volition.com.  A little extra cash can be had, but, like any other job, you will definitely work for it.