Discover the world of mystery shopping and unlock rewarding side hustle opportunities. Explore what mystery shopper programs entail, find insights on earning potential, and uncover the best mystery shopping companies in the UK.
Quick links: What is a Mystery Shopper Program? ▶︎ How Mystery Shopper Programs Work ▶︎ Types of Mystery Shopper Roles ▶︎ How much will I get Paid to be a secret shopper? ▶︎ A guide to the best mystery shopper companies in the UK ▶︎ Will I be taxed on my earnings?
Embarking on the journey of mystery shopping can be a fascinating and rewarding endeavor for those seeking to supplement their income. In today's bustling market, mystery shopping has evolved into a thriving side hustle opportunity, offering individuals a chance to earn extra cash while providing invaluable feedback to businesses. We delve into the world of mystery shopping, uncovering what it entails and highlighting some of the premier mystery shopper programs available in the UK.
What is a Mystery Shopper Program?
A mystery shopper program is a market research strategy that involves individuals, known as mystery shoppers, posing as ordinary customers to assess and evaluate the quality of service, product offerings, and overall customer experience provided by a business. These programs are used by businesses across all sorts of different genres to gain valuable feedback, identify areas for improvement, and enhance customer service satisfaction, plus also potentially find out information about their rivals! Feedback from independent sources like Mystery Shoppers is the best way to see things from a customer's perspective and understand how to improve the customer experience and increase customer loyalty.
I'm going to say, right at the start, that there aren't many full-time mystery shoppers out there! Mystery shopper roles are a side hustle to earn a little extra cash; they aren't likely to be full-time job opportunities! A successful mystery shopper might be able to earn a couple of hundred pounds a month performing assignments, but the more time you have to perform task, the more you might earn, but it's important to remember that assignments aren't always available, so just because you have time, doesn't mean there's an assignment for you to do. There are several mystery shopping sites in the UK that offer mystery shopping jobs to their users in exchange for cash, goods, or a mixture of both. You'll find more information on these companies and the best ones to join up with further along in this blog post. It's worth signing up to as many as possible, as the more you join, the more assignments that might be available to you!
How Mystery Shopper Programs Work:
Assignment Selection: Mystery shoppers typically register with agencies that coordinate these programs. Once registered, shoppers can browse available assignments based on their preferences, location, and interests. Once you've registered with a company, you'll normally be shown a dashboard showing all the mystery shop opportunities in your area, and you can choose which one to apply for. Some of the assignments you can select and do straight away, others you apply for and your application is then checked by the company to make sure your profile matches with what the task requires; for example, if there's a task that involves female hair care products and your male and bald, you're likely not what they task is looking for.
Guidelines and Criteria: Each assignment comes with specific guidelines and criteria provided by the hiring company. Mystery shoppers are expected to follow these guidelines meticulously to ensure accurate and consistent evaluations. This may be specific data and times that you need to conduct your mission, specific questions you need to ask to be able to try and get the right information back from the person/place you are visiting. In some cases, you may need to conduct some training before you can apply for certain tasks. Once you've done the training and been accredited, you're able to apply for those tasks. You don't normally get paid to do the training, but it's worth doing it, as often the tasks that need you to be accredited pay more!
Undercover Assessment: Mystery shoppers discreetly visit or interact with the assigned business, posing as regular customers. They pay attention to predetermined aspects such as customer service, cleanliness, product knowledge, and adherence to company policies. Many of these roles are literally undercover, so you won't be announcing your visit to the business you are mystery shopping. For this reason, you do have to be a bit covert and not draw attention to yourself, which isn't always easy if you are required to take multiple pictures of a display stand in a small shop, but generally, you can get the task done without alerting anyone to your mission.
Announced Visits: On top of the more covert missions, you may also get the opportunity to partake in announced visits. This type of mission involves alerting the business, on arrival, that you have come to conduct a particular task. Often, you will have been given a letter of authority from the manufacturer or the head office of the business you are attending to confirm that you have been officially asked to attend and partake in the research. Sometimes, the business will have been briefed about a visit happening; other times, they won't, and you'll get those people who are fine with your visit, others who aren't and don't really want to have to spend the time dealing with you! Generally, the businesses that have been shown a letter from their head office are fine; it's the ones where a manufacturer has asked you to attend without the head office of the business being informed that's the issue. If that's the case, you just have to be polite and try and charm your way into getting the mission done! An example of this type of task was when I was given a letter of authority by an ice cream manufacturer, and my mission was to visit lots of different newsagents and convenience stores to take photographs of the contents of the stores ice cream freezers to show what lollipops and ice cream bars were available and to also take pictures of the point of sale materials. Most retailers were fine, but often the bigger ones, such as the big-name retailers, were not interested in me being there as the assignment was not from their head office, so I had to pretend that I was having to nominate a store for getting given a reward for having a great freezer, of a £100 gift voucher, and I'd always ask for that person's name as the person to nominate for the prize, and that normally got me in the door! It was a bit cheeky, but it got the job done!
Task Missions: These missions are less mystery-themed and are often variations of the announced visits type of task. Examples might be that you are asked to go to a store and build a display stand for them and make sure the correct stock is merchandised on it, which would involve asking the store to check that all the products are on the shop floor and not still in the warehouse and then making sure that if they do have the stock out back, its brought out for you to put on the shelf.Other missions might handing out discount vouchers outside the store for products, or offering samples inside the store. Supermarkets are very popular places for these kinds of missions to take place.
Reporting and Documentation: After the visit, mystery shoppers submit detailed reports or feedback forms to the coordinating agency. These reports include objective observations, qualitative feedback, and any specific issues encountered during the evaluation. Often, you'll need to submit this information via the dashboard on the website or app of the market research company, and you normally only have a limited amount of time to do this, sometimes on the same day, so don't take on too many assignments all at once if you are going to struggle to get the information they need to them on time! In this age of the smartphone, with its camera and internet ability, its meant that a lot of this documentation is now done while you are in the store, (although not always), by following a survey/guide on your phone, answering questions and taking photos when needed, and this makes it much easier and normally means you've done the task and uploaded the required information by the time you've left the store, unless its a very covert mission, where you'll then need to send the information later on.
Types of Mystery Shopper Roles:
Retail Mystery Shopping: Assessing customer service, product knowledge, and overall shopping experience in retail stores. This might include testing a salesperson on their product knowledge, ensuring a customer is being offered a particular product or service and ensuring that the customer is being looked after in the way the head office expects them to be. This could also involve going to a retail store such as a supermarket and checking that particular products are being displayed and are correctly merchandised. You may be asked to photograph the products and also the general area where the products are being displayed. In some instances, you may need to make a video. In some cases, you are asked to purchase a specific product and leave a review of the product on a website. You normally get the product for free and sometimes a small fee on top. These types of tasks are normally grocery-orientated; I've recently conducted this type of mission and had to review a stuffing mix and a peppered potato product. I got a full refund for the goods and £2 as a thank you bonus.
Restaurant and Hospitality Mystery Shopping: Evaluating service quality, cleanliness, and adherence to protocols in restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality establishments. This might be checking that the food served matches the menu description/menu image, or that the staff are giving good service, or recommending particular products/services. You may be offered a flat fee for this kind of assignment, perhaps a free meal or discounted food, sometimes a free meal and a fee on top to cover travel expenses. Most of the time, you'll need to claim the meal back as expenses, so make sure you keep your receipt!
Financial Mystery Shopping: Investigating the customer service and compliance of banks, insurance companies, and financial institutions. This might be contacting the customer service department of a bank by telephone or by going into a branch. These are often telephone tasks, which is handy as you can do them from your sofa!
Online Mystery Shopping: Evaluating e-commerce platforms, website usability, and customer support through online interactions. This might be going through the process of ordering something from a retailer but not actually buying anything and feeding back how it went, or actually ordering something and feeding back about the sales process and also the delivery (if applicable). I do this occasionally to test the Amazon Fresh service, and I get to order £25 of free products as my reward for doing the task.
Telephone Mystery Shopping: Assessing customer service quality through phone interactions with businesses. This might include tasks such as phoning a sports centre to ask specific questions about the centre's facilities or to test the person on what questions they are asking you to understand your needs and respond accordingly.
How much will I get Paid to be a secret shopper?
The amount you can earn for each task will vary depending on the role and the company you are working for. Generally, you won't earn all that much money, so don't give up your day job just yet!
Basic missions might earn you between £1 and £5, (often with a refund of anything you've needed to purchase to do the role), with some of the more advanced or more complex/time-consuming roles paying between £10 and anything up to £140, but the higher paying roles are few and far between, but do exist, and so if you have some free time, they are a great way to earn some extra money.
Some jobs, you'll get 'goods' instead of cash payments, so as an example of this, one recent job for a mystery dining company, paid up to £16 reimbursement for a meal from a well-known burger chain, instead of paying you for the role, which is a nice way to get a free meal, after all, who doesn't like free food!
A guide to the best mystery shopper companies in the UK
There are several UK companies that specialise in mystery shopper jobs. Each company offers different roles and specialises in different types of mystery shopping services via its mystery shopping programmes. I've listed the ones I've either used or I've had recommended to me; there are others out there! NEVER pay to join a mystery shopping company; a decent mystery shopping business does not charge to join!
RedWigWam: This company has actually moved away from specialising in secret shopper roles over the last few years and has evolved into more of a job recruiter; however, they do still offer mystery shopper roles and so they are well worth signing up with. These guys do tax you for your work, which is a tad rare in the industry; normally, tax is your responsibility to deal with (if you earn over £1,000 a year), so you need to factor this into what you are being paid.
BeMyEye: BeMyEye is one of the best sites in the UK's mystery shopping industry, offering a decent amount of regular mystery shopping work. The type of work varies from month to month, but I've seen a lot of work orientated around taking photos of the menus for local restaurants or taking photographs of local billboards. As an example, I can earn £2 for taking a photo of the menu board for a local food van or could earn £3.60 for taking some photos of point-of-sale material at a local electronics store.
StreetSpotr: This is a similar set-up to BeMyEye; once you've signed up, you use the mobile app to discover a range of jobs in your area. As well as the mystery shopping opportunities you'll find paid surveys you can take part in, from third parties, to help boost your earnings. Shopper opportunities can be a little slower than some of the other mystery shopping apps offer, but it's well worth signing up with.
Field Agent: This is one of the longest-running online platforms for mystery shopping roles. There's not always a huge amount of available work, but it's normally offering a consistent level of missions. This company often asks you to complete mystery shopping tasks that involve using your camera to take photos of products in supermarkets, and you'll often find the opportunity to grab some free products to test as well. Recent work opportunities have included attending car washes to photograph the car wash operation, which paid £10 per visit, and sampling a food product, which paid £5.
Ipsos Ishop: - Ipsos mystery shoppers can earn a little more extra cash than on other mystery shopping sites due to this company normally offering a larger number of missions. There's often an equal split of assignments you can do from home and those you can earn while out, and they have a decent amount of different types of places to conduct missions at. While writing this post, a quick look on the programme online portal showed a wide range of work-from-home missions, often paying around £10 each, and many focusing on telephone assignments with a well-known UK bank. There was also a wide selection of restaurant dining assignments at local pubs, which involved taking pictures of food and /or drinks and the establishment, and this was paying £4 for the visit and up to £20 reimbursement for the food/drinks. There were 14 pub locations within 10 miles of where I lived, so it could be a good way to get some free meals!
Marketforce: Marketforce can be one of the best mystery shopping programmes for restaurant-based mystery shopper tasks. As a guide, while writing this, they were offering a £7 fee for visiting a well-known burger restaurant, with a £16 reimbursement for food, and a £2 fee and up to £15 reimbursement for visiting a local pub and ordering food. You'll sometimes need to be willing to purchase alcoholic beverages as part of the mission, so make sure you read the brief before accepting a task if you don't drink alcohol.
ESA Retail: This is one of the best companies to join up with for higher-paying jobs. There are also plenty of jobs normally available. These jobs can be a bit more involved and may require the use of covert recording equipment such as microphones, and they have a need for taking pictures/video, and that is why they pay more. Nowadays, you don't need specialist recording equipment for audio recording tasks; you can simply use a free recording app on your smartphone to record the assignment. The average rate, when looking on their website, was £40 for an in-person visit and £8 for a 10-minute telephone role, (plus some write-up time after the call). The roles, when looking, tended to be based towards the banking industry and call to insurance companies and undertakers.
Roamler: Roamler is probably the best mystery shopping company to be involved with as it's a well-laid-out app with plenty of work in a range of different genres; the only thing is that it's hard to get work with them as you have to be invited by a friend to join up, and the friend needs to send you an activation code to do this and unless you have years of experience working for Roamler, you tend not to get given any activations codes to send! It is normally best to look on social media and search for Roamler referrals, as people do advertise them there, and are usually pretty keen to recruit people, as the recruiter receives 2% of what the person earns via the app, every month! I've mentioned Roamler previously on the blog. The Roamler app roles vary; I've seen a lot of product tests where you purchase a food item from a supermarket, get paid £4 to review it and also get the product cost reimbursed as well. You'll also see lots of product checks in shops, restaurants and bars, where you'll need to take photos of products and the store, so you need a camera phone for a large percentage of the tasks. Product checks are often between £2 and £3 each and can be doing your food shop, for example, and some of the other checks, such as checking for point of sale material in pubs, pay between £5 and £8. The tasks can be a mix of mystery shopper roles and jobs where you announce yourself to the manager.
Proinsight: This mystery shopping app offers a range of missions, such as leisure centre visits, store visits, telephone assignments, and I've also seen a number of visits where you go to a new homes demonstration house and ask specific questions while covertly video recording the visit, and that was paying £55, which is pretty good for a mystery shopper role! Other visits, such as the leisure centre missions, pay £20, and the telephone assignments pay £5. The more densely populated area you live in, the larger the number of available missions. If you don't mind taking part in video mystery shopping, you can earn a fair amount of money! That said, this company need you to own your own covert camera and sell some variations, so that's an expense if you don't already have one. Prices start from about £70. Some other companies lend you this type of equipment to perform the assignment.Participants who conduct a larger number of jobs can be moved to platinum status, which means they may be offered a greater number of roles, sometimes before they are advertised to others, and may be offered an increased rate of pay.
Sonata GBW - I've probably used this company the most in recent years. It's got a bit of a clunky website and isn't the easiest to navigate and submit reports to, but it does have some of the jobs I prefer. My favourite is when they offer Amazon Fresh assignments, which involves placing an order for an Amazon Fresh delivery, from either Amazon directly or from the Amazon Fresh Morrisons service. You're asked to buy something from different categories, such as fresh food, frozen food, chilled food, tinned food and then feedback on how the ordering process was and then, once delivered, how the delivery went and the condition of the goods on arrival. This normally pays around £25, which is decent pay for ordering groceries from home, and receiving the order! They also offer other opportunities, again for a wider range of genres, such as feedback on petrol stations, their facilities, staff and the cleanliness of the building, and they pay £8 each for these, with dozens of locations being available at any one time. Be aware they do also call you from time to time, which can be confusing as they call from the Philippines or Australia, but if they are calling you, they are very often calling because they are desperate to get a mission at a location near to you completed and may offer you a bonus for doing it for them, so its worth answering the call! I've mentioned this app previously on the blog.
Other mystery shopper programmes I'm aware of but haven't joined include: Served Legal , who deal with mystery shops for age-restricted products, Mystery Dining, which focuses on restaurant and bar mystery shopping and has a pretty stringent applicant process Retail Maxim, which offers the normal kinds of mystery shopping roles and also paid surveys and market research projects; (they seem to be partnered with Research Tribe) & Tern who offer a wide range of mystery shopper type roles.
Will I Be Taxed On My Earnings?
Like all paid work, if you earn over £1,000 a year on side hustles, which covers these types of roles and selling on Ebay etc, you will need to declare your income to HMRC. It's important to confirm this isn't £1,000 of profit; it's £1,000 of income! Most of the mystery shopper companies don't tax you; you are classed as an independent contractor, and so you are expected to declare your income to HMRC, so it's your responsibility to complete a self-assessment at the end of the financial year, whether you may be taxed on your income. Keep hold of all your receipts and record your mileage, as these are all things you may be able to claim on your return as expenses to reduce your tax liability.
Mystery shopping offers individuals a chance to earn extra income by providing valuable feedback to businesses across various industries. From retail to hospitality, financial institutions to online platforms, there's a wide range of opportunities available. As you consider diving into this side hustle, remember to use reputable companies, understand the potential earnings, and be prepared for the responsibilities that come with each assignment. It can be an eye-opening experience! Happy mystery shopping!