Make money as a mystery shopper

From supermarkets to hotels, you can earn hundreds of pounds by going undercover to test products and services, writes Jasmine Birtles

Fancy getting paid to shop? That's the enticing proposition if you're willing to join the growing ranks of individuals who go undercover on behalf of pollsters, retailers, regulators and just about anyone eager to find out what customers really think.

You can be paid between £20 and £100 a day as a "mystery shopper", for anything from trying out a new restaurant to staying in a hotel or having a pizza delivered. Alternatively, you could test a supermarket and take some food and drink home for nothing.

To get started, you have to register with mystery- shopping sites such as www.retaileyes.co.uk, www.ukims.co.uk, www.cybershoppers.nopworld.com or try moneymagpie.com.

You won't have to accept all jobs offered but you are more likely to get regular work (if that's what you want) and nicer assign- ments (like overnight stays in hotels) if you are willing to be flexible early on.

As for the demands of a job, you will usually be asked to report on such features as decor and tidiness, the quality of the service, and the ease of finding specific products or details.

The companies want all this information and your till receipts as soon as possible, usually within 24 hours, so you'll need to set aside time to fill in the forms.

Many mystery-shopping agencies specialise in a particular area. For example, Field Facts Worldwide audits petrol stations, while Retail Rapport specialises in shopping centres. The latter offers up to £100 for a day's work.

Trying to work out an average "fee" per mystery shop is hard, as no organisation compiles figures. At the lower end, however, expect to earn between £5 and £20, though food and drink are usually paid for as well.

"Nightclubs are the worst," says one former mystery shopper. "They're always the sort you wouldn't dream of walking into."

Paid to drink... and to be a trainspotter

Writer Barry Grossman has supplemented his income for seven years by being a mystery shopper. "I've probably done more pubs and restaurants than anything, but you can get odd requests like going to a train station with the timetable and standing there all day to see how many trains are late. It's not always shopping.

"The pay varies from nothing more than a free meal or drink or free night in a hotel to earning £250 to £300 for a job that lasts over a few days," he adds.

"It's good work if you want to be able to pick and choose the times you work and to be able to say no. There's no contract you have to sign to say you'll definitely do certain jobs."

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