Online Surveys for Money vs Mystery Shopping
Advanced Tips

Online Surveys for Money vs Mystery Shopping

EPF October 24, 2016

Here at EliteSurveySites, we provide you with information to help you make and save more money.  Paid surveys and mystery shopping are both great ways to make more money in your free time.  They are very different and should be treated accordingly, so in this article we will go over the differences and provide you with valuable tips to help you maximize your earning through both.  We love both for various reasons, but they each have their nuances that take time to learn and perfect over time.

Paid Survey Overview

Paid surveys are an easy and excellent way to make money online.  We spend a lot of time on this site telling you which surveys are the best for you – in this article, we will be looking at them at a very high level.  You get paid for your personal information and opinions, and it is as simple as that.  The companies who ask the questions need your information for market research and are willing to pay you for it, albeit in small amounts.  This article is focused on providing you with a comparison between paid surveys and mystery shopping, and providing you with advanced tips for each.

Paid Survey Pros and Cons

Paid survey pros:

  • They tend to have lax requirements to participate
  • Most paid surveys are quite simple and easy to complete
  • They are just about the easiest way to make money online
  • They can be completed in the comfort of your pajamas while you are binge-watching Game of Thrones

Paid survey cons:

  • The pay is typically quite low
  • They can be quite time consuming
  • The high paying surveys are few and far between

Overall, we love paid surveys!  They are one of the easiest ways to make money in your free time.

Mystery Shopping Overview

Mystery shopping is another great way to make money in your free time.  The key difference here is that mystery shopping generally requires you to leave the comfort of your home.  The idea is that a company will pay you to go shop at their store, and give them feedback on the customer experience in order for the company to better themselves and their employees.

You generally need to keep the whole mystery shopping experience hush-hush, especially from the employee that you interact with.  The companies that you will visit may vary from coffee shops to electronics stores to department stores, and basically everything in between.  You will generally be required to purchase an item, which you will be reimbursed for.

Mystery Shopping Pros and Cons

Mystery shopping pros:

  • Decent pay for the time investment
  • Fun and interesting interactions
  • Easy to navigate

Mystery shopping cons:

  • You must leave your home and visit the store
  • Sometimes the interactions can be awkward
  • Time consuming – once you consider reporting time, drive time, and returning purchases

Mystery shopping is a fun and interesting way to make money on the side, and can be easily worked into your typical daily schedule.  You could squeeze in a mystery shop during your lunch break, or one on your way home from work.

Which Pays More?

Both can pay well if you spend enough time getting efficient about the processes involved.

For example, you can use a browser extension to auto-fill in portions of surveys like name, address, and other basic information.  This can easily save you thirty seconds per survey, which pays off in the long run.

For mystery shopping, you may want to think about things like quickly writing notes in your mobile phone the moment you leave the store.  If you have all of the information handy when you prepare to write your reports, you will find them much less time-consuming than if you are trying to fill out reports based on memory.

 Paid Survey Pro Tips

We are the web’s foremost experts in the world of paid surveys.  Here are some pro tips for paid surveys:

  1. When you first sign up for a paid survey site, you will want to take the first few surveys they send your way, even if the pay is lowThis will generally give you a better internal ranking than someone who has not yet participated in any surveys, which means you will get invited to participate in more surveys more quickly than the person who does not take the first few offers.
  2. Prioritize and maximize 

    Once you are past the first few surveys, you will want to start prioritizing surveys based on pay-to-time ratio. For example, if a survey pays $1 and will take 15 minutes or a second survey pays $1 but takes 60 minutes to complete, you would obviously want to take the first survey to take better advantage of your time.

  3. Track your earnings 

    If you keep track of which sites you spend time on and how much you are paid by these various platforms, you will start to see trends and know which ones tend to offer better pay for your time. It does not need to be anything complex or incredibly advanced, even a basic spreadsheet would be sufficient.  For example, a spreadsheet with the company name, time spent and amount of money earned.

  4. Look at estimated time vs. actual time spent 

    If you are keeping a spreadsheet and tracking your time, you will start to notice which sites “estimated time to completion” are accurate and which are not. Some site may claim that a survey will take an estimated 15-20 minutes, and you may find that you made it through in only 10 minutes.  This information can be incredibly valuable if you want to prioritize and maximize.Maybe you find a site that often overestimates, which can work well for you in the long run.  Maybe you find a site that often underestimates, which will likely make you far less interested in taking their surveys.  If you are tracking your time and earnings, you can identify these types of valuable insights and use them to your advantage!

  5. Make sure survey sites’ emails are not getting marked as spam

    Many survey site emails get marked as spam or if you use google for your email, they may not go to your “primary inbox.” You will want to be sure to check your spam filters, and mark the emails as “not spam” so that they will start flowing into your inbox appropriately.
  6. Be honest 

    If your answers are not consistent across surveys, the survey sites will eventually catch on. Some sites use tracking and algorithms to scan for fraudulent activity and will shut down your account if they catch you, so be sure to always answer questions honestly.

  7. Leave your earnings in your account 

    Some sites will pay you more for simply leaving your money untouched in your account for longer periods of time. There are costs to these companies each time they pay you, so in order to keep these costs down they will pass some of the savings on to you if you are willing to wait.  A general rule of thumb is to never withdraw less than $100 in order to capitalize on these bonuses.

  8. OR cash out every time you reach the minimum payout 

    Some other experts in this area suggest that you should take your payouts immediately every time, due to the fact that some sites shut down and you could lose access to your funds. This is another good reason to keep records – if you know how much money is in each account you know when you have reached your minimums so that you can cash out quickly.

  9. Carve out time specifically for your survey-taking 

    If you allow yourself to get distracted in the middle of surveys, and you walk away for periods of time, you may come back only to find out that your survey has expired and you have to start over again. Obviously, this is not the best way to maximize your time or earnings, so you will want to avoid this.

Mystery Shopping Pro Tips

We have done all of the research and testing and trial and error so that you don’t have to.  Here are some useful tips for maximizing earnings with mystery shopping:

  1. Plan your mystery shops around your day, and not vice-versa

    If you are going to be going to the mall to pick up a new piece of luggage on Saturday, why don’t you plan ahead and find a few stores that you can mystery shop while you are at the mall?You will be going out for lunch today? Check to see if there are any restaurants in your area that you can spend your lunch at while also mystery shopping, and getting paid to be there.  You may save some money on your meal if it is reimbursable, and you will also make a few bucks!
  2. Take the time to check the drive-time 

    If you have already started mystery shopping, then you have no doubt experienced this – you take a mystery shopping offer and head to your destination, only to find that the drive-time is more than you anticipated and it kills your profit margin. Make sure to check live maps to ensure that there isn’t bad traffic getting to your destination.

  3. Purchase items that you will actually use 

    If you were already going to purchase a TV for your bedroom, then it would be a perfect opportunity to mystery shop at an electronics store and make some money on the purchase. Alternately, if you are mystery shopping at a clothing store that you would never shop at normally, you may end up spending money on an article of clothing you will never wear and if you do not get fully reimbursed you could be upside down on your investment.

  4. Try not to enjoy yourself too much 

    If you want to maximize your earnings, you will want to get in, complete the task and get out as fast as possible so that you can move on to the next mystery shop. To this end, you will want to keep conversations with company employees short and sweet.  Only interact with them long enough to get the information that you need, and then proceed to pay and exit the building.  It is easy to find yourself engaged in a longer conversation than you anticipated.Also be sure not to go shopping while you are mystery shopping.  You should go shopping at a separate time and not mix the two, as you will want to track your time and maximize your productivity.  This is impossible to do if you keep finding yourself going aisle by aisle and playing with every gadget you see.

  5. Get to know the schedulers and try to get on their rotation

If you find a shop that seems to pay well, request that the schedulers put you on the schedule to visit that shop every month.  This will help you with building predictable income and maximizing your time.


  1. Don’t take low paying jobs 

    If everyone turns down the extremely low-paying jobs, mystery shop companies will be forced to start paying a more livable wage. For example, if you find an offer that pays less than minimum wage, don’t take it!  It will be worth it in the long run, as these listings go unclaimed and the owners will be forced to up the pay.

  2. Get certified by MSPA

It is a fairly straight-forward process and only requires a little bit of your time.  This will pay off in a big way as you will have access to much better shops and you will get assigned better paying mystery shop gigs.  When you apply for a mystery shop assignment and the person competing with you for it does not have MSPA certification but you do, guess who wins?


  1. Sign up for alerts 

    It can be quite time-consuming just to search for and find mystery shop assignments every day. They move fast, especially the high-paying ones.  Be sure to put a good alert and reminder system in place to manage the new listings, so that you have first access to them and can pick up assignments before other people do.  You could consider using a mail filter to search emails for specific information and separate them out and alert you.

  2. Know how much money you are making 

    If you don’t want to pay taxes on your survey earnings, you will want to be sure that you never make more then $600 with any one site in a given year. Frankly, this is unlikely for the most part but you should keep this in mind.  We are not proponents of this, but just passing on the best tips and tricks as they come to mind.  Some people are happy to make the extra money and claim the income and others will stop prior to reaching the $600 level so that they do not receive a W9 from the survey site.

Surprising Places to Mystery Shop

  1. Concerts – Getting paid to go see a live concert could be a fun way to make some money while doing something that you love at the same time.
  2. Government – You normally hate calling the local government offices but if you’re getting paid to do it, you just may hate it a little bit less.
  3. Apartment Shopping – This one could be a little bit more complex, but could be very interesting and enjoyable – you pose as a potential tenant in an apartment building and report on the quality of the apartment building and application process.
  4. Test Drives – Have you been itching to take the 2017 Chevy Malibu out for a spin?
  5. Amusement Parks – Are you planning a family trip to the local amusement park? Why don’t you wait until you can go as a mystery shopper?  You probably will not get into the park for free, but you will be able to seek reimbursement for all of your expenses for the day, from parking to eating, and more.
  6. Bars – How great would it be to get paid to drink a beer and eat some tacos with your best friend? With some mystery shop offers, you can!  You will rate the restaurant or bar on speed, cleanliness and other important factors.
  7. Movie Theaters – It is possible to get paid to see some movies, but it is a little bit hard to find these offers. However, it is quite common to at least see a movie for free in exchange for your feedback.  Who doesn’t want to go to the movies for free?
  8. Spa – Do you enjoy massages? We assume so, because umm – everybody does!  Some mystery shopping assignments will pay you to get a massage at a local spa.

Do We Have a Preference?

Mystery shopping tends to be more fun and interesting, and gets you out of the house and into the fresh air.  Alternately, paid surveys allow you to work from home and truly maximize your time based on the fact that there is no travel time to consider.  You will want to look at the pay to relative time investment with everything that you do and evaluate which offerings make the most financial sense to you.  You may also find that you are better at one or the other, or enjoy one more than the other.

Paid surveys are much easier to find and complete, and can be fairly effortless.  You can do these surveys while watching TV or even exercising, which can be helpful in maximizing your personal time.  Alternately, mystery shopping requires more thought and action, which stimulates your brain and keeps you from becoming lethargic.

Both of these methods of earning can be lucrative, and if you follow our advanced tips and tricks you can develop smart systems to implement that will allow you to better maximize your earnings and minimize your time investment.

We here at Elite do all of the heavy lifting so that you can make as much money as possible, without the need for the research and trial and error.  We want to make your life as easy and profitable as possible.  Now get out there (or stay in) and make money with paid surveys and mystery shopping!

Elite Survey Sites

Recommended Articles


How to Make Money by Playing Games – See The Best Sites!

ESS September 30, 2020

Paid surveys are one of the easiest ways to make money online. The sites that offer these opportunities are actually relatively big sites. These are not just regular paid surveys. In fact, these are very big companies that have grown....

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

As seen on