How Much Does a Mystery Shopping Project Cost?

If you are reading this post, you are probably considering a mystery shopping market research study. Maybe you have heard or read about it but haven’t the slightest idea what it costs.

Like most types of market research, it's hard to give one clear cut price. It's dependent on various factors such as project management, length of mystery shops, time of mystery shops, and more.

In this blog post, our market research company will discuss these components in detail to give you a better idea of how they can increase or decrease mystery shopping project costs.

what is the cost of mystery shops

What is a mystery shopping project?

Before we dive into the line items, I want to take a moment to explain what exactly mystery shopping is.

I'll prove a brief synopsis below, but for more context, I recommend reading our blog post: What is Mystery Shopping?

This market research methodology is the process of using undercover “shoppers” to gather information about a product, service, or experience.

Mystery shoppers are individuals trained by a market research firm on what to look for and how to properly ask questions. 

If you'd prefer to recruit real consumers to perform a mystery shop and not trained professionals, that is also an option.

Keep in mind, this might increase costs because it requires money to recruit participants, as well as provide an incentive for completing the study.

What are the benefits of a mystery shopping project?

Most businesses utilize mystery shopping studies to assess competitors of their own offerings. Or if you have questions about your own business, you can even contact a market research company to conduct mystery shopping on internal processes.

This emphasizes the need to use an unbiased third-party research firm

Other benefits of mystery shopping include:

  • Testing employees in their natural environment
  • One of the most flexible methodologies
  • Trained moderators are hired to collect more reliable data

More of a listener than a reader? Watch me explain these four key benefits of mystery shopping in the video below.

What is the cost of a mystery shop with a market research company?

One of the advantages of conducting a mystery shopping project is flexible pricing. Several factors can be adjusted to meet your budget.

So, what can you expect from an invoice for mystery shopping?

The main cost considerations going into a mystery shopping project that can impact cost include:

  1. A market research report
  2. Project management
  3. Purchased products/services
  4. Mystery shopper time

I provide an overview of each component below.

1. Mystery Shopper Time

Perhaps the most obvious cost associated with a mystery shopping project is that of the shoppers. These costs are often calculated by what is expected for each evaluation.

The more comprehensive the project, the more shoppers deserve to be compensated.

The rate for a mystery shopper can realistically be anywhere from twenty dollars to several hundred dollars for each experience they are evaluating.

A mystery shopping task that consists of little more than a brief phone call will likely be at the lower end of these costs. 

Ongoing or high-effort shopping scenarios for shoppers are the projects with higher costs.

These more demanding tasks may include back-and-forth communication with customer service or time-sensitive actions taken by the shopper.

In addition to the involvement per mystery shop, you must also consider the total number of mystery shops. For example, eighty mystery shops versus eight mystery shops are going to translate to ten times the cost.

2. Purchased Products/Services

While not always applicable to a mystery shopping project, products, or services that must be purchased for a proper assessment are an important cost. Actual purchases should be included when the full point-of-sale, service experience, returns, or after-sales support processes are of interest.

These costs are the easiest to estimate, as prices for most products and services are public information.

The cost per mystery shop here could be a small as $1 if candy bars are the focus of the study. In contrast, shoppers instructed to purchase a 4K Ultra HD television will likely need over $1,000 each for the evaluation.

As a side note, it is always a good idea to offer the resulting purchases as an additional incentive to mystery shoppers, no matter what size. Most of the time, it is not financially worth transporting the purchased goods back to the market research firm.

3. Project Management

This is a standard fee for just about any market research project. The project management (PM) fee covers much of the background work done by the market research company.

At its core, this cost is driven by the amount of time and effort the researchers spend on ensuring the mystery shops are successful. 

Responsibilities such as communicating with the shoppers and data analysis go into the PM fee. This cost may be a flat fee for the entire project or calculated based on the number of mystery shops.

You can expect anything from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. Again, this cost is largely correlated with the scope of the mystery shopping project.

4. Market Research Report

Lastly, you will need a useful summary of the mystery shops to take the next steps. This typically comes in the form of a detailed report from the market research firm. 

Not to sound like a broken record, but your costs here are going to also vary. Some market research partners will provide you a simple report that may cost no more than $1,000.

This would be relatively barebones with overarching themes and a modest breakdown of the mystery shops. 

A more comprehensive report might be upwards of a few thousand to ten thousand dollars. With something at this price point, you could expect to receive thorough findings, recommendations, data visualizations, and a case-by-case account for each mystery shop.

Here is a helpful image our market research firm likes to use to showcase the difference between a topline and a comprehensive market research report.

topline vs. comprehensive reporting packages by drive research

Still curious about other aspects of mystery shopping? Read here about five insights from our market research firm’s experiences with the methodology.

Contact Our Mystery Shopping Market Research Firm

Drive Research is a national market research company headquartered in New York. Our experts can guide you through the ins and outs of mystery shopping projects and provide several different pricing packages to fit most budgets.

Ready to contact our team? Here are 4 ways to reach us:

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

tim gell - about the author

Tim Gell

As a Research Analyst, Tim is involved in every stage of a market research project for our clients. He first developed an interest in market research while studying at Binghamton University based on its marriage of business, statistics, and psychology. 

Learn more about Tim, here.


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