Several people have asked me about Mystery Shopping (also referred to as Secret Shopping by people who are not in the “business”) so I thought I would do a little post. I have been a mystery shopper for almost three years and I have learned quite a bit in that time.
Mystery shopping is when certain retailers hire marketing research companies to evaluate the quality of service in their stores. Mystery shoppers gather information anonymously and make a particular purchase in a store or restaurant, for example, and then report on the experience. Typically, the shopper is reimbursed, and can keep the product or service.
Mystery shopping is not a scam. Mystery shopping should be absolutely free to join. You will never pay money to a company upfront to perform a shop. You will never need to buy books or pay for a class when you work for a legitimate mystery shop. Be wary of mystery shop sites that:
- Advertise for mystery shoppers in a newspaper’s ‘help wanted’ section or by email.
- Sell “certification.” Companies that use mystery shoppers generally do not require certification.
- Guarantee a job as a mystery shopper.
- Charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.
- Sell directories of companies that provide mystery shoppers.
The Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) maintains a list of its members. It is not required that mystery shops register with the MSPA, but I believe that every company I shop for is a member. If you are interested in becoming a mystery shopper head to the MSPA website and have a look. Another resource I use is volition.com. They have a forum that is very informative.
When you are accepted as a mystery shopper you become and Independent Contractor. In your contract you agree to keep all information confidential. While you are performing your job you cannot tell anyone you are a mystery shopper. You also cannot release the names of the clients you shop for/with (i.e. You can’t go around telling your coworkers that you are dining at ABC Restaurant as a mystery shopper).
Sometimes registering with a company can be a lengthy process. I recommend installing the “autofill” feature in your browser if you are going to sign up with multiple companies. On some applications you will be asked to write a short narrative. Again, I suggest writing your best narrative and copying it in to a Word document so you can paste it again later. Some companies approve you automatically and others review your application first.
In my experience, metro areas have a larger variety of jobs than suburban areas. I live in the Atlanta suburbs and there are hundreds of mystery shopping jobs around me daily. When we went to Oregon over the summer I checked the companies I am signed up for and the selection of jobs was very limited. Don’t give up hope though! If you think a store/restaurant chain is mystery shopped, you are very likely correct.
Start with an easy shop! My first shop was for a fast food establishment that paid a $7 reimbursement for my meal and a $5 commission for completing the shop. I wanted to make sure that I understood what mystery shopping was about before I accepted too many jobs or jobs that had a high payout (in case I messed up and wasn’t compensated). Being discreet is an essential part of mystery shopping. Take a “grocery list” with you to jot down quick notes, send a few text messages on your phone to yourself with info about your job, call home and leave a message with job details. Don’t be obvious! Take your papers with you and leave them in the car so you can jot down more details when your job is complete. You will be required to enter all your information within a certain time period after your shop (I have seen a time range between 8 and 12 hours).
When you are completing a job that requires a purchase you will have to front the money. The company you are shopping for will pay you via a check or Paypal within a certain time frame. This money is income, so you will need to claim it on your tax return. This is the reason you are asked for your social security number.
In my experience, mystery shopping companies do not send you spam. I signed up for a few companies with a secondary email address that I rarely use. When I realized that I was not being spammed I started using my primary email address. Now my primary email is filled with legitimate mystery shopping updates and I wish I had used a secondary email address.
I have done shops ranging from $5 to $75. I have shopped at fast food establishments as well as grocery stores. The list of companies that hire mystery shoppers is endless. Mystery shopping is a great way to supplement our lifestyle and get things for much cheaper than we would normally pay (or even free!). We recently ate dinner at a restaurant that paid a $35 reimbursement. Our total for our family of four was $43 – meaning we ate out at a nice restaurant for $7 out of our own money.
Good luck! If I can help in any way let me know.
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