Do you think getting paid to shop sounds too good to be true? I’m talking about secret shopping, and sometimes it can be. However, there are a ton of legitimate secret shopper jobs out there just waiting for your participation – for you to pretend to be a regular shopper and collect data for various companies – and to get paid for it! You can get reimbursed for your purchases, too. Interested? Read on for my guide on becoming a secret shopper.
What is a Secret Shopper?
As a secret shopper, you are contracting with various companies to perform shops for their client businesses – whether department store, restaurant, sporting goods store, car dealership or something else. You’ll be provided with a set of instructions, which often involve purchasing something, so that you can evaluate the business for their appearance, stocking on the product in question, quality of customer service being delivered, or whatever else the business wants evaluated. You’re reporting on the overall customer service experience an average shopper might expect – and you must do so in specific detail. There are also mystery shops that can be completed online or over the phone.
You can’t let anyone know you’re a “secret shopper” or a “mystery shopper” – it’s important that you appear as a normal customer and be treated like any other shopper or patron in the business in question. After you perform the requested shop, you fill out information on your experience for the company – usually online, these days. Businesses may get these anonymous reports further down the line as their corporate office decides, so your secret shopping can actually result in on-the-ground improvements in local businesses.
For these shops, you are usually paid a flat fee – the reported range is anywhere from $5 to $28 – and you may be reimbursed for all or part of what you purchased while on the shop. Usually, you’re given a dollar amount up to which you’ll be reimbursed for a purchase. People have also reported occasionally being allowed to keep relatively expensive items they’ve purchased – which they’ve been reimbursed for – but that’s a rare occurrence.
Don't Get Scammed
Secret shopping is a job offer that’s easily co-opted by scammers out to prey on people looking for legitimate opportunities. It’s extremely important that you both use your common sense and also check up on each opportunity for any scam reports made about it. A simple Google search will often let you know if a company or a type of job has been flagged as fraudulent. Just remember: if someone is offering to pay you absurdly well for essentially no work – if it’s a job that just sounds too good to be true – it usually is a scam.
One of the more popular secret shopper scams involves cashing a check then either wiring money to a specific account or sending a money order to someone. You may be given either a check – often for an amount over $1000 – to deposit in your bank account or a large money order that you’re instructed to cash out (usually via a check-cashing service like that offered at Walmart or payday loan companies). Once you’ve got the money – the check may even appear to be successfully deposited in your account – you send a large amount on as requested and keep a small amount for yourself. Of course, then the check bounces or the money order comes back as fraudulent and either your bank or the check-cashing company has you on the hook for that missing money. You’ve been scammed.
Don’t fall prey for these fraudulent mystery shop gigs. Don’t do a mystery shop for a company – and definitely not for a private individual – that requires you to pay for the opportunity. Look for red flags, trust your instincts, and double-check every job you come across for legitimacy.
You can also consult the Federal Trade Commission’s page on Mystery Shopper Scams.
Where to Find Legit Secret Shopper Jobs
Happily, since we live in the Information Age, it’s relatively easy both to figure out which jobs are scams and which ones are legitimate secret shopping opportunities. There are plenty of other people who’ve already done this part of the job for you – secret shopping pioneers who’ve been doing this gig for more than a decade and publicly sharing which companies are trustworthy and offer reliable, verifiable work.
- BestMark – this company provides mystery shoppers and exit interviewers for many businesses, including Fortune and Global 500 companies.
- IntelliShop has over 580,000 secret shoppers registered with them – you'll be given a test before you can sign up, download the relevant apps, and set your schedule.
- Market Force Information points out that their mystery shoppers get to eat and shop for free at their favorite brands in return for evaluating customer service, product selection, cleanliness, and more.
- Sinclair Customer Metrics works with secret shoppers and goes beyond the customer experience with their clients to measure employee satisfaction as well.
You’ll notice that each of the above companies include a stamp from MSPA Americas, which is one of the best signs that a secret shopping company is on the level. They're the trade association for this whole customer experience industry, which includes secret shopping. They encourage both evaluators (that includes secret shoppers) and companies that evaluate the customer experience to register with them to protect the industry as a whole. They also collect and provide notice of scams.
What to Expect as a Secret Shopper
When secret shopping, you must understand that there’s work when there’s work. These companies post assignments as they come available, and you can choose from those gigs that show as available to you. Some assignments may be available depending on your demographics. You’re not guaranteed a certain amount of work as a secret shopper.
The length of time you might need to spend on a secret shopping excursion varies, depending on what you’re asked to do. If you just need to go in and buy a watch, you might be in and out in under 15 minutes. If you’re asked to pose as someone thinking about buying a television, it could take longer as you engage salespeople in talk about the product. And if you’re doing a mystery shop at a restaurant, it could take an hour – depending on how busy they are, what you order, and how long you spend eating (and observing). You’ll get a feel for how long these shops might take as you go along, and soon find yourself knowing when you can fit one in on your lunch break or your commute home from work and when you need to save one for your days off (if you have other employment).
Depending on the secret shopping company, you may be paid via PayPal, direct deposit, or check. I’ve seen reports of these payments being made monthly, but it may vary depending on the company, so pay attention when you sign up for mystery shop assignments.
If you’re interested in getting paid while you’re out doing errands or shopping, secret shopping isn’t the only avenue for you to do so! Check out these other opportunities:
TaskRabbit shows you small tasks that people need done locally, and you can sign up as a “Tasker” to complete those tasks and get paid – assignments vary from small handyman jobs to cleaning to delivery to furniture assembly and more.
GigWalk is similar to TaskRabbit – you sign up as a GigWalker and, using their app, see a list of available gigs that you can complete while running around town.
Maximize Your Earnings
Swagbucks is just one example of a GPT (get paid to) service where you can earn points (Swagbucks) while doing shopping you’d do anyway – and those points can be converted into PayPal money or gift cards.
Ebates is another company that essentially pays you for shopping you’re doing anyway – using links from their site, make your purchases, and Ebates splits the kickback they get from the retailer with you.
Ibotta gives you money back on your eligible grocery purchases (and others, like those made through some drugstores). Make sure your preferred stores are on their participating retailers list, make your shopping list and review their app for items you can earn money back on.
All this talk of shopping has put me in a shopping mood! Get out there with me – and make some money while you do.