I have been secret shopping since about 1999. I enjoy it. It’s interesting and sometimes takes me to new places I would not have gone to otherwise. I am an independent contractor, hired by the mystery shopping company. The mystery shopping company in turn was hired by the merchant to do evaluations. Each merchant has their own requirements as to the type of information they want to collect. Those requirements do change from time to times so it’s wise to always read the shop instructions, even if you’ve done that type of shop before. All of the companies I work for interact with me online. The jobs are posted on their website and I click on the ones I want to do. After the shop I fill out an online form evaluating the experience. Reports must be put in promptly. I read the report form before I shop, so I will know what to look for while shopping. In 2012 I bought a scanner because the companies I work for want the receipt or business card scanned in and uploaded with the report. Once upon a time I mailed these in. Technology has marched on and they no longer want that. The scanner/printer/copier/fax combination I bought only cost $59 on sale at Best Buy. Over time it will save me plenty in postage.
Most shopper companies pay a modest fee for your time and reporting. If you have to buy something for the shop they usually reimburse you for the purchase. My main shopper company used to have gasoline shops and eyeglass shops, and that was great. Sometimes they have shops at grocery stores. Many restaurant and retail shops pay both a fee and repayment for purchase. For these shops I do have to pay the money up front for the meal or the item I bought. Around the middle of the following month the shopper company pays me all the fees plus repayment for what I spent during the month. They pay either by check, by direct deposit or through PayPal.com.
Some shops pay a fee only, and you don’t buy anything. For travel agency shops I pretend to be planning a vacation. Then I report on things like how long I had to wait, the agent’s knowledge and courtesy, and the condition of the office. For some retail shops I buy something and then return it, in order to report on the returns process. Other shops pay a reimbursement only. So far I’ve seen this mostly in shops of more expensive restaurants. The shopper company pays me back for buying a meal, but there is no fee in addition. This is the only way I would ever get to eat in the very expensive places, so if it isn’t too far away it’s often worth it to me.
Once I had a track record with my main company, they began to call me when they had an urgent shop. Sometimes another shopper signs up to do the shop but then has to cancel at the last minute. When that happens the company is often willing to pay more than usual in order to get the shop done on time.
For a full list of mystery shopping companies, go to www.volition.com. The link to the list of secret shopper companies is in the fourth section down on the main page: www.volition.com/mysteryUSA1.html. There’s a message board on the site. There you can get a shopper’s eye view of how the companies operate and how reliable they are. Volition.com also has links to paid-to-click programs, survey programs and coupon sites.
Different companies handle different types of shops, and operate in different states and regions. If you live in a big city you may be able to stay pretty busy. Where I am, in an ordinary small city, I might get from one to four shops in a week. (Once I junked the car I got far fewer shops.) This is no big money get rich quick scheme. On the other hand, it’s five or ten or twenty dollars I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I also enjoy a chance to eat out for free, go to a store I haven’t been to before, or get a product or service free.
WARNING: there are many scams out there that claim to set you up with highly paid secret shops. I sometimes get emails offering shops that pay $200 for less than a day’s work. This is nonsense. They want me to deposit a large check of theirs in my bank account, draw out all but $200 and use the cash to send a Western Union money gram. The catch is that their check will bounce. Then I’ll be left with bounced check fees, and poorer by the amount I sent by money gram. Scammers prefer Western Union because it can’t be traced. There are also scams that want you to pay them to connect you with secret shopping jobs. This is nonsense too – real jobs pay you, not you them.