Mystery shopping is a market research tool used by companies, watchdog organizations and third-party research companies. It has been used since the early 1940s as a way to measure a brand’s compliance with regulations, quality of customer service at a specific branch, or simply gather information about the product or service offered.
The mystery shopper pretends to be a real shopper, observes the service (sometimes, even records how employees handle a customer), leaves the store, and sends a report or a filled-up questionnaire to the company in exchange for gifts or cash.
If you’ve been trying to hustle side cash online for over a decade, I bet you’re aware of what mystery shopping is. There was a time when scams used this “online gig” as a way to trap unsuspecting home-based workers to pay a fee in order to gain access to a list of companies paying people to become a mystery shopper. Technically, getting paid to shop is a legit side cash opportunity, but the “scam” part begins when some people sell information that should’ve been free.
How Does Mystery Shopping Work?
Today, mystery shopping companies exist to serve as a platform that connects shoppers with client companies that need people to spy on certain aspects of their business.
When a company hires a mystery shopping company, they work together in creating a survey model that defines what data the client needs to measure. These may include anything from:
• Number of employees manning the store
• Amount of time the shopper was entertained
• Types of products offered as up-sells
• Friendliness level of employees
• How employees closed the sale, or encouraged the shopper to come back again
• Employee compliance with company guidelines relating to appearance, speed of service, cleanliness, and more
• Employee’s product knowledge
Once all details have been gathered, the mystery shopping company lists a detailed instruction for any mystery shopper interested in getting the job done.
Mystery shoppers then visit the assigned store, restaurant, or any other business center and pretend to be a customer. They order an ordinary item and assess employee’s skills and knowledge about the product, observe the store’s condition, identify employee names during the visit, and more (depending on the details of assignment). In some cases, secretly-taken photos or videos may be required. Mystery shoppers then submit their gathered data to the mystery shopping company.
When all volunteer shoppers completed the task, the mystery shopping company uses the data to examine information and create a comprehensive report about the combined analysis from all mystery shoppers.
How Much Can You Earn from Mystery Shopping?
During its heyday, companies pay somewhere from $5 to $20 for every shop, branch, or store shoppers visit. If the assignment requires the shopper to actually buy a product, the shopper will receive a reimbursement on top of the cash payment. After the 2008 recession, companies began pulling back their marketing funds to save money and gave rewards or gifts to shoppers instead.
Today, payment has been restored to an average $15 per assignment with reimbursements and/or gifts. The number of assignments a mystery shopper can take in at any given time depends largely on the mystery shopping company they are affiliated with.
10 Legit Mystery Shopping Companies
- Best Mark – There are two main reasons to trust Best Mark – First, it was featured by Oprah and second, its BBB rating is consistently positive. This company is one of the oldest and with the biggest number of assignments available.
- KSS International – Previously known as Kern Scheduling Services from 1998 to 2001, KSS International isn’t a mystery shopping company. It provides a platform for companies to connect with mystery shoppers. Payment is sent via PayPal directly by the company that hired the mystery shopper.
- Perception Strategies – This healthcare marketing and research firm has been conducting mystery shopping assignments to doctors’ offices for years. Perception Strategies has an A+ BBB Rating and offers phone-based and in-shop assignments. Application to become a mystery shopper is harder than the rest on this list though.
- Secret Shopper – Operating for over 25 years, this international business lets anyone become a mystery shopper without much requirements.
- Market Force – Popular for the fast food assignments that they often carry out, Market Force has been around since 1972.
- About Face – Known for having one of the higher rates-per-shop (At $25 to $45 a pop), About Face sends payments via PayPal.
- Sinclair Customer Metrics – Mystery shop on convenience stores, banks, restaurants and retail stores. Available via phone and in-store assignments.
- IntelliShop – This company is known for having a transparent mystery shopping process, including fees for shoppers and process of hiring. They have online, in-store and phone-based shopping assignments, and caters to the most industries than any other companies on this list. IntelliShop also has A BBB Rating.
- Quest for Best – This A+ BBB-rated company offers mystery shopping via phone, internet or in-store. Most of the jobs are available in the Midwestern and Southwestern United States.
- GAPbuster Worldwide – Founded in 1994, this Australia-based company lets mystery shoppers dine or shop for cash. There are equal amounts of good/bad reviews about Gap Buster, but the company does pay via ETF (electronic funds transfer) at the end of each month.
The Bottom Line
Mystery shopping scams that victimize people who want to earn money on the side still exist. As such, if you’re interested in becoming a mystery shopper, the first thing you should know is that none of the legit companies listed above require sign-up fees, or payment for certification.
The good news though, is that there are a lot of mystery shopping companies to choose from in 2017, and since these companies do not hire shoppers full-time, you can join as many as you like and juggle assignments from two or more companies.