Secret shopper jobs aren’t a new concept.
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In fact, I myself was a secret shopper (or mystery shopper, as it’s also called) years ago with plenty of success.
Being a secret shopper doesn’t equal a full-time or even part-time gig. But it is a great way to earn a bit of extra income or get a few freebies here and there through “easy work” that won’t take up a lot of your time.
In this article, you’ll learn what secret shopper jobs involve, where to apply for work, and how to spot mystery shopper scams.
What Do Secret Shopper Jobs Involve?
Retail chains, restaurants, chain stores, and companies in the hospitality and automotive industry are often on the lookout for regular people who they can hire to assess their brick and mortar businesses from a customer’s perspective.
Often, third-party companies are hired by these businesses to recruit secret shoppers to do objective assessments during their “shopping trips.”
These businesses often provide a set of survey questions for secret shoppers to answer. Sometimes, they have special requests, such as inquiring about a certain promotion, doing a specific transaction (e.g., returning an item), or being a “difficult” customer.
You may also be asked about the appearance of the store; if the surfaces are clean, if the displays are neatly arranged, if the lighting is bright, if the uniforms or outfits of the staff look clean, etc.
You won’t always be asked to buy something, but if the company requires that you do, they will reimburse items bought—up to a certain price—in addition to paying you for your feedback.
A secret shopper, for their part, has to get to the venue where the shop will take place, follow the instructions from the company to the letter, and then write up a detailed report about their experience.
They then also have to hand in receipts (if they were told to purchase anything) so that the company can verify the purchase and reimburse them.
Can working as a secret shopper make you rich?
While there are some who do make a few hundred bucks a month through secret shopper gigs, this is definitely not the case for everyone.
In fact, they’re more of exceptions to the rule.
It’s also important to know that you might not always have time for secret shopper gigs while working a full-time job.
Some jobs need to be completed during a certain time of the day and I’ve found that this often falls within normal business hours.
It’s similar to secret shopping in the sense that you get free stuff and have to provide some feedback for that privilege.
Don’t just get discouraged, though.
I’m not trying to turn anyone away from mystery shopper jobs; they are a fun way to make some extra side cash or get things like meals and clothes for free.
I just want to make sure your expectations are managed.
So if this still sounds like something you’d want to try your hand at, keep reading!
So how much can you earn from secret shopper jobs?
Normally, a secret shopper is paid somewhere between $7 to $40 per shop, plus reimbursements for any money that the shopper had to spend. Sometimes, companies don’t pay extra at all but do reimburse purchases, equaling a free meal or product.
For example, I used to evaluate a local fast-food chain every now and then, where I got free sandwiches every time.
Keep in mind, though, that reimbursements may take a few weeks to be credited to you.
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As is the case with pretty much everything, the amount you’ll earn depends on the company that hires you and how involved your shopping experience needs to be.
If you have to spend a lot of time there, ask a lot of questions, or provide a lot of feedback then you can expect to earn more.
That said, this isn’t always true and many companies just won’t pay more than their standard rate, even if you have to put in more effort with some shops than others.
The income is something you need to consider when taking on any secret shopper job.
It will be especially low in the beginning until you can prove you’re a trustworthy shopper and get better-paying gigs.
Just keep in mind that this is pretty normal for most side gigs where companies hire independent freelancers for temporary stints.
From my experience, being a secret shopper offers just enough perks to warrant the effort and time you need to put in (if you’re not a perfectionist like I am).
There’s a wide variety of companies who need mystery shoppers so you’ll never feel bored with the work, but you can’t rely on it as a steady income.
This is why most people take on secret shopper jobs as side gigs in addition to a full-time job or a few other part-time jobs.
The great thing about applying to become a mystery shopper, however, is that you don’t need any experience, special skills, or certifications.
This makes secret shopping an ideal side hustle for almost anyone. Still, it does help if you have an eye for detail and can remember and follow instructions really well.
14 Places to Find Secret Shopper Jobs
You’ll find most mystery shopping jobs via online portals on mystery shopping companies’ websites.
There may be a few people who work directly with the companies whose businesses they will evaluate, but for the most part, these companies stick to hiring people via mystery shopping companies.
It would be great if you can manage to cut out the middleman, but don’t count on that plan working out.
It’s very important to sign up with authentic mystery shopping companies because there are A LOT of scams out there.
Here is a list, in no particular order, of companies that I’ve worked with before and some that I haven’t worked with, but that I know are legit:
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.
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Previously known as Kern Scheduling Services from 1998 to 2001, KSS International isn’t itself 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.
This healthcare marketing and research firm has been conducting secret shopping assignments to doctors’ offices for years.
Perception Strategies has an A+ BBB Rating and offers phone-based and in-shop assignments.
The application process to become a mystery shopper is harder than the rest of the companies on this list, though.
Operating for over 25 years, this international business lets almost anyone become a secret shopper without too many requirements.
They have various assignments, which is good for maximizing your chances of getting assignments.
5. Market Force
Market Force has been around since 1972 and is a popular choice for secret shoppers who want to be assigned to gas stations, fast food establishments, sit-down restaurants, grocery stores, drug stores, and many other well-known brands.
They also have an app called Eyes:On, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, which makes it simple to find nearby assignments, schedule and complete a secret shopper job, enter your report, and upload pictures if needed.
AboutFace is a mystery shopping and customer experience company founded in Atlanta two decades ago.
Known for having one of the higher rates per shopping assignment, they send their payments via PayPal.
Sinclair’s secret shopping programs have been helping businesses improve their services since 1987.
They have tools like video mystery shopping, where they use hidden cameras to capture details that can otherwise be missed.
Register to be a secret shopper on their sign-up page.
This company is known for having a transparent mystery shopping process, including fees for secret shoppers and their hiring process.
They have online, in-store, and phone-based shopping assignments, and caters to the most number of industries than any other company on this list.
IntelliShop also has an A BBB Rating.
This A+ BBB-rated company offers mystery shopping via phone, internet, and in-store.
Most of the jobs are available in the Midwest and in the South.
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 EFT (electronic funds transfer) at the end of each month.
11. Call Center QA
This secret shopper job opportunity is different in that you can do this at home.
Call Center QA is a company offering telephone mystery shopper jobs.
Get paid $5 for every completed telephone mystery shop (takes around 10 minutes to finish) and an accomplished online feedback form.
12. Helion Research
Helion Research offers mystery shopping services to top brands in various industries. Some of the brands they work with include MasterCard and Mercedes.
They pride themselves on providing free training to their mystery shoppers, as well as paying on a regular monthly schedule.
ACE Mystery Shopping helps businesses all over the country increase their profits through their standard mystery shopping services, as well as their customer service analysis and reputation management.
Their secret shopper jobs pay between $5 to $50 per shop, depending on the shop type, location, difficulty, length of the survey, and other factors.
BES has been in business since 1996, providing mystery shopping services to various industries, including retail, food and beverage, financial, hospitality, electronics, and many more.
Sign up to be notified about secret shopper jobs in your area.
How to Avoid Secret Shopper Job Scams
Like I said above, there are a lot of mystery shopper scams out there, so be vigilant.
Things to look out for include:
Unsolicited offers: Jobs are hard to find and everyone is looking for ways to make an extra buck. Remember, legitimate companies will not go out of their way to find you. You have to find them and apply for the job.
Companies asking for payment: You will never be asked to pay to apply for a job. This is just like any other job in the sense that you’re providing a service and they’re paying you. It’s never the other way around.
They’re not on Google: Real companies will have a website and, often, social media pages as well. Googling an opportunity or company will usually reveal any red flags, especially if you put the word “scam” in your search as well.
Email domain is from a free email service: Legitimate emails will come from email addresses with a corporate website as a domain name; not from Yahoo!, Gmail, Hotmail, etc.
They’re not a member of the MSPA: This by itself doesn’t automatically mean that you’re dealing with a scammer, but having the Mystery Shopping Providers Association seal of approval is a good sign that you’re dealing with a legitimate company.
They need cashed checks, now: Somehow scammers always find a way for their victims to send money to them. When it comes to mystery shoppers, they frequently use fake cashier’s checks. It’s frustrating, but I always try to look on the brighter side. Halina has a nice collection of fake checks going and we’ve had our share of fun trying to scam the scammers.
Bad grammar: One of the hallmarks of a good scammer is bad grammar. Don’t think they’re dumb though, it’s a tried and true scammer technique. Be on the lookout for this.
The Bottom Line
Getting secret shopper jobs will require that you be attentive and thorough.
There are a few tricks to completing this type of job successfully, one of which is being good at pretending to be a customer because you may feel a bit sheepish while doing it the first few times. But once you get the hang of it you can earn a nice supplemental income every month.
Alternatively, if you really love food (and who doesn’t, right?) and would love to get paid to eat, rather than shop around, then check out my list of real ways you could get paid to eat.
It’s very similar work to mystery shopping and you don’t even have to leave your house.
Have you decided to become a secret shopper? Are you applying to become one soon? Let us know in the comments!