Do you love to shop? Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could get paid to make the purchases you already make. Head out to the grocery store, stop by and get my nails done, finish up with some clothes shopping at the local mall. Fantastic, right? Well, that’s not what secret shopping is all about and it’s not as glamorous as it might sound. You still get to be paid to do the shop, just not in massive amounts of money or products, and you just can’t buy whatever you want, plus you have to complete reports. In other words, you’re being paid to complete a service, it just happens to be a service that takes place from a customer perspective. Let me tell you about the reality of secret shopping, where to find legit contract organizations, and the skills and supplies you will need to have in order to be a secret shopper.
There is a lot of great information out there on this topic, but this is a great resource for beginners who want to know more about how to get started with mystery shopping.
What is Secret Shopping?
Secret shopping, also known as mystery shopping or contract shopping, is a way for companies to get an insider view into the customer experience. By participating in secret shopping you can get paid to help companies improve customer service and the appearance of the store.
This is how secret shopping works in it’s simplest form. Company ABC wants to know how the customer experience is with their company, so they contact Contract Organization XYZ for a shop. Contract Organization XYZ posts the request on their job board for contract shoppers to review. Contract shoppers then decide if they can do it and apply for the shop. Contract Organization XYZ determines who the shop is assigned to, and that contract shopper does the shop then completes the report form. Once the report form is submitted Contract Organization XYZ it then is delivered to Company ABC after being reviewed for quality. Company ABC then uses the report how they see fit within their organization and payment is issued to the contract shopper based on the contract organization’s policy.
Often the assigned shops will provide detailed information on what you should be looking for, what you must say, what you must purchase (if anything) and sometimes require you to come up with a cover story on why you are there or what you are looking for. Shops can be for almost any type of store or service. I’ve done them on retail stores, fast food, sit down restaurants, car dealerships, grocery stores, vision clinics, hotels, gas stations and so much more. I’ve been doing secret shopping on and off for over ten years, so I’ve seen a lot, and I’ve also noticed places that seem to improve after my report has been submitted. Will I ever know if my report was the changing factor? I’ll never know for sure, but I like to think so!
How to Know if the Organization is Legit
The best place for a mystery shopper to start is with the Mystery Shopper Providers Association (MSPA). From their site click on the Shoppers tab at the top and you will be provided with a great list of FAQ’s and information for the beginning shopper. Please note, a legitimate shopper organization will never ask you for money for contract services, however MSPA does offer an optional certification program that you can pay for. This is 100% optional and it is not necessary to have to be a shopper. If you are considering certification, I suggest getting a few shops under your belt to determine if secret shopping is the right thing for you before you put any money into certification.
Tips to see if a contract organization is legit:
- They will not ask you to pay for access to shopper opportunities.
- They will not ask you to cash checks and wire transfer funds.
- They will not send you payment prior to completing a shop.
- They are an MSPA approved organization.
It is always a good idea to check with the MSPA to see if a new organization you want to work with really is associated with them. Just because the MSPA logo is on their site, or their site looks legit, it does not mean it really is. If you think you’ve found a scam or want more information on mystery shopping scams, read more at the Federal Trade Commission Website.
What You Need to Become a Secret Shopper
There isn’t a whole lot of supplies you need to become a shopper, but it’s a good idea to have at least some of the basics to help you qualify for more shops:
- Computer with Internet Connection (needed to find jobs and submit reports) **This one is a must!
- Camera that can clearly take pictures of words and details (needed for some some shops requiring pictures of the location and/or product, also needed if you don’t have a scanner and need to submit the receipt) ***This one is also strongly recommended.
- Video recorder (some shops may require a video recorder to qualify for the shop)
- Scanner (needed to upload pictures of receipts, business cards and other documents)
- Stopwatch (to time service)
- Separate email (before registering for companies, create an email account specifically for mystery shopping. You can get 50+ emails a day depending on how many organizations you register with)
- PayPal account (this is how many organizations pay you, it’s not the only option for many, but it is a popular one)
To register for shops you can find some organizations to register with through the MSPA site. From the shoppers tab, scroll toward the bottom and click on the link to search for shopper assignments.
You can also find shops at:
Those are job boards where a variety of contract organizations list jobs. Please note you will be required to register with every contract organization you want to receive job notifications directly from, as well as those you wish to work with. It is not uncommon for a mystery shopper to register with 50 to 100 organizations or more to have the best variety in job selection. Additionally, not every company you register with now will have jobs in your area, but register with them anyway. You never know if they will expand to your area in the future.