During college, my mother accurately described me as someone who has “champagne taste on a beer budget.” For me, stumbling on mystery shopping was a happy accident. I had previously heard of mystery shopping (or secret shopping) in the past, but I dismissed it as a scam to get my credit card information and social security number. When I decided that it could potentially be something I pursued, I proceeded to scour the internet for reputable companies and tips for being a better shopper. Three years later, I am one of the many top secret shoppers in the Atlanta area. Though I have since graduated college, I continue to act as a mystery shopper.
Mystery shopping is a method of quality control for businesses. Any business involving customer service can benefit from secret shoppers. A secret shopping company is recruited by a business to monitor customer service through anonymous visits and evaluations. These secret shopper companies hire independent contractors to perform these evaluations. I have personally performed shops at hotels, bars, restaurants, concerts, movie theaters, gyms, and more.
Almost anyone can become a secret shopper, but before beginning the application and shopping process, it is important to understand the following:
- Most applications will require a brief logic test (basic math questions, spelling, etc.) as well as a short piece of narrative regarding a recent customer service experience.
- No matter what your age is, there is a secret shopper job for you. Certain shops cater to different age groups. For example, age compliance shops (I.D. verification) typically require shoppers between the ages of 21 and 29. Most shops require the shopper to be at least 18 years old. For those requiring the consumption of alcohol, shoppers must be 21 or older.
- You are not obligated to perform a minimum number of shops per month, although you can be capped at how many shops you can be signed up for at one time. As an independent contractor for the secret shopper company, you create your own schedule.
- You are not obligated to only shop in one area. I have frequently created entire vacations out of mystery shopping jobs. I will stay at a secret shopper hotel, eat at secret shopper restaurants, grab snacks at secret shopper grocery stores, etc. If you are traveling through an airport, there are often special shops that can only be completed by shoppers that are traveling.
- Mystery shopping is not a means to “get rich quick.” While you can make money performing shops, the majority of shops only include reimbursement. There have been times where I have gotten paid $25 just to visit a jewelry shop, where I was not required to purchase anything. Likewise, there have been times where I have not gotten paid to visit upscale restaurants. However, I am often fully reimbursed for meals that cost over $100 for two people. While you might not make money, you will have memorable experiences that would have otherwise been out of your budget.
- A reputable secret shopping company will NOT ask you to pay to register as a shopper. You should be able to sign up for shops without paying for access to the database. However, many secret shopper companies will require you to front the money for your expenditures. You will then be reimbursed in the form of a check at a later time.
- A list of reputable companies (as voted by registered independent contractors) can be found through the MSPA-NA (Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America). Of the companies listed, A Closer Look is by far the best. The wide variety of shops and flexibility in scheduling make it a perfect choice for most people, from young professionals to retired folks and all of those in between. You can apply to be a shopper for their site here.
Like all things in life, becoming a successful secret shopper will take time. Read over the guidelines carefully. If you are uncertain about any aspect of the instructions, get in touch with the secret shopper scheduler for clarification.
Failure to follow instructions can result in non-payment (though I have personally never had that happen). In the event an editor has a question, be sure to reply as soon as possible. Follow these tips and you will be well on your way to becoming a successful shopper in your area in no time!