Get paid to shop!
Who wouldn’t like that?
I’m sure you’ve seen those ads somewhere online promising easy money and free products just for shopping.
But is mystery shopping real?
Can you really get paid to shop?…
We are going to answer these and many other questions about this hot topic, plus show you how to avoid scams, as well as giving you a huge list of free and legitimate companies that will actually pay you to shop.
Table of Content
What is Mystery Shopping?
Before we get to the list, let’s find out a little more about this idea and how it works…
Mystery shopping, aka mystery consumer, is one of the methods externally used by companies conducting market research or watchdog organizations.
The tactic can even be used internally by a company to measure its own quality of service, or regulation compliance, or even to collect certain information regarding products/services.
Usually, the exact identity and intent of the mystery shopper is not released to the establishment that is under the scanner. Such people perform certain tasks like buying a product, putting up questions, registering their complaints or even behaving in specific manner.
Later, they provide a detailed feedback and reports of their experiences.
It is basically like paid surveys or focus groups, but instead of taking a survey online or going to a focus group facility and talking about the subject of the study, you actually go to the store, act as a normal shopper, then you report back your experience.
In a way it’s very similar to those product testing surveys you may receives from some of the survey sites, where you use the product for a few days or so, then fill out a survey answering questions about your experience.
Mystery shopping as a powerful tool for businesses, became standard practice way back in the 1940s, when it was used to gauge the integrity of employees. Such shopping evaluations use a variety of tools ranging from basic questionnaires to even complete video and audio recordings.
Secret shopping can also be used across many industries, with common examples being hotels, retail stores, movie theaters, fast food joints, restaurants, gas stations, banks, apartments, car dealerships, health care facilities, and even health clubs.
Since 2010, mystery shopping has been widely adopted in the medical tourism sector. Countless healthcare companies and other providers use this tool to evaluate and improve the overall customer service experience.
How Does it Work?
When a company that provides mystery shopping services is hired by a client company, a survey model is first drawn up and agreed upon by both parties based on which the parameters (that the client wants measured) to be assessed are decided.
Later, these are separated into certain survey assignments and instruments, which are then given to people signed-up with the said mystery shopping services providing company.
Some of the information and details that shoppers usually take note of include:
- The employee count of the store visible upon entering
- The time taken before someone greets the mystery shopper
- The employees’ name
- Whether the greeting is ideal and friendly, as per objective measures
- The questions put up by the mystery shopper in order to locate a product
- The kinds of products displayed
- The sales pitch followed by an employee
- If and how the employee strived to close the deal
- If the employee suggested extra add-on sales
- If the employee extended a visit-again invitation to the shopper
- Cleanliness of store and that of the store associates
- Quickness of service
- Compliance with standards set by the company regarding service, grooming/presentation, and store appearance
Usually, the shoppers are made aware of procedures or instructions to make their transactions unusual than the rest in order to test the service skills and knowledge of the employees regarding a more specific or stringent service issue (aka scenarios).
For example, a mystery shopper at a restaurant might pretend to be lactose-intolerant, or in a clothing store the shopper could ask for gift wrapping service.
In fact, a purchase is not mandatory for every shopping assignment.
While gathering this information, the shopper typically blends in with the regular shoppers at the establishment undergoing evaluation.
He or she might also be asked to click pictures or take measurements, return a purchase, or even count the number seats, products, and the people who visited during that time. The use of a stopwatch or timer is quite common in such a setting.
Once the visit is over, the shopper submits the collected data to the mystery shopping service providing company, whose job is to review and analyze this information.
The company further completes a qualitative or quantitative analysis of the stats involved and forwards a report based on the same to the said client company. Such a report allows the comparison of how a restaurant or store is doing vis-à-vis previously set criteria.
How Much Money Can You Make?
Every shopping assignment is different and as such, requires a different amount of time while the pay is varying as well.
However, on average, a shopping assignment normally takes between 10-120 minutes while the pay for the same can range from $10 to $150.
I have heard of shoppers getting paid up to $300 for an assignment. Again, it all depends on the assignment and its requirement. Plus, in some cases (where applicable) you get to keep the product for free.
What About the Scam Rumors?
The answer is no. It’s not a scam and in fact, is a business worth billions of dollars.
However, don’t rule out running into a mystery shopping scam here or there. As is the case with anything that becomes productive and popular, scammers constantly try to make a quick buck by scamming mystery shoppers in countless ways.
What helps this further is the fact that the mystery shopping industry is not one to go overboard with advertisement (they are very choosy about their shoppers).
This has enabled scammers to be successful at scamming people who are interested and who do not have any way of obtaining reliable information regarding the industry. Such people can’t tell the real from the scam!
However, you can avoid being a victim by being aware of the following things:
- 1. Avoid Mystery Shopper Scam Western Union
The “secret shopper scams western union” is one of the most famous such scams going around. The scam starts with an individual getting a check from a so-called genuine company that specializes in “mystery shopping”.
The person is then asked to deposit the same into his/her bank account and then wire some amount of that money through wire transfer services like Western Union while keeping the remaining money for themselves as reward for the shopping assignment he/she didn’t even do.
Of course, the person discovers that the said check he/she deposited is bad, by which time it’s already a couple of days since the wire transfer via Western Union was done by him/her. Let alone making money, the person actually went on to lose money here!
Always remember that a legit mystery shopping service company never ever sends you a check before the actual shopping is done with at your end.
You are required to shop with your money first and then report the entire experience through phone, email or even in-person, which is entirely dependent on the company you’re working for.
Once this is done over with, the entire amount you spent for the shopping session is reimbursed.
- 2. Do Not Pay to Become a Secret Shopper
One of the good things about secret shopping is that genuine and legit companies never ask for any money/charges for signing-up with them; not even a single cent.
If you encounter a company claiming to provide genuine services asking for any sort of upfront payment/fees to provide you with assignments, turn around without a seconds’ hesitation and walk away!
- 3. If it Sounds too Good to be True, Chances are it Probably is!
This applies to most truly unbelievable offers! For example, where is the sense in a company rewarding you with a $2000 flat TV or even a solitaire ring for a shopping evaluation assignment that barely lasted 20 minutes!
Never forget that mystery shopping companies run a business and if they are throwing money on such handouts, they’d be neck deep in losses.
Simply put, keep your distances from such companies.
Also, the FTC advises consumers to keep away from companies who:
- Put up their ads for mystery shoppers in the “help wanted” section of newspapers or in emails. Although they might indeed be genuine in their intent, chances are pretty high that they are more interested in pitching unwarranted, and probably fraudulent, secret shopping “services”.
- Sell “certification”. A company that uses mystery shoppers normally does not need any certification.
- Assure you a job as a secret shopper.
- Charge fees to allow access to secret shopping assignments
- Sell directories that contain names of firms offering mystery shopping services.
In the event of you being scammed by a company, file your complaint with…
How to Find Legit Mystery Shopper Jobs?
You can become a mystery shopper for a legit company without paying any money.
Here’s how you can do that:
- Search Online
Search the web for organizations that are open to new applications.
Legit companies do not charge even any application fees. Most also accept registrations through their websites.
- Check with the MSPA
There is also the MSPA (Mystery Shop Provider’s Association), which is the governing body for the secret shopping industry.
From the information available on their site, you can decide for yourself as to which companies are reliable and which are not.
- Check with the BBB
contains a track record of near about every business you can name.
Apart from learning more about a company’s history, you can also see if any complaints were filed during the preceding 36 months and how the BBB rates it overall.
Note: You should not turn away from a company just because it doesn’t carry BBB accreditation. All this means is that the company doesn’t pay the fee that is mandatory to be listed as an accredited business. However, it still is recognized as a legitimate business by the BBB.
- Read Related Online Forums
Forums related to MS tend to be informal, but even then they are quite informational since they provide a discussion board where active mystery shoppers share their experiences.
This makes forums a good place to assess the companies that are good to work for and those that are not so good.
- Ask Around
Consider carefully and pay heed to the word going around. Ask around to see if any among your family and friends know or have experience of mystery shopping for any company.
Most people can inform you about the secret shopping companies that are legit in their experience.
100 Legitimate and Paying Mystery Shopping Companies
If you don’t want to waste your time weeding through hundreds of forums and blog posts to find a few legit companies, here is a list of 100 confirmed secret shopping companies that you can do paid shopping assignments for:
A Closer Look
A Customer’s Point of View
A Top Shop
ABA Quality Merchandising
ALCOPS – Allied Corporate Protection Services
Ann Michaels & Assoc
Ardent Services Inc.
Associate Consumer Evaluations, LLC
At Random Communications
At Your Service Marketing
Ath Power Consulting Corporation
Bare Associates International Inc
Barry Leads & Associates Inc.
Beyond Hello Inc
BMA Mystery Shopping & Incentive Programs
Business Evaluation Services
Cirrus Marketing Consultants
Commercial Service Systems
Consumer Research Group
Corporate Research International
Count On Us
Coyle Hospitality Group
Creative Image Consultants (CIA), Inc.
Cross Financial Group
Customer Service Experts, Inc
Customer Service Profiles
Data Quest Ltd.
David Sparks & Associates
Devon Hill Associates
Douglas Stafford North America, Inc.
Ellis Property Management Services
Evaluation Systems for Personnel (ESP)
Excel Shopping & Consulting
Focus on Service
Franchise Compliance Inc.
Graymark Security Group
Greet America Inc.
Hilli Dunlap Enterprises, Inc.
HR & Associates
IAG Infinity Assurance Group
Instant Reply Inc
J.M. Ridgway Co. Inc.
Kern Scheduling Services
LeBlanc & Associates
Management Consultant Group, LLC
Market Viewpoint, LLC
Marketing Systems Unlimited
MarketWise Consulting Group, Inc.
Melinda Brody & Company
Michelson & Associates, Inc.
Mintel International Group Ltd
Mystery Guest, Inc
Mystery Shopping Solutions
National Shopping Service Network, LLC
Nationwide Services Group
Northwest Mystery Shopping Service
Pacific Research Group
Pat Henry Group
Person To Person Quality
Premier Service Consulting
Promotional Network, Inc.
Quality Assessments Mystery Shoppers, LLC
The Quest for Best Mystery Shoppers
Reality Check Mystery Shoppers
Ritter & Associates, Inc.
Satisfaction Services, Inc.
Second To None, Inc.
Sensors Quality Management Inc.
Service Alliance, Inc
Service Evaluation Concepts
Service Excellence Group, Inc.
Service Performance Group Inc.
SG Marketing Group, Inc
The Shadow Agency
Shoppers’ Critique International, LLC
Sinclair Service Assessments
Spies in Disguise
Tips to Find Success as a Secret Shopper
Like any other side income activity, if you want to be successful and make decent money, you have to take this seriously.
Here are some tips to help you succeed in making money as a secret shopper.
- Be Mindful of What is Needed
Make sure you are fully aware of all instructions concerning every assignment and the things required from you, whose examples include evaluating the prices, inventories, or even noting down the names of one or all employees.
- Accept Last Minute Shopping Assignments
Try and accept assignments that come in at the last minute; regardless of how large or small the opportunity is.
- Don’t Ignore Smaller Assignments
Also, treat small assignments with the same importance as large ones. And as is the case with most jobs, do not expect to land a large assignment at the very outset. Just keep performing to your best, which tells the company that you are trustworthy and dependable as a shopper.
Also, assignments come in varying degrees of simplicity. Some are as basic as sitting in a clinic’s waiting room for 30 minutes while some are as difficult (or enjoyable) as a fully paid vacation for a couple of weeks to a distant resort!
- Be Prepared
A majority of mystery shopping companies consider access to the web and email, mobile phones, and even fax machines as an advantage for people working as their shoppers. This is so since it allows the companies to instantly communicate with their shoppers.
For example, to assess the cleanliness of a restaurant, having access to a digital camera is a much better way of recording that aspect rather than writing a full page’s report on the same.
- Shop On Time
When you complete a shopping assignment on time, the company considers you to be reliable. Such an image will surely help you earn bigger and more rewarding shopping assignments in future.
In my honest opinion, this is not something I could earn a living out of.
Yes, there are certain shopping companies that do compensate rather nicely, but with the caveat that shopping assignments won’t come every day of the week. This means that at times, it could be weeks before you got any meaningful and well-paying job.
In short, keep your expectations real.
However, if shopping (and complaining) is something you enjoy, then signing-up with any of these mystery shopping companies would be a good way to make some extra cash on the side!