Have you ever heard of those mythical jobs where you’re hired to go into a store or restaurant as a customer and then report back and get paid? Generally, that person is known as a secret shopper or a mystery shopper.
Yeah, well, here’s a little treat – they’re real. I had forwarded over a link to Lisa for a company called Market Force Information that acts as a liaison for this exact purpose. Sure enough, after Lisa dug into it some more, she thought it was interesting, and decided to sign up.
So now we have a secret shopper in the family. She’s done several assignments already in the few weeks since we’ve moved back to the U.S. from Panama.
So today I’ll tell you a little more about what this is all about, if it’s legit, and if it’s worthwhile for some supplemental income.
What is a secret shopper?
The idea behind being a secret shopper or mystery shopper is pretty simple. For larger companies with many branches or franchisees throughout the country (or world), it can be difficult for the company headquarters to ensure that each location is doing what it should be. Some examples of concerns that could vary among some of these companies might be questions such as:
- Are you being greeted when you walk in?
- Are the employees friendly and asking questions they should be asking you?
- Is the place clean?
- Are they preparing things properly and wearing any required sanitary protection like gloves or hairnets?
Having random and *hopefully* unbiased customers come through and report back on what they experience can help fix this. A company’s HQ can get the feedback they need to know if their processes are being followed as they should or if something needs to be corrected.
In most cases, companies will outsource this task to mystery shopping companies that specialize in this.
And that’s where the role of the secret shopper comes into play.
As a secret shopper, you’re given some bullet points of what to look for or to ask at the location. Then you just go in, do what’s asked, and leave. You’ll then usually fill out a survey to report your findings and you’re done.
Not too shabby, right?
Considering that you’re choosing which assignments to accept along with a date with a time range to accept, there’s a lot of flexibility in a gig like this. We’ll talk about whether the pay matches that flexibility shortly.
Are these mystery shopper opportunities legit?
This is where you need to be careful – there are scams where you could be tricked into sending in (and losing) some of your own hard-earned money. You should never have to pay to get a job as a secret shopper or to see their lists of available jobs.
Because of this, you should stick to the major companies that have a reputation for being legit. And yes, there are several of them out there. Some of the ones that seem to be recommended quite a bit are:
- Market Force Information
- Sinclair Customer Metrics
- Mystery Shopping Service
- Elite CXS
- Secret Shopper
- Service Evaluation Concepts
I will say that Lisa has only been going through Market Force Information so I can’t personally vouch for the other secret shopper companies listed. Be sure to do some research on whichever one you decide to use beforehand.
What’s the actual process like as a secret shopper?
Once Lisa signed up as a mystery shopper for Market Force, she was immediately accepted. At that point, she needed to enter her tax information to complete her profile. Be aware that this included asking for her Social Security number.
Of course, they need that for tax purposes (a Form 1099 is sent to anyone earning $600 or more during the year). Regardless, we took a few minutes to pause and dig in further to ensure this was a legit company before continuing.
They also prompted for banking information so they can send your payments via direct deposit. The other option is to have the checks mailed to you.
Again, these are all pieces of information that are needed for them to legitimately hire you to do jobs with them. However, they’re all sensitive pieces of information so be sure that you’re working with a company that’s actually legitimate before giving this out.
Once everything is done, it’s time to have some fun!
You can then browse the Market Force website or use their Eyes:On app for Android or iPhone to find some opportunities. You can search in your area or look in other areas and you can filter by distance, too.
On Lisa’s account, she’s seeing 110 places listed within a 30-mile radius available over the next month. Obviously, this will vary depending on your location.
You can filter down to the kinds of places you’d like to see (i.e. fast food, grocery, pharmacy, etc.). You can also change the location, distance radius, and date range.
Clicking on an individual shop offer will tell you the information you need to know. This includes what they pay, what you’ll be doing, any reimbursements, various rules such as being there at specific time ranges, and other instructions.
You can then accept it, decline it, or even make an offer in some cases.
Once you’ve found the one you like and have accepted it, they’ll likely have you answer a few quick screening questions. These are to ask you things such as if you work at that company or if you’re willing to spend your own money and be reimbursed.
Assuming you qualify, you should be immediately approved and ready to go. Be sure to follow all instructions exactly. Failing to do so could mean you won’t get paid for the job.
In some cases, you might be asked to take some photos while there or buy something to be reimbursed like at a restaurant. Food tastes so much better when someone else is paying for it! 🙂
Depending on the place, it shouldn’t take too long to do. Unless it’s a restaurant that’s instructed you to eat there, it generally takes Lisa around 15-30 minutes at a place.
After doing the job, you need to wrap things up by filling out the questionnaire within a certain amount of time (i.e. within 8 hours after completing the visit). There might be somewhere around 20 questions – most are multiple choices while some may ask for comments to be written.
They’ll have you upload any photos requested and any receipts to be reimbursed.
The whole questionnaire process usually takes Lisa less than 30 minutes to do from start to finish.
And that’s it… mission complete! You’re now a secret shopper!
Can you make any money doing this?
Being a secret shopper isn’t going to make you rich. In all actuality, if you already have a full-time job, you might find it hard to work on a lot of assignments anyway based on when they want them done.
But if you’ve got some flexibility in your schedule and you’re just looking for a little extra cash, being a secret shopper ain’t too shabby of a gig!
A lot of the assignments Lisa’s been seeing are paying around $15-$25. I’d almost look at that as an hourly rate in most cases because by the time you drive there, do the assignment, drive back, and complete the questionnaire, it takes about an hour.
So that’s not too bad on the pay scale considering it beats minimum wage in a lot of states (currently $9.30 in Ohio).
However, it’s also not something you’re going to easily fill a day doing. Instead, you’ll likely have a few here and a few there.
That said, maybe I’m wrong because sites like ZipRecruiter tend to have a different opinion:
“As of May 20, 2022, the average weekly pay for a Mystery Shopper in the United States is $800 a week.”— ZipRecruiter
That’s not too bad at all! If you were consistently pulling that off, you’d be bringing in $41,600 per year.
Regardless, a lot of it will be what you put into it. You can line up as few or as many assignments as you want. So the potential to make a decent income is there if you want it. I would guess that Lisa will make a few hundred dollars a month as a secret shopper.
Payments are sent out monthly via ACH or snail mail depending on what you selected.
“Shop payment is sent once per calendar month for all shops approved in the previous calendar month. For example, shops approved in January will be included in the February payment.”Market Force – Tips for a Successful Shopper Journey
That said, we haven’t gone long enough for Lisa to get her first “paycheck” yet. I don’t anticipate any problems but it’s still worth noting.
Also, be aware that not all companies will pay you directly with a paycheck. Although most of the companies I listed pay you based on the assignment (like Market Force does), some might not. They may just cover your meal, or a hotel room, or reimburse you for some other purchase you get to keep. So it’s important to review each company and the assignments before moving forward.
So, is it worth it?
It depends on what you need out of it. The amount of money you’ll make probably won’t make you rich, but it can be a decent source of additional income with the added benefit of flexibility.
Lisa’s been enjoying this so far and she’s already turned it into a sort of game. It seems like every time we have plans to go somewhere, she says, “Ok, I found XYZ on the secret shopper list right nearby so we’ll need to leave a little early so we can stop there first.” I like that!
As I publish this, we just started a month-long road trip around the country. Lisa’s excited to try to make some stops along the way doing mystery shopper assignments periodically. Maybe she’ll get some free lunches or dinners with a few bucks to throw in toward these crazy gas prices!
She might join some of the other companies I mentioned earlier as well just to have more selection, too.
Once we’re back from the road trip, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lisa continues to do these periodically. It doesn’t take a lot of effort and it gives us a little extra money to play with. Additionally, she has the flexibility to do this on and off alongside the part-time substituting she wants to eventually get back to.
Both aren’t too time-consuming and she has the choice to do one, both, or none depending on the mood she’s in. One of the greatest aspects of financial independence is being able to do things because you enjoy them not because you need to!
I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out over the long run. Right now though, it’s a fun little way to earn a little extra money on the side.
Have you ever done or considered becoming a secret shopper before?
Plan well, take action, and live your best life!
Thanks for reading!!