You may have heard of mystery shopping, or "secret shopping," and wondered what it's all about. Can you really get paid to shop? The short answer is yes... but it's a little more complicated than that.
I've been a mystery shopper for the past couple of years, and I've found it to be rewarding, but it's definitely still a job. Your assignments will require intense focus, and you'll need to write detailed reports about your experiences quickly. Jobs range from eating a cheeseburger, to asking about opening a bank account, to test driving a car. It can be interesting and exciting, and you'll feel a little bit like a secret agent. Sometimes you're even assigned a code name!
What you need to succeed
A good memory. You'll have to pay attention to details, names, descriptions of people, cleanliness of each store, and more, and you won't be able to write down any notes. It's important not to reveal your status as a mystery shopper.
Attention to detail. How many people were in line ahead of you? What was the exact greeting you got when you walked into the store? You'll need to take mental note of things like this, and hold the details until you can write them down.
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A good grasp of written English. When you do write up your report, you'll need to describe everything clearly so that someone who wasn't at the store can still understand the exact experience that you had.
A little bit of cash. It might be weeks before you're reimbursed for expenses. Some companies reimburse faster than others.
A decent camera. Many assignments require you to discreetly take pictures.
Where to find jobs
Many mystery shopping companies advertise their jobs on craigslist or other local job boards, but watch out for scams (more about that later). You can also visit the job listings on the MSPA-NA (Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America) website. Click the "Independent Contractors" tab for job listings and other resources. You might also quickly find jobs by signing up with one of the large mystery shopping companies that have opportunities all around the United States. I've personally done work for A Closer Look, Bestmark, Sinclair Customer Metrics, and Strategic Reflections. If you're in a different country, try International Service Check.
Watch out for scams
You should never have to pay to find out more information about mystery shopping jobs. A real company will want to give you money for your services, not the other way around. You should also watch out for any company that gives you a job involving cashing a large check and sending them the funds through Western Union. This is a common scam. Your bank might release the funds to start, but they'll quickly be removed from your account once the bank discovers that the check is fake. If you've already sent the money, you'll be the one paying the price for this scam. If an assignment feels fishy, trust your instincts.
You probably won't get rich by mystery shopping. But if you have more time than money at the moment, it's a great way to earn a little extra cash and maybe get some free meals while you're at it.