Mystery Shopping: A Scam or Total Score?

Recently, a friend told me about his experiences as a Mystery Shopper. I thought it sounded like a fun opportunity to make a little extra money and learn more about some of the businesses in my town. A free meal here and there didn't sound bad, either! I did a little internet research on the subject and signed up with two different mystery shopping firms. During my research, I noticed the number one inquiry and concern about mystery shopping is whether or not it's a scam. Since I believe customer experience and word-of-mouth recommendations are the best way to shop, I'm sharing my mystery shopping experience with you!

What is Mystery Shopping? - Also referred to as secret shoppers or mystery consumers, these shoppers are paid to evaluate a business by performing a specific task at that business. Mystery shopping is a three-part relationship. Basically, the owner of a business (referred to as a Client) hires a secret shopping firm which then hires individual mystery shoppers. The middle-man role of the firm is important to help protect identity, handle payments legally, and make it easier for clients and shoppers to find each other. As a shopper, your job is simple. Follow the instructions for each shop and submit a survey of your experience afterward.

Why is it Important? - As a mystery shopper, you actually have a direct impact on the businesses you shop at. Your thoughts and concerns are being considered and paid for by the owners. If done professionally and with sincere intent, the shops and surveys you complete become a vehicle for change.

Where Can I Shop? - There is a wide variety of potential shops available and it will depend on your location. Car dealerships, gas stations, restaurants/bars, retail stores, etc. are all examples of places you might be asked to evaluate.

How do I become one? - The process is relatively similar across all firms. You enter some personal information and are asked to write a short paragraph based on a specific prompt. This is done to evaluate your ability to convey your ideas in a clear, detailed manner without spelling or grammatical errors. Once accepted, you create an account and can start searching for shops in your area.

What are the Benefits? - Besides helping improve businesses in your area, you are also making a little extra cash. Most firms pay out once or twice monthly with either direct deposit or a mailed check. You are also in charge of your own schedule. You can sign up for as many or as few available shops as you would like. There is no minimum requirement, at least not with the firms I belong to. One thing I especially like is that you are eligible to take on shops anywhere, not just in your hometown. If you happen to be going on vacation, you can search the area for shops and potentially treat your family to a free meal! You can also sign up to be a shopper with multiple companies. I highly recommend doing this, especially if you live in a smaller town where shops might be few and far between.

How Much Can I Make? - This is somewhat dependent on your schedule and the number of shops available in your area. Most of the shops I have seen pay between $5-$20 on top of reimbursing you for anything you are required to purchase. This means you can also get some things you would already buy for free! I've seen shops for oil changes that will reimburse you for the cost of the service, plus provide a stipend. You just got paid to do something you would typically have to pay for. Sounds pretty good doesn't it? Here I am getting my first secret shopper payment!

How to Know if it's Legitimate - Mystery shopping firms don't usually reach out to you. If you want to become a shopper, you have to find them. Never reply to an email or click a link that claims to be a mystery shopping firm if you haven't reached out to them first. Especially never disclose personal or payment information via email. The best way to know which firms are the real deal is to do what you're doing now - read reviews from people who have already done it! That's what I did. After my friend told me about mystery shopping in general, I went online and searched for reviews about the best ones. That led me to sign up with two different companies: BestMark and A Closer Look. So far, I've completed two shops from BestMark, each one requiring less than an hour to complete. I was sent a payment check less than two weeks after submitting my surveys. A Closer Look hasn't had any shops available in my area yet.

Have you ever tried mystery shopping before? Share your experience in the comments! If you're ready to check it out, you can sign up or learn more about BestMark here.