Learn the Truth About Mystery Shopping
Written by Sarah L Hoffman
I’ve heard a lot of misconceptions about mystery shopping lately, so I’ve decided to write an article about it. Unfortunately, because of all the scams out there, many people believe that all mystery shopping opportunities are scams. However, this just isn’t true. There are scams in this area, but there are legitimate mystery shopping jobs as well!
First, let’s talk about what a mystery shopper does. Mystery shoppers are sometimes called secret shoppers or shadow shoppers. A mystery shopper will enter a place of business to gather information about service, quality, cleanliness and other issues for the owners of the business. The business owner wants to make sure their business is being run correctly. Usually, the shopper will be directed to purchase something, ask questions or do other things typical of a regular customer. After the visit, the shopper will fill out a report about what happened. Contrary to popular belief, the business owners do not usually want to hear the shopper’s opinion about the store, they just want to know exactly what happened during the visit.
Many different types of businesses who operate in the retail environment utilize mystery shoppers. These businesses include retail stores, banks, restaurants, hotels, salons and spas, housing, health care providers, and others. Because so many businesses utilize this service, there are millions of mystery shoppers all over the world. Unfortunately, the interest in this position has tempted scammers. Therefore, when looking for a legitimate mystery shopping job, you must be extremely careful. The easiest way to make sure that you are dealing with a legit company is to visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association website. In addition, if a mystery shopping company asks you to pay a fee, it’s time to run in the other direction. Real shopping companies won’t ask you to do this. Be wary of claims of outrageous pay, such as $50 – $100 or more an hour. This is unrealistic and not indicative of typical pay from a legit company.
Pay for completed shops can vary widely, from a few dollars to $100. Jobs that require a specialized knowledge or skill, take a long time or are difficult to find may pay more than other jobs. Sometimes, the shopper is directed to make a small purchase. When this happens, they are reimbursed for the cost.
Most people do mystery shopping as a part-time way to make some extra money. If the shopper lives in a large city, it might be possible to make a living doing secret shopping only, but it would be difficult and would require a lot of time and a great deal of organization! For a lot of people, it’s a great way to obtain free products or services that they would have to purchase otherwise (such as gasoline).
The best way to get started is to apply to as many shopping companies on the MSPA website as possible and go from there. You don’t need any special skills, as each company will require you to complete their training before you are allowed to complete shops.
Be aware that mystery shopping companies will ask you a lot of questions, and some of them may make you uncomfortable or they may seem senseless. However, remember that these companies are sometimes looking for a shopper who meets a particular profile. You need to answer their questions honestly. In addition, remember that these companies will need to know your social security number. You will be an Independent Contractor, and the mystery shopping companies are required by law to report your income to the IRS. Before entering your social security number on any mystery shopping website, make sure that it is secure by checking that the website address begins with “https” and that you see the image of a lock at the bottom of your browser window. Remember to NEVER pay a fee to get a mystery shopping job, or to gain access to a “list” of legitimate mystery shopping companies. Keep your wallet closed!
Be wary of the “overpayment” scam utilized by many scammers. In this scam, they send you a hot check from which you are supposed to keep your “pay” and wire the rest to another location. If you do this, the check will bounce and you will be responsible to your bank for the entire amount of the check.