Mystery shopping is one safe and legal way to make some money using the Internet. It’s generally ethical and low-risk. What happens is that many corporations, particularly those with widely scattered locations all selling the same products, will pay people to visit a location and report back on the quality of service from a customer’s perspective.
Fast food restaurants, auto dealerships, cell phone stores, banks and many other organizations use mystery shoppers, also called secret shoppers. The shopping jobs are advertised on the Internet on a job-by-job basis, by third party firms on behalf of the companies desiring shoppers. The shopper chooses a location to shop for an offered price on a pre-determined date. The shopper receives detailed instructions and an online form to complete after visiting the store or restaurant. If all goes well, the third-party firm pays the shopper a few weeks later. If the shopper fails to follow instructions, the shopper may not get paid at all. Pay ranges from about $5 to $100 or so per job. Most jobs take less than an hour and pay less than $20.
Mystery shopping allows workers a great amount of freedom to choose how, when and where to work. There are some drawbacks including the fact that, as is the case with most easily accessible jobs, the pay for mystery shopping is low. A job paying $25 may take three to five hours; some jobs only offer to reimburse the cost of a pizza or burger-and-fries meal without further reward. Virtually all the mystery shopping jobs require a written report, with some reports being far more complex and detailed than others. Many require the shopper to submit photos of the location. It’s also common to require the shopper to submit a photo of a business card from an employee at the shopped location. The shopper must submit receipts for any expenses that the mystery shop company will reimburse.
Risks accompany mystery shopping. The main risk is that a shopper may spend time and gas money and never qualify to receive any pay. For example, shoppers often find they have the addresses of a closed location with instructions to check a website or call before visiting. Shoppers who fail to check, and drive to a closed shop, do not receive payment. Shoppers who neglect to get a required business card, even on an otherwise perfectly-conducted shop, will not be payed.
Another risk is the risk of fraud. Legitimate mystery shop jobs rarely asked shoppers to pay anything up front, though many do require a purchase at the site. If someone wants to charge you to register, or charge you to become a shopper, do not pay; use the links within this article to find shopping jobs. And do not ever accept any up-front payment from a stranger that requires you to forward money to someone else, or to return part of the payment. That is the basis for many frauds that prey on job seekers.
As mentioned in the video accompanying this article, the MSPA (Mystery Shopping Providers Association) is a group of legitimate mystery shopping companies; you can check their list of legitimate North American mystery shop companies on their website. Keep in mind that a dishonest person may put the MSPA symbol on their own web page without actually meriting the certification.
To get more feeling for mystery shopping, it’s worthwhile to browse the MysterShopForum and read about other people’s experiences. The Forum’s site includes an extensive list of mystery shop companies operating in the U.S. Some companies hiring mystery shoppers in the U.S. include GFK, Market Force International, Intelli-Shop, SeeLevel, International Service Check, and athPower. Their websites have shopper sign-up pages.