Should I become a Secret Shopper?
April 14, 2008 2:25 PM   Subscribe

Can I really make extra money as a Secret Shopper? I'm looking for some part-time work and am considering becoming a Secret Consumer after seeing a job listing for this on a popular job search website. Can anyone vouch for the legitimacy and profitability of first, this type of work, and more specifically the website/organization If so, what's the catch?
posted by djuna to Work & Money (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
In general, no. Most of the sites advertising for "secret shoppers" want you to complete a number of offers at your own expense before considering you. Most people never make it to the end of the offers, which can often cost thousands to complete; the few i have read of who did were disappointed. In particular, wants you to pay them $20 to send you a list of places where you could apply for a job without having paid the $20. Snopes has a good article on Secret Shopper Scams.
posted by ubiquity at 2:42 PM on April 14, 2008

I signed up with KSS and have done a few shops with them. Mainly for a grocery chain. I had signed up a long time ago for a "mystery shopper certification." It was $49 to basically get listed as a mystery shopper for a bunch of shopping companies.

I did a bunch of thrift store shops at $5 a shop plus $5 in merchandise. The shops took about 20-45 minutes depending on the size of the store. So that's around $10 an hour if you can fit 2 stores in a hour, which can be hard to do when there are only 2 thrift stores in town. Plus I hated the fact the one of the requirements of the shops was asking an employee to be dishonest and break the rules of pricing.

The supermarket shops were $20 each. And by god were they thorough. I remember at least 75 questions, you have to visit each and every department and talk to at least 8 employees, and visit the bathrooms and go to customer service and ask a non-customer service question. So you spend around 30 minutes in the store and 30-45 minutes trying to remember all the details they want, the color of the floor, did the milk section smell bad, were the trashcans full, did everyone have a button on...etc.

If you can fit in a bunch of stores in a day, it's good money but other shoppers are competing for the same assignments and if you aren't online volunteering for them as soon as the shop is available then you miss out a lot.

The only good shops are restaurants and theme parks, and let me tell you, the second they become available there are 500 other people trying to get them. It's good work if you dedicate your life to it, I got my buddy started doing it and he eventually went all in and makes around $200 a day, the area he shops is roughly a 200 mile swatch of California so he spends a good deal of time in the car. If he was doing it part time he would not be making $200 a day.

The bigger cities make more money per shop and have closer locations but there are also more shoppers competing with you to get the jobs.
posted by M Edward at 2:43 PM on April 14, 2008

My sister has been doing it for a long time. What made it pretty good back in the day but tougher now is the price of gas. She'd get a list of stores to shop, they instructed her to spend $10 and thy'd pay her $10 on she got $10 worth of goods and $10 cash for her trouble. She only shopped grocery stores so the compensation wasn't awful but she'd have to spend time doing a write-up on her experience. If you can stay in a relatively compact area and nbot spend resources on gas and travel then it could be worth your while.
posted by vito90 at 2:45 PM on April 14, 2008

Go with a MSPA member company if you want to deal with legit people. The MSPA ethics statement says that member companies aren’t allowed to charge their shoppers to apply for a shop.

You can’t make tons of money doing it, but you may be able to get some merch or services that you might have bought anyway, and be reimbursed for it. The sweetest jobs, such as concert/sports tickets, and even travel and hotel stays, are often closely held and offered to the company’s best, most reliable shoppers.
posted by ijoshua at 3:17 PM on April 14, 2008

im curious - how does doing this type of stuff affect your taxes?

i mean, im guessing this type of work is not at all under the table, so ...

is this stuff easy to keep track of and claim? im assuming you cant just ignore the value of the goods you receive.

sorry if this is a very basic tax question, but i just dont know.
posted by gcat at 4:16 PM on April 14, 2008

You get a lot of 1099s. I did 35 shops I got 35 1099s. Each listing $10 or $20 or $5 or $whatever. It was a pain. This was about 5 years ago, I think a lot of the companies are consolidated now so you get 1 1099 from each company.

Mystery Shopper Tax Primer
posted by M Edward at 4:38 PM on April 14, 2008

I did this for a while, mainly hitting a chain of health food markets in LA. It was not a lot of work, but it was dull, hardly worth the $10 in purchases they'd comp (which had to come from a section of the store that the company selected, so often it would be something I would not otherwise have bought) and the small cash payout (if I recall correctly it was about $7/visit). I had to check out the cleanliness of the bathroom, ask tricky questions of a staff member in a particular department and of the checker (they all must have known I was the secret shopper, real people don't ask such questions), then go home and write up the experience.

Another secret shop I did a couple times was hotels in seaside towns a few hours away, which I pretended were "vacations." These didn't pay, but your room was comped. Omigod, what tedious pages of questions had to be answered, what nooks and crannies poked into, what steam table breakfast selections sampled, and how yucky most hotels are when you look beyond the surface sights.

I had access to a lot of other shops from the various companies I signed up with, but these were the least horrid sounding ones, and since I was only doing it for kicks on the side, I didn't sign up for the hundreds of fast food shops or very low paying intimidate-the-cashier shops.
posted by Scram at 4:42 PM on April 14, 2008

I did a couple of these when I was a student. The biggest pain in the ass was that they only wanted shops during a particular point in time, often an odd hour. Sure, I want a Potbelly sandwich at 10pm, why not?

Then it was a pain in the ass to get paid—they wouldn't accept scans of the receipts, only faxes, and they were regularly late with the checks, all the while playing this passive-aggressive game about how I needed to be volunteering for more jobs, because otherwise the ones that I wanted would be assigned to other folks. All this while dragging their feet on the pay.

I only managed to get paid for about three out of ten visits, though I was pretty careful about what I bought. Then the company I worked for was bought out and they gave me a whole rigmarole about seniority and how I couldn't get sandwich shops any more, and it wasn't worth my time. Now every two months or so, there's a new person in charge of the outfit and they send me an email wanting me to go back and do more shops. Every time, I tell 'em that I've moved to LA and they can fuck off.

So, no, I don't generally believe that people make any real money on these things except for the folks who set them up. When I worked at Kinko's, we'd compile and copy the Quality Assurance reports for these folks, and they got paid pretty sizable bank from the clients, relative to the pennies they were tossing out. Some folks, who I assume were friends and family of the jokers running the show, got to go to pretty posh night spots to evaluate them and were able to get well into the multiple hundreds worth of comped shit, and for that they never failed to turn in glowing reviews.
posted by klangklangston at 5:35 PM on April 14, 2008

I was a secret shopper for about two years, on the side while I worked a full time job.

Most of my work was checking out bars and restaurants, frequently at hotels. It was always recommended that I go with a friend. At bars I'd have to order several drinks (bring a designated driver), and at restaurants I'd have to order an appetizer, entrees for both parties, and one dessert, plus a couple of alcoholic beverages. It saved me a fair amount of money, because once a week I'd get to take someone out to dinner, spend an hour writing it up, and get reimbursed plus ten dollars or so.

I also got a three-day vacation at a Southeast U.S. resort area in the middle of summer. This sounds like a sweet deal, but it wasn't. We had to hit so many of the on-site restaurants and bars that we didn't get any time to enjoy ourselves, and writing up the report took hours.

Mystery shopping was interesting. I've learned many different ways that restaurant and hotel employees skim money, skimp on service, and otherwise don't live up to the owners' desires. It has made me much more critical of service, cleanliness, and so forth, which isn't necessarily a good thing.

I couldn't see doing it as a way to earn money - I think the best you can expect is a bunch of free meals, and so forth.
posted by rednikki at 5:47 PM on April 14, 2008

I actually run a mystery shop company.

First and foremost, NEVER pay to join a mystery shop company, for information, etc. Two good resources to find free and reputable companies are (the MSPA) and - their forums are a great way to learn how it all works.

Restaurant and hotel shops are usually the most highly compensated in product. The most profitable tend to be apartment shops, car dealership shops, etc.

Competition for the 'good' shops can be fierce. Being reliable is your ticket to better shops. Pay very close attention to the instructions. And keep all your documentatoin until you get paid.

Good luck! I have shoppers that do 200-400$ worth of shops a month for me, an d I have some that do one 12$ job here and there for kicks. It varies pretty widely.
posted by mazienh at 6:50 PM on April 14, 2008

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