Did you know you could be paid to shop? Although not quite that simple, there are companies who pay shoppers to go undercover and report on their shopping experience. Here’s how it works.

What is Mystery Shopping?

Shopping bag

Mystery shopping is a program that businesses use to receive feedback from undercover customers. Various retailers and restaurants hire mystery shopping companies, which send secret shoppers to accomplish specific tasks. Owners may be looking for an objective evaluation for such things as quality of service, employee knowledge, restaurant cleanliness or store appearance.

The mystery shopper needs to blend in and pose as a regular customer buying a specific item, asking a few specific questions or playing out a required scenario. For example, a secret shopper may be asked to test out a restaurant staff’s knowledge on new gluten-free meal options and note their helpfulness, service and speed. The shopper must then provide feedback on their experience.

How do I Become a Mystery Shopper?

In Canada, there are several companies that hire mystery shoppers. Look for companies that have a good reputation, are well rated by the BBB and don’t ask you to pay to access their shopping opportunities. Most have an easy online application process.

Once registered, you will have access to job boards where various shopping openings are posted. You can then select the ones you would like to complete. Often, the tasks must be completed at a specific time and date.

What Will I Need to Do?

On the day of your mystery shop, you will need to fulfill your task as described. You will need to pay attention to detail and keep track of the information you were sent to gather. Sometimes you must make a small purchase, while keeping track of specifics such as the cashier’s name, if they greeted you according to company policy and the length of time you waited to be served. Every job is different – secret shoppers can be sent to evaluate just about anything. The job posting will give you the details of what you must do. Once at home, you must write a report or fill out a questionnaire to provide feedback on the experience. Most companies require you to provide a proof of purchase and to complete the feedback within a short time frame, often within 24 hours.

How Much Money Can I Make?

For most people, mystery shopping is a fun way to get free meals, services and products. Most companies will pay you an agreed upon fee or will reimburse you the cost of the items or meals you were asked to purchase. Read the job offers carefully to make sure you fully understand what will be reimbursed. Ordering extras or spending more money than the pre-set limit will be your responsibility.

How much money you make will depend on the assignment and how many jobs you accept. Some use mystery shopping to receive part-time income but the work varies from one month to the next. You never know how many or how few assignments will be available to you.

Mystery Shopping Tips

It’s important to exercise caution when it comes to mystery shopping companies. Some are legitimate businesses, some are not. Since they primarily exist online, it’s easy for scammers to pose as a secret shopper company and take part in fraudulent activity. Legitimate companies will never require you to send money in any way. Never pay to become a mystery shopper and never wire money, cash cheques or transfer funds as part of a mystery shop. Here a few tips to keep mystery shopping a good experience.

  • Research companies before registering with them. Check the BBB, read their policies and ask around for recommendations. It is best when you know someone who has dealt with the company before
  • Don’t give out your credit card information, banking information or other financial details
  • Protect your personal information. Companies can’t send you a cheque if you won’t provide your address, but they shouldn’t need your SIN number, driver’s licence or other personal documents
  • Educate yourself on common scams. Recently, a fake cheque scam was discovered and is still being investigated. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Mystery shops typically don’t involve large amounts of money or high expenses – you may need to buy a pack of gum, but never a money transfer worth hundreds or thousands of dollars
  • Get as much information as possible on a job before accepting it. Make sure you will be available to complete it as required
  • Follow instruction carefully. If it’s not done according to requirements, you may not be paid
  • Be discreet. Leave your forms hidden and be natural
  • When filling out your report, stick to the facts. Companies usually want specific information, not personal opinion

Mystery shopping can be fun for the right person. If you’re well organized, detail oriented and like trying new things, it may be a good fit for you.