Becoming a secret shopper, and mystery shopping jobs as a whole, seem so mysterious and to some extent unbelievable.
I mean, why would a company pay you to shop at a store, go see a movie, or dine in a restaurant?
Today we’re going to take the mystery out of mystery shopping!
Let’s start from the beginning…
History of Secret Shopping
Mystery shopping, as a powerful tool for businesses, became a staple of the market research industry back in the 90’s (1940’s to be exact).
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It all started as a way to evaluate the performance and integrity of employees. And although today employee evaluation is a big part of most mystery shopping jobs, it has expanded to include other important aspects as well.
The very early adopters of this new research technique were hotels and big retail stores. But today, it covers almost any industry you can think of including the major ones such as hospitality, fast food, travel, banks, automotive, healthcare and more.
What is Mystery Shopping?
If you have been reading MoneyPantry for a while, you probably know we’re a big fan of getting paid for online surveys. Secret Shopping is basically another version of surveys and focus groups.
Mystery shopping is a form of market research that helps businesses gather information and data which they can use to develop or improve their overall business.
Let’s break ’em all down…
- Online Surveys: With online surveys, you answer questions (mostly multiple-choice questions) about specific products and services. In return, you are rewarded with cash and prizes.
- Focus Groups: Sort of like online surveys, but you usually show up in a local place where you, along with a select group of other people, take part in a 20 to 120-minute discussion about a product/service/topic. In return for your time, you are paid (usually cash).
- Mystery Shopping: You are assigned to visit a store/restaurant/movie theater and evaluate certain things while posing as a real customer, then reporting back your experience. In return, you are rewarded. More on what kind of rewards you can expect, later!
What do you “evaluate”?
Basically, anything the relates to how a business functions and what it can do to improve.
- How the store front looks.
- How fast/easy can a customer find what he/she needs?
- How friendly and helpful the staff members are?
- What can be done to improve the shop?
- How fast is the food served?
- Is the served food of good quality?
- Is the business – store, restaurant, theater, mall – clean?
Basically, anything that can help the overall performance of the business, thus improving its bottom line.
How does Mystery Shopping work?
To conduct these studies, businesses use third party market research companies that specialize in conducting mystery shopping studies.
So, let’s say your local McDonald’s wants to see how clean their restaurant is and how friendly the staff are. They hire Market Force (one of the best-known mystery shopping companies in the world) to conduct the study.
MarketForce (like any other reputable company) will have a panel of members (known as “Secret Shoppers”). Based on the location of the store and demographic required for the study, they assign the job to one or more (some studies require one shopper, some a few, and some tens or even hundreds) members.
They then give them specific instruction on what to do. They also announce the day and time that the shop is supposed to take place.
From this point on, everything falls on the Secret Shopper’s shoulder.
As a mystery shopper, your job then becomes getting into the store at the time and date specified, pose as a real customer, ask the questions you were given and observe everything.
Once the “shop” is done, you will be required to provide feedback on the experience.
Now, when it comes to sharing the information, there are a few ways companies go about it.
- Telephone interviews: You’ll be given a number to call after you conduct the assignment. The interviewer will ask you questions related to the experience and you’ll answer to the best of your ability.
- Online questioners: Some assignments will require you to login to the site after the assignment and fill out an online form. Sometimes, this may be an automated system where a robot will ask you the pre-formatted questions.
- In person: In some cases, you may be required to go in and talk to a person, face to face, explaining the experience.
Your job as a Secret Shopper
As a secret shopper, your job is to pose as a real customer. You visit the store -whether it’s a movie theater, a restaurant, a boutique, a gas station… – and gather information based on the assignment and what it requires.
For example, the assignment could be asking you to evaluate the user-friendliness of the employees or to see whether or not the gas station employees will sell you alcohol and/or tobacco if you pose as an underage person.
That’s the gist of how it all works.
Of course, there are details. Each assignment has its own specifics requirements. But that all will be given to you when you are assigned the job.
How much do Mystery Shoppers make?
Just like paid surveys and focus groups where you’re rewarded for your participation, here too you get paid.
Now the “pay” can come in many forms depending on the company and assignment.
In general, you can expect to be paid in a few ways:
- Cash: You are paid a specific amount which is disclosed to you when you are assigned a job. (You always have the option to accept or reject the assignment.)
- Free Stuff: In some cases, you may get to keep the product(s) that you buy as a part of the assignment. For example, the assignment could have you visit a store and buy a sunglasses. After the assignment, you get to keep the sunglasses even though the money you spent on it was reimbursed to you by the company.
Generally, most assignments will have a combination of both. For example, you may be paid $50 for a hotel mystery shopping assignment where you’ll be required to stay at a hotel for a night or two. But you stay for free because the room fee will be paid by the mystery shopping company, or they may have you pay for it but you get reimbursed after the assignment.
So, not only you get to stay at a nice hotel for free, you also get paid $50!
Not a bad deal if you ask me!
Of course, this is not always the case. Every assignment is different and the pay is always based on the assignment, its importance, how much time it require, whether it require a lot of travel, etc.
Mystery Shopping Scams
As you can see, the market research industry is a legitimate billion dollar industry.
But, unfortunately, because the idea of getting paid to shop is so attractive to most of us, scammers have found ways to scam us out of our hard-earned cash through fake mystery shopping assignments.
And that makes finding legitimate companies to work with harder. But you don’t have to worry about that as we are going to share a list of top legit secret shopping companies a little later in this post. But first, let’s see how you can keep yourself and your money safe from scams.
Now, most mystery shopping related scams somehow fall under the umbrella of one main scam known as the ” Mystery Shopper Western Union Scam”, but they each vary in details and the kind of language they use.
Mystery Shopper Western Union Scam
Let me explain what this scam is and how it works.
The “secret shopper scams western union” is one of the most famous and used scams as it relates to mystery shopping. It is so big that even the Western Union has put out warnings about it.
Even the Federal Trade Commission has been warning people about mystery shopping wire and check scams.
Here is how it works…
You receive a letter from a company that claims to be a trusted market research firm, wanting to conduct a mystery shopping audit of a business in your local area.
The envelope also contains a check. The amount varies, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s say the check you receive is for $1000.
You are then asked to deposit this check into your bank account, take $200 out and wire transfer it through the Western Union to the person/company that sent you the check originally. You keep the $800 for yourself and send the $200 back to them (they may say that $200 covers fees or whatever else). You are then told you’ll receive the detail of your assignment in a few days.
It all seems like an awesome deal. You just made $800 without even doing the actual assignment. So, you happily await the arrival of the assignment detail so you can finish it and perhaps get another check and assignment.
A few days or so passes and you don’t hear back from them. But you do hear from your bank…
The check you deposited has bounced!
That’s right, the $1000 check bounced. You’re distraught. You can’t believe you’ve wasted your time for this nonsense. You tell yourself, “OK, there is nothing I can do now. I learned my lesson. It seemed too good to be true anyway. Oh well, I didn’t make $800. At least I didn’t lose any money.”
But you did actually lose money – $200 to be exact!
You remember that $200 you wired to the scammers?
That $200 came out of your own money. When you first deposit a check it takes a few days for it to clear and for the money to credit to your account. So any money you take out of your account during this time comes out of your own money.
You lost $200 and the scammers made $200!
That’s how the Western Union scam works. Again, this is the main version of it. Scammers have since created various versions of it and sadly people still fall for ’em.
So how do you protect yourself from all these various scams?
There are a few simple things you can do:
Remember, no legit mystery shopping company will ever ask you to send them money!
Some companies may have you shop or dine with your own money, but they either reimburse you or pay you for doing the assignment. Plus, what you buy becomes yours. But they’ll never send you a check and ask you wire some if it back to them.
Never ever pay a registration fee
Legitimate market research companies don’t have registration fees. After all, you are there to help them gather data and in return, they are supposed to pay you for your time, not the other way around.
If it’s too good to be true, it probably is
At the end of the day, remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. If a company is claiming to pay you $500 for a simple 5-minute shop audit, that’s a red flag. Sure, these companies will pay you, but not $500 for a 5-minute secret shopping assignment. Maybe $50, $100, or even $200, but not $500! At the very least, it calls for digging further and doing some research to ensure the legitimacy of the company you’re about to work with.
I hope nobody ever falls victim to these scammers, but if you encounter one, be sure to report the scammers to the authorities so they can take action and protect other people who may fall for it in the future.
To report scams and file complaints, visit the following two sites:
Secret Shopping Companies
As promised, here is our list of legitimate market research companies that conduct mystery shopping studies and pay shoppers for participating.
Note: This list will be updated. So please bookmark it and check back periodically as we add new companies as we find them.
- A&A Merchandising
- A Closer Look
- Action Reaction
- A Customer’s Point of View
- All-Star Customer Service
- A Top Shop
- Alta360 Research
- ABA Quality Merchandising
- ALCOPS – Allied Corporate Protection Services
- Ann Michaels & Assoc
- Anonymous Insights
- Apartment Shoppe
- Ardent Services Inc.
- Associate Consumer Evaluations, LLC
- At Random Communications
- At Your Service Marketing
- Ath Power Consulting Corporation
- AutomotiveInsights (automotive)
- Bare Associates International Inc
- Baird Group (medical)
- Barry Leads & Associates Inc.
- Business Evaluation Services
- Beyond Hello Inc
- BMA Mystery Shopping & Incentive Programs
- Business Evaluation Services
- Campus Consulting
- Capstone Research
- Certified Reports
- CheckMark Inc
- Circle Of Service (medical)
- Cirrus Marketing Consultants
- Commercial Service Systems
- Confero Inc.
- Comsumer Critique
- Customer 1st
- Consumer @Site
- Consumer Impressions
- Consumer Research Group
- Corporate Research International
- Count On Us
- Coyle Hospitality Group
- Creative Image Consultants (CIA), Inc.
- Cross Financial Group
- Customer Perspectives
- Customer Service Experts, Inc
- Customer Experience Experts
- Customer Service Profiles
- Costumer Perception
- Customer Prophet
- Customer Impact
- Data Quest Ltd.
- David Sparks & Associates
- Devon Hill Associates
- Douglas Stafford North America, Inc.
- DSG Associates
- Dynamic Advantage
- Ellis Property Management Services (apartments)
- Evaluation Systems for Personnel (ESP)
- Excel Shopping & Consulting
- Experience Exchange
- Electrum Branding
- Goodwin Hospitality
- Graymark Security Group
- Guest Check (hotel)
- Guest Check Inc (hotel-restaurants)
- Greet America Inc.
- Hilli Dunlap Enterprises, Inc.
- HS Brands
- HR & Associates
- Helion Research
- Hope Research Group
- IAG Infinity Assurance Group
- ICC/Decision Services
- Informa Research Services
- International Service Check
- Intouch Insight
- Impact Marketing
- Imyst (casino, restaurants, movie theater, theme parks, medical and more)
- ICU Associates
- Insula Research
- Integrity Consultants
- Management Consultant Group, LLC
- Maritz Research
- Market Force
- Market Viewpoint, LLC
- Marketing Endeavors
- Marketing Systems Unlimited
- MarketWise Consulting Group, Inc.
- Mars Research
- Measure CP
- Melinda Brody & Company
- Merchandise Concepts
- Michelson & Associates, Inc.
- Mintel International Group Ltd
- Mercantile System
- Mystery Guest, Inc
- Mystery Shoppers
- Mystery Shopping Solutions
- Mystique Shopper
- National Shopping Service Network, LLC
- Nationwide Services Group
- Northwest Mystery Shopping Service
- Northfork Research
- Pacific Research GroupPat Henry Group
- Patron Edge
- Perception Strategies (health care/medical)
- Perfectly Frank
- Person To Person Quality
- Pinnacle (banks and credit unions)
- Premier Service Consulting
- Promotional Network, Inc.
- Primo Solutions
- Promotion Network
- Person to Person Quality
- Personal Profiles (real estate)
- PulseBack, Inc.
- Quality Assessments Mystery Shoppers, LLC
- QSI Specialists
- Quest for Best
- The Quest for Best Mystery Shoppers
- Reality Check Mystery Shoppers
- RD Associates
- Reality Based Group
- Reality Check
- Remington (apartments)
- Regal Hospitality Group (hotels and restaurants)
- Restaurant Evaluators (restaurants)
- Retail Track
- Ritter & Associates, Inc.
- Sales Quality Group
- Satisfaction Services, Inc.
- Second To None, Inc.
- Secret Shopper
- Sensors Quality Management Inc.
- Service Alliance, Inc
- Service Evaluation Concepts
- Service Excellence Group, Inc.
- Service Impressions
- Service Intelligence
- Service Performance Group Inc.
- Service Probe
- SG Marketing Group, Inc
- Sinclair Customer Metrics
- Shared Insight
- Shoppers’ Critique International, LLC
- Shoppers, Inc
- Shoppers’ View
- Sinclair Service Assessments
- Shoppers Confidential
- Stericycle Expert Solutions
- Strategic Reflections
- Spies in Disguise
- The Performance Edge
- The Secret Shopper LLC
- The Shadow Agency
- Technology Store Shopper (electronic retailers)
- The Source Agent
- The Mystery Dining Company Ltd. (restaurants)
Keep in mind that while many conduct studies for companies in most of the big industries, some of these firms specialize in certain industries and conduct assignment related to that specific industry.
For example, some may only conduct hotel mystery shopping studies, some focus on movie theaters, others focus on restaurants and fast food places.
International mystery shopping companies
Most of the companies mentioned in our list focus on the U.S. market.
But we have a lot of international readers and fans as well.
I have gotten a few emails and Facebook questions from some of our international readers about mystery shopping companies in their respective countries.
I promised them that I will research and find a list of companies that offer shopping assignments in their country.
Keeping up with that promise, I will be updating this post periodically to add new companies as I find them.
- GBW Solutions: They are located in Melbourne, Australia, but they also have regional offices in Europe and throughout Asia.
- KPI Retail Services: They work in both Australia and New Zealand market.
- Mystery Customer: This is another Australian mystery shopping company that provides services to hundreds of Retail, Hospitality, Leisure and other business operations within Australia.
- Retail Reality: As the name suggest, they focus mostly on the retail industry. That means a lot of malls and department store shopping assignments.
- A&A Merchandising Ltd.: They accept shoppers from the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
- Lanla: They focus on restaurants, stores, banks, travel agencies, and fitness centers. But it seems like they offer much more restaurant and dinning related shopping assignments.
- Maritz Research Inc.: Accept shoppers from Canada, as well as the U.S. and many other countries.
- Trend Source: They hire shoppers – referred to as “Field Agents” – to perform shopping assignments that focus on customer service, management and compliance.
- Merchandising Consultants Associates: MCA is Canada’s leading 3rd party retail services provider. They do a lot of auditing for their clients.
- Performalogics: They offer services to some of the biggest brands in the world including NHL teams, Government agencies and Food & beverage companies.
- Campus Mystery Shopping: This company provides mystery shopping and calling services to clients throughout Canada and the U.S.
- GAPbuster (now known as GBW): Mostly retail mystery shopping assignments.
- In-Touch Insight Systems: They operate in Canada and the U.S.
I hope this post has been able to take the mystery out of mystery shopping for you. And hopefully, you’ll be able to make some extra money with some of these companies.
I am sure there are companies I have missed. So if you know any legitimate mystery shopping companies that should be on this list, please leave a comment below and let us know. Thank you.