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Who wouldn't love to get paid to shop, eat out, or go to the movies? That may sound too good to be true, but thousands of mystery shoppers across the US and Canada are doing just that: getting paid to visit restaurants, retail stores, and even theme parks in order to provide a customer's perspective on the cleanliness, service, and overall experience at the location.
How does mystery shopping work? Most "secret shoppers", as they are also known, are hired by third-party companies that specialize in helping businesses evaluate their performance. These third-party providers maintain a database of all of the current opportunities in your area, allowing you to apply for the jobs you'd like to do.
Saturday, December 4th
If you're looking for an easy-to-understand, helpful introduction into all things mystery shopping, you'll love AboutFace. From the very first "Become a Mystery Shopper" page, they make it very clear what to expect, from your Independent Contractor Agreement to the steps of their assignment process.
The name to know
Don't get bogged down by all the words on that page, though. Click on the links in the upper right-hand side of the page (or the three horizontal bars, if you're on a mobile device) to see why AboutFace is the name to know. For example, in the Shop with Us section, you'll find links for why you should partner with them: their A+ rating with the BBB, toll-free number for any questions you may have, and a description of other benefits are all there. Also, according to that page, AboutFace offers more than mystery shopping - you can also take advantage of opportunities in field research, focus groups, even product demonstrations.
You also want to check out the Resources tab. Whether you decide to work with AboutFace or through a different mystery shopping provider, the information AboutFace offers can help you be successful. From using mobile devices to choose available shopping opportunities & submit reports, to the basic steps for how to have a successful evaluation, you'll go into the working relationship knowing exactly what's expected of you. They don't want there to be any "mystery" involved when it comes to turning in your work, so they give their shoppers clear expectations from the start.
Easy access to information
The Shopper FAQ page is the best resource for any other questions that prospective mystery shoppers tend to have. On that page, you'll see how often and in what method to expect payment (45 days after you submit your shop and via PayPal, by the way), as well as links to AboutFace's social media accounts. We strongly recommend you give those a click even before signing up; according to the FAQ, AboutFace uses those channels to let their shoppers know in advance about any upcoming projects that might be of interest.
AboutFace has a great reputation among mystery shoppers for high-quality shops, excellent shopper support, and on-time payments. Combined with an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, those marks of success mean that AboutFace should be at the top of your list when deciding which mystery shopping provider to choose as your partner.
Based in Western Michigan, Shoppers' View has been in business for more than 20 years. With an A+ rating at the Better Business Bureau, this provider is a trusted name in the secret shopping industry.
Pays twice per month
Your best resource on the Shoppers' View site is their FAQ. There, you'll find all of their most commonly-asked questions about what's expected of their mystery shopping contractors. You'll particularly like that Shoppers' View pays twice per month via PayPal, rather than once a month or less frequently like some of their competitors. Shoppers' View also pays $5 for every new secret shopper you refer that completes a successful shop within 60 days of your referral.
Watch the video
We also recommend that you watch the video on the Shoppers intro page. It'll give you an excellent window into the company overall, including their shopper dashboard, training, and types of jobs that are typically available. In that video, we were impressed to learn that Shoppers' View is a founding member of the MSPA, the primary overseeing association for mystery shopping companies.
When you go to the mystery shopper sign up page, you'll find another intro video. This one is different from the previously described video and will give you a walk-through of the application process. It's a great way to see exactly what the application involves before you provide them with any of your personal information.
Positive customer experience
Experienced mystery shoppers who work with Shoppers' View have positive things to say about the working relationship. Payments are almost always on time and as expected, and the help offered to contractors is usually helpful and supportive.
Although we felt that it would have been useful to see more specifics about Shoppers' View, especially with respect to the types of jobs they typically offer, we were impressed by their reputation and the useful videos for prospective shoppers. They're definitely a company to consider for your mystery shopping work.
With more than 10,000 mystery shopping opportunities per month, it's no surprise that BestMark is a popular choice among secret shoppers. This provider has over 500,000 contractors working as mystery shoppers, doing observations and evaluations at hotels, restaurants, and many other locations.
We love how much information BestMark provides prior to signing up for a mystery shopping account. There are clear descriptions of the qualifications you need in order to apply (be aware that this is one of the few companies that require mystery shoppers to be at least 19, not 18). You can even click on the link for your particular state to see if they typically have shops near your location.
Read the FAQ
Where you'll find the bulk of the information you're looking for is on the BestMark FAQ, using the link on the right side of the mystery shopper main page. There you'll find a very detailed list of the kinds of specifics you'll need to include as you evaluate restaurants, hotels, gas stations and more. Pay close attention: one of the most common complaints about BestMark - and many other mystery shopping providers - is that they expect perfection in the evaluations submitted by their secret shoppers. The FAQ also spells out the compensation process at BestMark, one of the few companies in our review that does not use PayPal or another electronic form of payment delivery but rather uses traditional paper checks that are sent 3-4 weeks after a shop is complete.
BestMark allows shoppers to join their team either by entering an email address or by connecting using Facebook. Whichever route you choose, be aware that you'll have to verify your information (by clicking on a verification link sent to your email), so you won't be able to enter fake details just to get a look at their application process or shopper portal.
Another aspect that makes BestMark more appealing to mystery shoppers is that they offer the opportunity to work as an Exit Interviewer. If the "cloak and dagger" of being a hidden evaluator doesn't appeal to you, you may prefer this style of evaluation: gathering information from customers as they leave a store rather than sneakily observing what goes on inside.
Mostly positive comments
So, what do experienced mystery shoppers have to say about working as a mystery shopper for BestMark? Overall, comments are positive and include praise such as "fast pay", "clear requirements", and "great way to get oil changes and tire rotations for free". Many contractors said that car dealerships are one of the most frequent types of shops available. On the downside, we saw several people comment that there weren't always many jobs to choose from in one's local area, making it more likely that they had to travel farther than their preferred location if they wanted to do any mystery shops.
Generally speaking, BestMark offers a good amount of information prior to the signup process and has a strong reputation in the mystery shopping industry for paying quickly and being very clear with their shop requirements. If you choose to sign up as a mystery shopper with BestMark, with luck you'll be able to find many of their 10,000+ assignments in your local area.
IntelliShop is another one of the "old guard" when it comes to mystery shopping. In business since the 1990s, this provider maintains an "A" rating with the Better Business Bureau and was named a 2017 Top Company for Shopper Insights by Quirk's Magazine.
We like the amount of detail offered on the main shopper page. You can expect an application process that involves filling out their form, taking a brief aptitude test, and downloading the apps that they use for shop notifications and verification of your geographic location (the apps are free and optional).
4 topic areas
There's also a great section that includes four topic areas: News and Alerts, Shopper FAQ, Job Board Basics, and Insite 101. We strongly suggest you take the time to go through those sections, as they contain everything you need to know before applying to work with IntelliShop. The application itself goes through a system known as SASSIE; if you've applied with other mystery shopping companies, you'll find this application to be very familiar.
A lot to handle
For newer shoppers, IntelliShop may be a lot to handle. In looking through the five dozen complaints on the BBB site, a common thread seemed to emerge: mystery shoppers who hadn't followed all of the requirements to the letter were being denied payment for their jobs. In an industry like mystery shopping, it is critical that every instruction be followed to the letter in order for the evaluation to be valid and submittable to the end client. While it is absolutely understandable for IntelliShop to have such high standards, we found secret shopper comments in other places saying that their representatives can be overly negative when relaying their concerns on incorrectly-completed shopping assignments.
Checks the boxes
IntelliShop checks the boxes, so to speak, when it comes to providing thorough information before applying and an easy-to-understand process. They also have a long history in the mystery shopping industry. But, if you're brand-new to being a secret shopper, you'll want to make sure you pay meticulous attention to detail when filling out your shop evaluations in order to have a successful experience.
As an accredited business with an A+ rating at the BBB and MSPA Shoppers' Choice awards in both 2016 and 2017, MarketForce is a reputable source for mystery shopping jobs today.
Use your phone
When you visit the MarketForce intro page for secret shoppers, you'll find a basic overview of their process, including a demonstration of their mobile app. This app, known as Eyes:On, allows you to search for mystery shopping opportunities as well as submit completed shops from your phone - much easier than trying to remember everything later, and helping you keep your "cover" while walking around the shop (instead of trying to take notes on paper).
Get a feel
Unfortunately, that's the extent of the information they offer prior to creating an account on the MarketForce site. You'll have to create an account in order to see exactly what types of shops are in your area. We went through the account set-up process and found, however, that you can create a dummy account to get a feel for their dashboard and shopper expectations. Fortunately, you don't have to enter your SSN to get to that point, unlike many of the other mystery shopping companies we surveyed.
See jobs in your area
That means that you can actually see real shops that are available in your area today. For example, when we entered our zip code, we found more than 100 shops that we could apply for, most of which were either burger places, grocery stores, or small retail businesses. This is one of the few mystery shopping sites where you can access that kind of information without providing your SSN, and we definitely recommend you take advantage of that availability.
That also gave us a window into how much MarketForce pays for their shops. We weren't impressed. One shop for a small retail location offered $8, or if the mystery shopper got to a location and found out that it was actually closed, they'd be paid $4. How would you feel if you drove to a location only to find out it was no longer in business? Would $4 cover your gas and time? Probably not.
We also weren't thrilled with what many mystery shoppers had to say about MarketForce's contractor support. We found comments that described how they were unavailable during priority shops and didn't provide ansers to the shopper in time to complete the shop, and then the mystery shopper was penalized for a late or incomplete report. Many secret shoppers also say that you should expect MarketForce to be extremely strict when it comes to the quality of your evaluations; misspell a sales associate's name or leave out one answer, and you are likely to not be paid for the shop.
Because of how stressful that would be for new shoppers, we think MarketForce may be a better choice for seasoned mystery shoppers. Their reputation is excellent, as demonstrated by their BBB grade and their Peoples' Choice awards at the MSPA, making MarketForce a solid mystery shopping provider - just maybe not if you're brand new to the industry.
Based out of Ann Arbor, MI, Second To None has been in business since 1989 and has worked with leading brands in the US and Canada to improve their customer experience.
On Second To None's main mystery shopper page, you'll find a general overview of what makes a successful mystery shopper and the benefits of doing this type of work. We found most of the information to be too generic to be useful; most people interested in mystery shopping already know that it allows them to earn extra income according to their own schedule, and that they're expected to have excellent skills with respect to observation, writing, and speaking.
We would have liked to see more specifics about Second To None's approach to secret shopping: do they use an app for job notifications and evaluations? What does the shopper portal look like? How often do they pay their contractors? None of these questions are answered on the shoppers' info page.
Signup to see
While you can enter fake details to create an account if you'd like to see what the signup process includes, along with the independent contractor agreement, you are required to click on a link that is sent in a verification email. So, at the very least, you'll want to provide an accurate email address to see what STN has to offer. Fortunately, in creating that "placeholder' account, you will not have to include a Social Security Number.
Positive comments, but lacking information
We would have loved to rank Second To None higher, because we found many positive comments from current and previous mystery shoppers. But, in comparison with other secret shopping providers, this company has much less information to help a prospective contractor make the decision. We'd easily move them up in the rankings if their site included more in-depth details, such as a video showing the shopper dashboard or an FAQ page explaining their payment schedule/process, any use of mobile devices for their shops, or even access to a live list of shops in a person's area.
Sinclair Customer Metrics has been in business for more than 40 years, making them a well-established business when it comes to mystery shopping. Their primary industries for secret shoppers include restaurants, banks, convenience stores and supermarkets.
Sinclair has a good reputation among secret shoppers. At the time of our review, they had an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and were among the top three picks for many experienced mystery shoppers.
Where Sinclair fell short for us was on their New Shopper page. Where most of their competitors have ample information for their prospective secret shoppers prior to applying, Sinclair's page was very basic and outdated. In order to get any information, we had to enter our name and a valid email address. From there, we were taken to their requirements checklist, which includes an information page for new shoppers, Sinclair's independent contractor agreement, the online application, and a "New Shopper Challenge". Sinclair doesn't allow you to access all four requirements at once; you have to complete one step before being given access to the next.
Room for improvement
Because Sinclair has such a solid track record among established secret shoppers, we're fairly confident that you'd have a positive experience working with them as a new mystery shopper. However, to be competitive with other mystery shopping providers, Sinclair would do well to increase the amount of information they offer to prospective contractors instead of making them jump through a number of hoops first.
Sometimes, if there's a high-priority shop near you, you may even receive a direct invitation to do the assignment. Of course, in order to be eligible, you'll likely have to fill out an application to be accepted as a mystery shopper for each provider that interests you.
Payment varies by company; some mystery shops pay you for your time, while others reimburse you for making a purchase that you get to keep. In either case, you'll be expected to fill out some kind of survey or evaluation regarding your experience in order to get paid. Most mystery shopping companies make payments via PayPal, though some still use traditional paper checks for their contractors.
No matter which mystery shopping company you choose, however, you should never have to pay to be a secret shopper: though you can opt for shopper training and certification to increase your chances of being selected for certain jobs, joining a reputable company's shopper database shouldn't cost you anything.
When considering the many different companies that specialize in hiring mystery shoppers, there are several aspects to keep in mind. Some of these include:
TopConsumerReviews.com has reviewed and ranked the best mystery shopping providers available today. We hope this free information gets you on the road to your secret shopping experience right away!
If you're thinking of becoming a mystery shopper, there are a number of benefits awaiting you. In addition to terrific hours, the convenience of taking a family vacation without asking the boss and having more fun at any job than most people will ever dream of having, you will enjoy the potential for a decent income at a job that offers plenty of free perks. Below are just a handful of detailed benefits for mystery shoppers.
Flexible work schedule. When you get a job as a mystery shopper, you receive paperwork necessary for your evaluation and you will enjoy being able to arrive at work according to your own schedule. Once you have completed your assessment, you simply fill out the evaluation and submit it to the company that hired you. Being able to set your own hours and work as much or as little as you want are two of the greatest benefits to being a mystery shopper.
Variety. Instead of sitting in the same old office and staring out the same old window every day, mystery shopping offers a literal change in scenery. One day you may be evaluating a retail store, the next a fine restaurant and the next a movie theater. Can you imagine being paid to watch a movie or dine out? If you would enjoy getting out of a career slump, mystery shopping may be the boost that you need.
Income potential. Whether you want to participate in mystery shopping as a way to earn a few extra bucks or you want to turn it into a part or full-time career, the choice is yours. The more mystery shopping companies that you sign up with, the more income you may receive. As is the case with anything, your reward(s) that you receive will largely be determined by your efforts.
Be in business for yourself. The fact is that you are the best boss that you will ever have. When you work for yourself as a mystery shopper, you are working on your schedule, according to your hours and have more control over your income. Self-employed individuals receive tax advantages, receive higher rates of pay and are much more likely to enjoy their work.
Free stuff. When you are a mystery shopper, you are assigned a job that requires you to evaluate either a product or service. You will be given specific instructions as to what items, if any, are required to be purchased in accordance with your evaluation. Whether it is a slice of pizza or a pair of sunglasses, you will almost always be reimbursed for the cost of these items by the company who hires you as a mystery shopper. What this means for you is, in addition to being compensated financially for your job, you will also often enjoy the benefits of freebies.
Interesting work. At the end of the day, which side of the customer counter would you prefer to be on? Would you rather be the cashier ringing up the purchase or would you rather be shopping and getting paid for it? If you are like most, the latter is the most appealing option. When you are a mystery shopper, your work is never boring because it varies from one day to the next. You can never get bored by seeing the same people every day or doing the same activities. Mystery shopping will keep you stepping high and well over any slumps that a traditional job may offer.
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