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In today's economy, everyone's got a side hustle, from making crafts to sell on Etsy to delivering people's takeout meals. What if you could get paid to eat at your favorite restaurant, get your oil changed, or scope out the newest coffee shop in town? That's what hundreds of thousands of mystery shoppers have been doing - for decades.
This is no "here today, gone tomorrow" gig: companies have relied on the intel gathered by mystery shoppers to get first-hand perspective on their signage, customer service experience, product quality and more. What does it take to be a "secret shopper" ? Attention to detail is crucial: some evaluations may have just a few aspects to track (like cleanliness of an entryway and a particular ad's signage), but others require more.
Tuesday, January 31st
AboutFace is the first place to turn for an excellent experience as a mystery shopper. There's lots of helpful information to get you off to a great start, from best practices guidelines to FAQs, and you can preview many current jobs right on AboutFace's social media channels. Plus, you've also got opportunities to be an editor/scheduler, focus group participant, or even a product demonstrator here. AboutFace remains our top pick among mystery shopping companies.
Market Force has a reputation for excellence among mystery shopping companies. You'll be expected to pay very close attention to detail on your assignments here, but some novel features make it worth the effort: a mobile app for finding shops, booking them, and submitting your reports, plus the opportunity to put in a bid for higher pay. You can create a free account and browse jobs in your area right away, no SSN or lengthy application required until you're ready to work. This is one of our preferred choices for mystery shopping, particularly for more experienced shoppers.
IntelliShop is a solid choice for new and experienced mystery shoppers. You can learn a lot about the work in general and about how this company works in particular just by reading through their website. Creating an account allows you to see jobs near you and their requirements, all without verifying your email or providing your SSN. Payment is made solely via PayPal, so no bank account info needed - ever. Overall, IntelliShop is a good option when deciding where to be a mystery shopper.
Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Second To None has been around for over 30 years and has more than 500,000 mystery shoppers throughout the US and Canada. You can apply to be a mystery shopper through their website or through their ShopperHub mobile app, the latter of which will let you complete your reports on the spot through your phone. Several improvements earned Second To None a boost in our rankings since our last review, making this mystery shopping company one to consider.
Elite CXS is a small-but-mighty veteran-owned mystery shopping company. Past clients have included big names like Starbucks, Porsche, and T-Mobile, and there are quite a few current opportunities with large brands and local mom-and-pop businesses too. The sign-up process is quick and easy, and you'll be able to browse jobs near you right away. We encourage you to consider Elite CXS when deciding where to become a mystery shopper.
Secret Shopper is a worldwide mystery shopping company, contracting millions of individuals to evaluate numerous industries from retail to real estate. Their application process is straightforward and transparent, and you can also look at their social media accounts to see featured, current assignment opportunities. We like Secret Shopper's mobile apps that make it easy to see what jobs are available nearby too. This mystery shopping company could improve by offering electronic payments (like PayPal) instead of old-fashioned, monthly checks, but overall Secret Shopper is a solid option for mystery shoppers new and experienced.
Shoppers' View has a lot for mystery shoppers to like: plenty of information before you sign up, easy access to job boards with no commitment of personal details, and twice-monthly payments via PayPal. The company has been in operation for almost 30 years and has a good reputation. However, Shoppers' View is kept from earning a higher ranking because it has fewer available shops than many of its rivals, even in large metro areas.
Sinclair Customer Metrics has been working with mystery shoppers for over 35 years - and their website and new contractor application look like they haven't been updated much since then. Still, this company actually had a few jobs in our test area when some of their rivals came up empty, and we didn't find anyone with complaints about being a mystery shopper here. It's not one of our top picks, but it could be a backup plan if you don't find opportunities in your location with another mystery shopping company.
Mystery Shopping Service isn't going to be a company that really draws you in. If you take the time to complete their brief shopper application, you'll be stuck waiting for one of their schedulers to reach out via email: there's no way to preview available assignments near you (or anywhere), and MSS doesn't give out much information about how they work. The BBB gives this mystery shopping company an "A+" and accreditation, but there are other equally trustworthy alternatives that can get you working much faster.
Service Evaluation Concepts, or SEC, proudly proclaims that they have 30+ years of experience in the mystery shopping industry and anywhere from 250,000 to 600,000 "Brand Agents" (aka mystery shoppers). Then where are all the jobs? Their site lets you preview listings in your area before signing up - and we only found two states with one or two active mystery shops in each one. SEC just isn't the kind of actively-engaged mystery shopping company you should be looking for. Choose a different platform instead.
BestMark used to be one of our top mystery shopping platforms. They've been around for almost 40 years and have conducted more than a million evaluations across many industries. Sounds great, but when you look at their feedback from mystery shoppers over the last few months, too many of them are going without pay for months on end - not even being reimbursed for what they had to spend to do the assignments. The BBB agrees, bringing BestMark down to a "D-" rating. You'll have much more success with one of the higher-ranked mystery shopping companies in our evaluation, and we recommend avoiding BestMark.
For example, some mystery shopping programs require you to keep track of specific times and names of salespeople while discreetly snapping photos and not blowing your cover as an everyday customer. And yes, a little bit of acting skills can go a long way when doing a mystery shop, since you may have to pretend to be very interested in that new cell phone plan, hot menu item, or fancy new construction home. Other than that, as long as you look at mystery shopping as a fun way to make some money and not as a career, you should have no trouble succeeding as an evaluator.
A word of caution: mystery shopping companies' names are often used to target victims in money laundering scams. Most of today's secret shopping platforms make payments via PayPal, and never in advance of doing a shop; you won't be "invited" to be a mystery shopper with a $1900 cashier's check in the mail. If you receive anything like that, you should contact the company through the toll-free number on their website and ask how they would like you to go about reporting it to the authorities (such as the Federal Trade Commission or the police department). And, whatever you do, DON'T CASH THAT CHECK.
It's also important to realize that you should never be asked to pay to be a mystery shopper. In the past, some less-than-reputable websites have offered to "unlock the secrets" of mystery shopping for a membership fee or one-time payment - when in reality, all you get is a list of secret shopper companies (like the ones we've evaluated here, for free).
Enough about the tricky stuff: let's move on to choosing a mystery shopping company to get you started. Here are several factors to help you pick where to begin:
TopConsumerReviews.com has sorted through today's most popular mystery shopping programs, to give you the information you need to get started on your new side gig. We hope this helps you choose a company that's the right fit for you. Have fun being a "secret shopper" !
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