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I Want To Be a Secret Shopper

Updated on October 5, 2012

How to Join the Ranks of the Secret Shoppers

Secret shopping isn't really a secret. It's a way to get a little bit of cash and some free products (and food) sometimes, but it's a job, and if you want to be a successful secret shopper, you have to treat it as such.

Finding Legitimate Secret Shopping Jobs

The most reliable and reputable secret shopping service I've found and worked for is Marketforce. There are others out there, but be very careful and check them out with the BBB. Most of the time, payments for secret shopping range anywhere from $5 to $30 per assignment (not including reimbursement). Marketforce, as an example, pays once per month, and you can choose to have a check sent to you, or you can provide them with your PayPal account email, and they will email you payment. As a secret shopper for them, I have had no problems so far. If something sounds too good to be true, it is. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has a consumer alert that provides some good information to help you avoid being scammed.

Secret Shopper Scams! How to find out who you can trust

Picking the Shops You Want to Do

Generally, most shops involve buying a product or asking about a product, checking the time it takes, and describing the person you interacted with. Many shops are at fast-food chains or other major retailers. In some cases, you will be required to order specific foods and/or ask about specific products in order to determine how well salespeople respond or prepare the food. Depending on the requirements, you may be paid a fee for the shop as well as reimbursement for the purchase; however, for some restaurant shops, only reimbursement for food is included. There is always a limit on the reimbursement. In other cases, you will be asked to purchase something and then return it; in those cases, you aren’t repaid for the purchase, but you do get your money back. Depending on who you’re working for, you can get some excellent benefits. During tax season, there are sometimes shops available to have your taxes done and get reimbursed for the fees, a great way to get something you need.

Colonial Arcade
Colonial Arcade | Source

Preparing for Your Secret Shops

Dressing for Success: Read your sheets carefully. For a lot of shops, you will be required to dress nicely, no jeans, sneakers, or tank tops. Even if you’re “under cover,” you still need to look good.

Timing During Shops: Cell phones are your friend! Use the timer on it to keep track of the time your shops take, the time you go in, the time you leave. It’s a great way to track it because it helps you keep it secret; everyone plays with their cell phones in stores, so it doesn’t look suspicious if you check your phone before placing orders or after.

Gathering Your Data: While most of the data you collect each time will be the same, it’s easy to forget little details. Use a note-taking app in your phone to make a list of the information you need, and fill it out as quickly as possible. The sooner you do, the less chance there is you’ll make a mistake or forget something about the shop.

Entering Data: Data for your shop normally needs to be entered anywhere from 12 to 24 hours after the shop has been completed. Missing the deadline means you don’t get paid. If you have any problems with getting the shop done or the data entered, call the number on your sheet as soon as possible.

Getting Paid More: Once you’ve established yourself as a reliable shopper, you can get paid more than the fees that are listed on the website. When the shops get closer, if the jobs haven’t been filled, then the company has employees who call and try to find a shopper. They are authorized to offer higher fees in order to get the shops completed. Feel free to haggle; if they offer you $10, see if they’ll go for $12 or $15. Don’t be shy; if it’s too much, they’ll tell you no. But it never hurts to ask!

Not So Secret Shopping

Maybe you like the idea of having an always changing job that lets you do more than just skulk around stores and take notes. There are other options that often show up with secret shopping. With these options, you don’t need to keep anything a secret – you show up and boldly announce who you are and what you’re going to do.

For example, you can choose to do movie theater checks or set-ups. A movie theater check generally involves going to a movie theater and checking one or two different things, such as the number of people in the seats, the previews shown (and what the audience reaction was), and even whether or not the movie started on time. It’s a great way to get paid back for watching a movie, although you will probably miss the first few minutes of the show because, in most cases, you need to immediately use your cell phone to call in and report the data you’ve collected. Set-ups are very different. For a set-up, your job is to arrive at the theater during a specific time period and set up the cardboard standee or other materials meant to advertise a movie. In some cases, the job will require two people, so you may have to bring a friend with you. Whether or not you split the cash is up to you.

Not into movies? That’s okay; there’s always merchandising. One merchandising job I did involved changing the packages for bras; I had a list of SKUs and new bags. I found the bras that needed to be changed into the new packaging, brought them to the back room, swapped them out, and filled out my log. Another merchandising job I did was to go to a series of stores and collect items that had been recalled, package them up, and call in the UPS pick-up. None of the jobs were extremely taxing, and they each paid a per-store or per-hour rate. Not the highest paying jobs, but a good way to earn some money to feed my coffee habit.

Finally, you can get auditing jobs. Audit jobs are different than secret shopping because, once again, you get to announce yourself. In some cases, you will make a purchase first while secret shopping, and then return to the shop and complete the audit. Most audits require a checklist, and in many audits, you will be required to take photographs and submit them as part of your report. Audits often take longer than regular shops; some of them may take several hours, especially when you factor in checking and editing the photographs that you’ve taken.

Important Warning About Shopping Jobs

If you fail to complete the job correctly or do not submit your paperwork and other materials in time, then you won’t get paid. Read the warnings and requirements on all your paperwork carefully, and then read it again. Take your notes, take your pictures, and take your time; do the job right, and you may have found a lucrative way to earn some extra cash.


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    • KatSanger profile image

      Katherine Sanger 4 years ago from Texas

      ClaireWait - Thanks for the link! I have been very happy with Marketforce so far, and I've been with them for a number of years. They have different "portals" so you can do everything from shop for them or do merchandise refreshes, etc. I find it has enough for me.

    • clairewait profile image

      clairewait 4 years ago from North Carolina

      This is the second hub I've read about Marketforce. I'm always looking to expand my opportunities to shop as most legit Secret Shop companies have only a few clients in each location. Thanks. Great info. I currently work with Ace Mystery Shopping:

    • KatSanger profile image

      Katherine Sanger 5 years ago from Texas

      It is a fun way to earn some extra money, and once they know you're reliable, you really can earn more. I just got a quick merchandising job (putting stickers on packaging for cell phones), and I got to name my own price because of timing. Nice!

    • CZCZCZ profile image

      CZCZCZ 5 years ago from Oregon

      This was interesting. I think this would be something fun to do on a part time basis and earn for extra dollars working as a secret shopper. Thanks for sharing the information.