I primarily review products these days, but occasionally I still do secret shopping when there is an opportunity that fits in to my schedule, that I would do even if I wasn’t paid to do it.
For those not familiar, secret shopping is when a company hires you on to investigate the quality of a business by posing as a customer and then reporting back how your experience was. Secret shopping is mostly done for restaurants, banks, casinos, hotels, auto mechanics and places that sell a service rather than a product. Not so say there aren’t some cases where you purchase an item in a retail environment, but the bulk of secret shops are for services in my experience.
You are paid by the job, usually 24 hours to 3 weeks after the shop (depending on company). You are responsible to calculate, claim and pay your own taxes on the money you make over and above $500. They send you out appropriate tax forms, should you reach that taxable limit, but you should always keep records (especially mileage) if you want a possible tax deduction.
Secret shopping is (in my opinion) more work with less reward than being a product reviewer. For instance a secret shop can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more and the questions you answer afterwards to tell how the experience was can take another hour on top of that. Your compensation is the service you received from the shop (for instance a restaurant meal) and then sometimes a $20 cash payment on top of that which is paid AFTER the secret shop is complete. That is, assuming that you have completed the shop correctly. You are required to memorize a lot of information, and if you can’t remember a key detail – you may not get paid for your time, or be reimbursed for the full cost of the shop. Typically you will need to memorize names of people you interact with, their attire and appearance, time the experience took, details about the establishment, and a whole host of other things. Sometimes you even have to follow a “script” set by the secret shop company. Suffice it to say secret shopping is best suited for people who have a great memory, can follow directions to the letter, and have a lot of time to devote to it.
My favorite secret shops are for banking and other similar institutions. These typically have a higher cash payout (sometimes upwards of $50), in some cases pay for mileage, and sometimes they only took 15-30 minutes to complete (although that is not always the case). Also, I did not have to pay anything up front since you don’t buy things at a bank. The drawback to those bank shops is they tended to be a lot more memorization than other kinds of shops and the follow up surveys took a long time to complete. But you get paid cash when you are done, and who doesn’t like cash!
Becoming a secret shopper is surprisingly easy, as long as you are careful about which companies you sign up with. There are many more scamming companies than honest companies out there. Many of the reputable companies will have you take a competency test prior to letting you do shops to assure that you can deal with the memorization and other standards they have. I think for most people this will not be too hard. Feel free to contact me if you want some suggestions for good companies to get involved with.
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