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How to Become a Secret Shopper: 4 Steps to Make Money Shopping

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How does it sound to get paid to shop at local retail locations, grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and convenience stores? It sounds like it’s too good to be true. But in all reality, it’s not.
Secret shopping is a fun way to make money on the side in your free time. Secret shoppers are like undercover agents who go into stores and complete assignments for money.
In this article, we’ll show you how to become a secret shopper. We’ll walk you through everything you’ll need to know and detail four steps to getting paid to mystery shop. Read through and then start applying for your first mystery shopping job.

How to Become a Secret Shopper

Secret shoppers are paid to anonymously shop at retail stores and provide feedback regarding their experience. Major retail brands turn to secret shoppers for feedback and improvement opportunities at stores around the nation.
Secret shoppers are given a set of tasks they must complete while in-store. They’ll then report on their overall in-store experience, including how helpful the staff was and how clean the store was. They may also need to give feedback on the store’s location or products.
To become a secret shopper, you’ll need to do initial research to avoid scams, find jobs from one of the many reputable mystery shopping companies, complete your assignment, and then get paid. It’s relatively easy to be a secret shopper, especially if you follow the four steps below.
Let’s get right into it and show you how to become a secret shopper.

1. Do Your Research

The first step to becoming a secret shopper is to research the role, understand how everything will be set up, and avoid getting scammed by fraudulent companies.

Watch Out for Scams

There are many bogus mystery shopping companies out there. You should be wary of companies asking for money upfront. You shouldn’t ever have to give out your social security number until you’ve started making a substantial amount of money.
It will be your job to sift through and find out which ones you can trust and which ones might be mystery shopping scams. Luckily we’ve done much of the leg work for you and listed several legitimate mystery shopping companies you can apply to in the next section.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Secret shopping isn’t going to make you rich overnight. It won’t even make you rich in the long run if we’re being frank. You should definitely keep your day job and treat this as a part-time side gig.
Each assignment you complete will only pay around $10. These assignments can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. By no means will this be enough to be your full-time job, however, it will be a nice bump in your weekly income if you’re able to quickly knock off assignments in your free time.

Independent Contractor vs. Employee

Many secret shoppers are paid as independent contractors rather than full-time employees. As an independent contractor, you’ll be responsible for keeping track of and paying your own taxes. If you complete enough work, you’ll be sent a 1099 tax form from the company you worked for. You can also take advantage of certain tax write offs as a gig worker.
In some cases, you may be able to land a full-time gig with a company as their employee. These are much less common than independent contractor opportunities, however, there are positions like these available.
For more information, check out our guide to the difference between an employee and an independent contractor.

2. Find a Secret Shopper Job

Next, you’ll need to start signing up for mystery shopping companies and stay organized throughout your job search.

Sign Up With Mystery Shopping Companies

It’s time to start applying to as many secret shopper jobs as you can. Remember, you want to avoid any shady companies that may be trying to scam you. To give you a head start, here’s a list of legitimate companies you can apply to.

The more mystery shopper jobs you apply to, the better chance you’ll have of locking in multiple jobs and keeping a steady stream of work coming in. The opportunities you apply for will also have regional and location-based restrictions. You’ll only be able to complete jobs that are in your specific area, so how busy you’ll be will depend on the demand in your area.

Stay Organized

Since you’ll be applying to a ton of different places, it’ll be important to stay organized during your job search. To make your life easy, you can create a text document or spreadsheet with all of your application information.
This can include the cities and zip codes you’re willing to complete assignments in, writing samples about past secret shopping experiences, and all of the companies you’ve applied to. This will speed up your application process and help you apply to as many places as you can.

Scan Job Opportunities Frequently

Just because you applied to a company and didn’t immediately get a job doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider them in the future. You should always check on previous job opportunities and open positions. You never know when you’ll find updated listings that are right up your alley.

Have the Right Tools

Before you get your first job, you should be prepared with the proper tools and equipment. You’ll need a computer with reliable internet access to look up and manage your mystery shopping jobs.
You’ll also need a camera to take any pictures that are required as part of your current assignment. This can be done right on your mobile device. A note pad will be helpful to take notes along with a reliable vehicle to get you to and from assignments.
Lastly, you’ll need the proper attire, especially if you’re shopping in a high-end store. Although, most of your assignments will be in a relaxed shopping environment.

3. Complete Your Assignments

How to become a secret shopper: A woman holds a finger to her lip
After you land a job, you’ll need to complete your assignment and follow all of the requirements of your job.

Know Your Responsibilities

Every assignment will have its own requirements and responsibilities. You will need to follow all of these tasks and meet all of the requirements in order to get paid. This could include asking clerks certain questions or taking pictures of specific products. Whatever it is, make sure you follow the rules and check everything off the list.

Blend in While Shopping

When shopping, you should play the part by dressing and acting in an appropriate manner. Your objective will be to blend in and not be detected by store clerks.
You should try not to be too flashy in what you wear. You should also try to act natural and not make it obvious that you’re a secret shopper. If store employees suspect that you’re a mystery shopper, your cover will be blown and they may start acting differently. Your goal will be to maintain a genuine shopping experience so you can deliver authentic feedback to your employer. The more authentic feedback you’re able to deliver, the better chance you’ll have at locking in future opportunities.

Cover Your Costs

Many secret shopping jobs will require you to pay for items as part of your assignment. You need to be prepared to cover any upfront costs until the company reimburses you.
If you’re not able to cover these initial costs, you should apply to jobs that don’t require you to buy any products while on the job. When searching through opportunities, make sure to read the job description to know whether or not you’ll be required to purchase products as part of the assignment.

Show up and Be on Time

Assignments will have strict timeframes and deadlines you must meet. You should be punctual and get to the store when you’re directed. If you want to keep getting more jobs, it will be crucial that you’re on time and meet all of the requirements of the assignment.

4. Turn in Your Assignment

Lastly, you’ll need to be detailed about your experience while shopping, turn in your assignment, and then get paid.

Be Thorough and Professional

You should be as thorough as possible when providing detailed feedback regarding your mystery shopping assignment. You should also ensure there aren’t any typos, misspellings, or grammatical errors in your response. The more professional you are, the better chance you have of getting recurring assignments from companies.

Be Honest

You should be straight-forward and honest in your response, regardless of whether you had a negative or positive experience. Honesty will be appreciated by your employer and will help them make the necessary changes to improve customer experience in their stores.

Turn It in and Get Paid

Once you’ve provided detailed and honest feedback, it’s time to turn in your assignment and get paid. This part of the process will be different depending on which company you work for. Some companies will send you a check in the mail while others will pay you immediately through PayPal or a direct deposit into your bank account.
If you’re able to lock in a full-time job that has recurring assignments, you can expect to receive a paycheck as often as two times per month. But remember, these full-time gigs are more rare and are much harder to come by.

Making Undercover Money

Secret shopping is an excellent side hustle you can use to make some extra cash. You aren’t going to hit the jackpot by any means, but you can still make money while having fun at the same time. If you’re interested in other opportunities to make money by giving your opinion, make sure to check out our guides to participating in focus groups and completing surveys online.

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