Secret shopping, otherwise known as mystery shopping, is the practice of paying people to pose as regular shoppers and then evaluate businesses.
For franchises or large companies with many storefronts, secret shopper jobs can be an extremely valuable tool in ensuring that all their locations meet company standards.
Mystery shopping companies are often looking for reliable people to help them evaluate their clients’ businesses.
For people who love to shop, and are good at providing clear, honest feedback, mystery shopping can be a great way to make money.
In this article we’ll provide an overview of secret shopping, then give you a rundown of different businesses that employ secret shoppers — and why they use them.
Then we’ll give a list of some legitimate mystery shopping jobs, and answer frequently asked questions.
- The Best Secret Shopper Companies (Overview)
- What Is a Secret Shopper?
- Types of Businesses That Use Secret Shoppers
- Legitimate Companies Offering Secret Shopper Jobs
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Making Extra Money as a Secret Shopper
The Best Secret Shopper Companies (Overview)
We’ve included an overview of our top picks below. For detailed information on each pick, scroll down.
What Is a Secret Shopper?
A secret shopper, or a mystery shopper, is an undercover shopper sent to provide feedback about the customer experience at a business.
If a manager or business owner comes into a store, the employees will know to be on their best behavior and make sure the shop is clean, well-stocked, and presentable.
A mystery shopper allows business owners to get a more honest perception of how a store operates.
Different secret shopper jobs will ask for different things from their shoppers.
Some will simply want you to visit the store and make note of its cleanliness, record if shelves are well stocked, and see how good the customer service is. Others will be much more involved.
Some mystery shopper jobs will ask the shopper to make a complicated order, or ask about a special product or promotion, to see how the people who work for these companies handle the request.
Secret shoppers are typically paid per assignment and based on the type of job.
If you’re required to purchase an item, you will usually be offered reimbursement or a discount if you wish to keep the item you purchased.
Types of Businesses That Use Secret Shoppers
We know what secret shoppers do, but who hires them?
Using several sources — including the Myster Shopper’s Manual and the Reality Based Group — we’ve compiled a list of businesses that use mystery shoppers and detailed what those businesses might ask mystery shoppers to do.
Fast Food Restaurants
Fast food restaurants are one set of businesses that have leaned on secret shoppers.
When a business is run on a franchise model, national chains (or even owners of multiple locations in one market) want to check in on their business locations to make sure each location is being run up to their standards for cleanliness, food quality, speed, and customer service.
Mystery shoppers allow these owners to check on their business and get honest feedback.
Auto dealerships will bring in mystery shoppers to evaluate sales teams and get honest feedback on customer service.
These assignments may have you request a certain model of car to see how knowledgeable the sales staff is about its features, or ask questions about leasing options or cash-in value.
These companies are looking to see how their staff responds to certain situations and how well they handle customer service challenges.
Gas stations hire mystery shoppers to check for all the things you’d hope to find in a gas station — a clean store (and restroom), and attentive service.
They might also ask you to check on inventory, to see which stores carry which items, and check to make sure safety standards are met.
Retail stores that hire secret shoppers are sometimes looking for general feedback — cleanliness, staff attentiveness, inventory — but some have been known to use mystery shoppers to test their staff’s response to a unique dilemma.
They may ask you to try to return an item without a receipt or make a request for an item in a size that isn’t carried by the store.
You will then provide honest feedback on how the staff reacted to the challenge.
Grocery stores are much like any retail chain — they want to make sure individual stores are meeting their standards and will hire mystery shoppers to help them learn about that.
Often you will be tasked with checking inventory and selection, or asking staff members to help you find difficult items.
Legitimate Companies Offering Secret Shopper Jobs
While there are a lot of companies in the world that claim to hire for secret shopper jobs — more on scams in the next section — the following mystery shopping companies have been verified and recommended by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), an organization that works with mystery shopping companies.
Several of these companies have also been verified by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
EasyShift is a secret shopper app that pays gig workers to answer questions about their shopping experience, while they’re shopping.
Users that download the app and want to secret shop can pick up what the company calls “shifts” – opportunities to travel to a store and provide quick feedback about the store, its employees, and other factors like cleanliness and store presentation.
This is one of the more lucrative secret shopper platforms, so make sure to check this out.
Launched in 2012, Mobee is a mobile app that helps you find one-off secret shopper jobs in your area.
The platform works directly with popular stores in the United States and Canada — including Walmart, Kroger, Best Buy, and Urban Outfitters — to send you on mystery shopping “missions.”
Some missions require you to make small purchases, while others let you simply browse the store and report back on what you see.
Whatever the mission, however, this is a pretty great way to make money in your free time – especially if you like window shopping at various stores.
Market Force gives out shopping assignments for retail stores, restaurants, and banks — places you most likely already visit.
The company has won the MSPA Shopper’s Choice Award multiple times.
BestMark is a Better Business Bureau accredited business and says it works with some of the world’s finest corporations, including several Fortune 500 companies.
They work with casinos, banks, hotels, resorts, restaurants, and more.
BestMark screens each mystery shopper job before assigning it and does exit interviews to make sure each job was worthwhile.
IntelliShop works with over 50 different industries, so no matter where you are or what you’re interested in, they most likely have a mystery shopping gig that will be interesting to you.
They’re not always accepting new applications, but a visit to their site can get you more information about jobs they might have available in your area.
A Closer Look asks shoppers to visit restaurants, hotels, retail stores, health and wellness shops, and more.
They were awarded the MSPA “Elite Company” award in 2018.
Looking for more reputable companies hiring for secret shoppers?
We have a more robust list of secret shopping jobs over at our ultimate guide to being a mystery shopper.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve covered secret shopping, the different types of businesses that employ shoppers, and some reputable companies that hire secret shoppers.
Let’s dive in to some frequently asked questions.
How can I avoid mystery shopping scams?
It’s an unfortunate reality that mystery shopping job postings are popular for scammers.
When a company is asking you to furtively enter a store and record what you see, it’s hard, as a shopper, to verify if the request is real.
(You’re shopping secretly, after all.)
If someone asks you for banking or account passwords, or offers to send you a check for more money than you earned and instructs you to wire money to them to cover the balance, stop everything.
These are popular mystery shopper scams.
The Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) has a list of reputable companies to help you avoid scams.
How will I be paid?
Some companies will offer gift cards or discounts on items you purchase, others will offer direct deposit into your bank account or offer to pay you via Paypal.
Most mystery shoppers will be classified as independent contractors, so you will need to file taxes yourself.
And remember: Never share banking passwords or offer to wire money back to a company.
There should be no reason for you to pay a company that’s hiring you.
Can I make a full-time job out of mystery shopping?
It would be extremely difficult to do so.
In most areas of the country, there just isn’t enough consistent mystery shopping work to support someone full-time.
It can be a nice way to make some money as a part-time side gig, but it would be very difficult to make it work as a career.
Making Extra Money as a Secret Shopper
If you have a passion for shopping and are looking for a way to bring in some extra income, you might want to look into secret shopping opportunities in your area.
These jobs will let you visit stores and businesses, evaluate their customer service, and provide honest feedback, all while being paid to do so.
Knowing how to avoid scams and taking advantage of resources detailing reputable companies will help you protect yourself while doing so.
So be smart, be vigilant, and look into secret shopping — you can get paid to shop, and what’s better than that?