Secrets of a Secret Shopper

secrets of a secret shopper
Have you ever been curious about how to become a Secret Shopper? I have! So when I found out that Tera Borden has been a Secret Shopper for the past two years I knew I had to interview her about it. Today she's sharing all of her Secret Shopper secrets! – Anna

For those who don't know, what is a Secret Shopper?

Companies hire people to shop (or pretend to shop) to get a real feel of how their stores are running, such as cleanliness and customer service. If the President walks in, everyone is on their best behavior right? By sending someone in to report on the activities of an establishment, they get an honest feel of how well, or how poor, their staff is performing.

How'd you get the idea to become a Secret Shopper?

I was one of many people who were laid off when the recession hit. I was living alone, but paying two mortgages, so I had to find a way to bring in more income other than the unemployment insurance that I was receiving. My best friend, Jen, suggested that I become a Secret Shopper in order to make some money and get free products, so I did!

What's the process like to become approved as a Secret Shopper?

Usually, it's as simple as filling out a form about who you are and where you live, sometimes they'll request a paragraph about a recent shopping experience. To get specific jobs, a quiz will need to be taken ahead of time to determine if you're eligible for that particular shop.

How do you find reputable Secret Shopper companies?

There is a free web magazine for Secret Shoppers called MysteryShopperMagazine and there's a great forum to exchange tips and stories, called MysteryShopForum. Both of these give names of Secret Shopper companies with their details on a weekly basis, and you can always read old issues to catch up too. Keep in mind that any reputable Secret Shopper company will NOT ask you to pay a fee; all of the legit companies are FREE to join!

Can you work with more than one company at a time?

Absolutely, and you should! The more companies you work for, the wider your variety of shops are, and the more jobs you can accept.

What's a normal Secret Shopper gig like?

It really depends on what type of assignment you get; there is a wide variety! You can test drive a car, get your carpets cleaned, call a funeral home, tour a golf course as if you are a bride, have dinner, get a hair cut, pick up some groceries, watch a movie, order a pizza, tour a storage facility, go out for drinks, inquire about cell phone service, get a massage or facial (!), tour an apartment complex, get an oil change, take your pet to the vet, get your taxes done, etc.

Sometimes you can self-assign a shop, without having to get accepted, although it's unlikely when you are starting out. Just like any other job, you have to prove yourself when you're the new kid on the block. Turning in reports late or flaking on assignments earn you negative marks and schedulers will be hesitant to assign you future jobs.

It's best to look through the list of shops in your area and apply for any that interest you. I would recommend starting with just a couple at first, and don't overbook! Be sure to spend some time reading through the instructions before you apply. Once accepted, you will get an email informing you of the details.

The average gig however, is arriving on the day (sometimes during a certain timeframe) that you are assigned and making note of your arrival and departure times. You'll have to note: the cleanliness of the store (Were there smudges on the windows? Was there trash on the floor? Was their merchandise stocked and organized?), how was the customer service (Were you greeted with a smile? Did they treat you well?). You'll need to take note of who helped you out (my mental notepad doesn't always work well, so I use my cell phone and pretend that I'm texting. I include: the person's hair color/style/length, height, sex, age, etc.). Sometimes the companies require names of the employees, so you'll need to glance at their name badge or get a business card. After your assignment, be sure to submit your report before the deadline given which is usually within 12-24 hours.

What's the standard pay and time spent on each Secret Shopper gig?

That's another part of this job that varies; it can be as little as $2 for making a phone call, to a $600 reimbursement for a hotel stay! If you're looking to make actual money, rather than just getting reimbursed for products or services, I'd say the average job is $25 (that's more than what I make in an hour at my day job!). It takes about an hour total which includes reading the instructions, spending 20-30 minutes on location, and then completing the report. I always feel good when I complete a Secret Shopper job before going to my day job to clock hours there.

What are you required to submit to the company overseeing you?

Very little actually. You'll need a social security number (because they'll need to give you a 1099 form if you earn $600 or more within the year), a valid address, and some companies require you to have a (PayPal account (free to sign-up) since some companies will want to pay you that way.

What's the best Secret Shopper gig you've had, and the what's been the worst?

My favorite Secret Shopper gig is the massage parlors because, well, who doesn't love massages?! Free just feels better! It's something that I RARELY treat myself to, so now I can get them on a regular basis, albeit it comes with the price of a tedious report!

The worst experience that I had was probably when I got my carpets cleaned. I was so excited to have it done (because it was overdue for a professional cleaning) since I would not only get reimbursed for it, but earn a little extra cash in addition! It took me a week to get someone to even come to my home to estimate the job and then the tech told me that he couldn't even clean it! I had to explain to the scheduler what happened and hoped that it would be rescheduled, so I would be allowed another attempt. Luckily, I was. Being that I worked for this company's biggest competitor (before being laid off from there), I knew what to expect, so I was the perfect shopper for this assignment. Another week later I got my carpets cleaned by a tech that also hesitated, but it worked out in the end, although it was a pain to get it done. I'm still waiting to be reimbursed on it too however, which is difficult when it's over $100 like this one was.

What would you suggest to someone looking to get into the Secret Shopper biz? 

Devote a couple hours to signing up for a lot of companies and READ their instructions! Don't go into this thinking it's just for fun, because you are working; you are being paid for a service that is expected to be done well. Start slow by doing a few jobs and allow yourself time to adjust to the duties required. Read the online magazine and other articles you find online, post on the forum and ask questions! You will get lots of friendly advice on several topics from the kind people there.

Is there anything that has surprised you about being a Secret Shopper?

I was surprised by the variety of shops that have this done and how well you can do financially when you put enough work into it.

What's the most interesting part about being a Secret Shopper?

Learning the standard customer service that each store expects is interesting. I've visited Cheesecake Factory before, but until I had to shop them, I was unaware that their staff are all supposed to make eye contact, smile and even fold your napkin if you leave your seat; how nice! I learned that Michael Kors only hires attractive employees and the report even asks if you thought their employees are attractive!

Would you like to add anything?

In this economy, when people are struggling more than ever, Secret Shopping is a great way to assist in the hardship. As I stated earlier, I started this when I was laid off; I didn't find a full-time job for another two years! I'm working now, but I make a LOT less than I used to, so I still Secert Shop to help ease the strain. I'll apply for a grocery store shop as often as I can because groceries are always a need. I take a hair-cutting shop when I need a hair cut, so that it'll essentially cost me nothing. I regularly do dinner shops because it can be date night with the hubby or I get to “treat” whoever joins me, so sometimes it'll be their birthday gift, which is another money saver!

Have you ever considered being a Secret Shopper? What company would you like to be a Secret Shopper for? Also, feel free to ask Tera any questions you might have (here in the comments) she said she's up for answering them:)

Tera Borden can be found on Twitter @TeraNKOTBLuvr

P.S. Looking to make more money? CLICK HERE for over 195+ side gig ideas