Secret shopping, more commonly referred to as mystery shopping, is a market research tool used to gauge the quality of service provided by a retailer. Mystery shoppers are independent contractors who work for one or more market research companies, either directly or indirectly through a third-party provider. Mystery shopping entails posing as a customer, unbeknownst to the workers being evaluated, and collecting specific information that market researchers use to evaluate the quality of products or services offered by a variety of establishments, such as restaurants, banks, retail outlets, spas, salons, hotels and apartments. Mystery shoppers work part time and are usually paid on an hourly basis, and many in the occupation feel the extra earnings are a great way to supplement regular income.
How it Works
The vast majority of mystery shoppers work for providers -- organizations that get assignments from market research companies. Most shoppers have little or no contact with the research company, and primarily deal with the provider in looking for assignments, reporting and getting paid. Providers match assignments posted by market research companies to a pool of mystery shoppers, based on the locations of the establishments to be evaluated. Once a shopper takes an assignment, the provider sends a form that details the specific date and time to visit the establishment and the information that has to be collected. When the assignment is complete, the shopper fills out the form with relevant information and sends it back to the provider.
Since most mystery shoppers are paid hourly, the amount that you make depends largely on how much time you put into it. According to Job Money, the average pay for a new mystery shopper is about $8 per hour. This is the base pay, and new shoppers are paid at this rate because they are only given small and simple assignments. The rate may change depending on the amount of time an individual works for a specific company and the scope and complexity of the assignment. As with most other kinds of work, the pay increases with time; for example, an experienced mystery shopper may earn up to $25 per hour. Some mystery shoppers are paid a flat rate per assignment. This means that regardless of the time spent on a job, the payment will be the same. Job Monkey states that new mystery shoppers can expect to make around $10 per assignment whereas an experienced shopper may earn up to $75.
In some cases a mystery shopper may be paid a fixed salary. This happens when the shopper is directly employed by the market research company, rather than through a provider. Salaried mystery shoppers are usually experienced in the industry and most have worked for a considerable length of time for the same company. While hourly rates are only adequate to supplement income from a primary source, such as another part-time or full-time job, a salaried mystery shopper may work full time as a regular employee. Depending on the company and the shopper’s experience, a salaried employee earns $40,000 to $70,000 per year.
Since mystery shoppers who work hourly are independent contractors, they are responsible for their taxes. As such, it is imperative that workers keep detailed records of expenses incurred in completing an assignment, as these can be deducted when determining taxable income. It is a good idea to keep track of expenses for each assignment, especially mileage, as gas makes up the bulk of expenses.