When I worked in retail, the warnings were there to always be prepared for a mystery shopper who would rate your performance for the management. I never heard or saw a report of a mystery shopper, so to me, they were just that…. a mystery. I figured it was like the threats of parents that Santa Claus wouldn’t bring any presents or of teachers that some infraction might result in a mark on your permanent record.  I always thought it was a phantom threat to make sure I consistently tried my best. Now as a mystery shopper myself, I can assure you we are real. I'd like to expose the mystique and let you know how you can not only earn some extra income but cover the costs of meals and other forms of entertainment by mystery shopping.

Retail and service companies regularly contract agencies to send mystery shoppers into their stores for a variety of reasons. They may want to ensure that a proper promotion is being presented or that store policies are being followed. It may even be to check on a specific shift or employee about whom they’ve been getting feedback. The assignments come with a wide variety of situations. Sometimes you stroll through the store looking for and notating things you observe; other times you interact directly with employees. In most cases the scenarios are simple and straightforward, although sometimes on higher paying assignments you are required to act out a conflict or problem to see how the representative responds.

As a mystery shopper, you are a contract worker for the individual agencies, so you are free to work for as many of them as you like, when you like. Googling to find mystery shopping work can lead to some illegitimate websites. To begin your search for mystery shopping opportunities it's best to start with the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. This website provides a search engine to search for opportunities in your area. In my experience, it has never directly led to an assignment, but it connects me to the agencies in my area that I will now know are reputable.

Once connected with a local agency, you will usually be required to register on their website and take a brief aptitude test to ensure that you have the attention to detail and writing skills that the reports require. After you have passed the tests and are registered with the sites, you can check for assignments on-line or have updates emailed to you. You read a description of the task and the reimbursement offered and confirm on-line if you would like to accept the contract work. Don't jump too quickly to book assignments as the rate can sometimes increase with bonuses as the job date gets closer. After the assignment you simply report back on-line, and you are reimbursed/paid within a few weeks by check or direct deposit.

After finding and successfully registering for a number of agencies in my area, I am provided with lists of opportunities on a daily basis. With experience you learn that most companies generally focus on clients in similar industries. For example, one may focus on the fast food chains and another on higher-end restaurants; some will focus on retail stores and others on entertainment venues like movie theaters. Try to find and register with the agencies that will connect you with jobs that interest you and your lifestyle. I use mystery shopping to my advantage in a number of ways. For example, if I know I have to go to the mall or run errands, I check the sites for "shops" within The Secrets of Secret Shopping Revealed!

Although the reimbursement may not be a fortune, I'll gladly take $10.00 to walk into that popular jeans store in the mall to make sure they welcome me when I enter. Most assignments only take a few minutes and, worked into errands I am doing anyway, are a great way to earn some extra cash. In some situations, you are required to buy something; you can keep the item and get reimbursed for the purchase. Some assignments are not covert at all: you introduce yourself to management and put up a sign or rearrange a product on the shelf for the client, then take a digital picture to report back, and you are on your way.

Entertainment costs have always been one of the biggest expenses in our budget, but not anymore! Going to the movies, which had become a rare treat because of the associated expense, is now a regular occurrence. Movie assignments can range from reporting back which trailers were shown and/or how the audience reacted to them to which posters and standees were prominent in the lobby. One of my favorite regular assignments is when I get to reveal that I am, in fact, a mystery shopper and reward the concession clerk with a cash bonus for a job well done. Along with a friend, I get to see a free movie, get a snack and make someone's day!

Dining assignments usually require a longer report, but to be fully reimbursed for a three course meal including drinks is worth the 45 minutes to an hour it takes to report back my findings.

If you find that you have a knack for secret shopping, you can receive certifications that will lead to higher paying jobs. For me, secret shopping is a great way to earn a little extra cash and cover the costs of entertainment and dining out, but don't tell everyone… it'll just be our little secret.

This has been a guest post by Chuck from North Chelmsford, MA
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