Opportunity Knocks

Are Get Paid To Shop Opportunities for Real?

We’ve all seen the ads promising that you will get paid to shop, and many of us wonder if it is too good to be true. Are there really companies that will pay secret shoppers to come to their establishments and report on the consumer experience?

In an exclusive report on secret shopping, ShopSmart magazine, the new shopping magazine from the publishers of Consumer Reports, found that while many jobs exist, consumers should be wary of scammers that have gotten into the game as well. The August/September issue of ShopSmart reports that there are about 1.5 million mystery, or secret shoppers across the country who help companies check everything from the friendliness of sales people to the number of minutes it takes to be seated in a restaurant.

"If you enjoy shopping and want to make some extra cash, mystery shopping might be worth a try," said Lisa Lee Freeman, Editor-in-Chief, ShopSmart. "But be wary of scams and don't expect to make big money or receive lots of free stuff."

What Does a Secret Shopper Really Do?

Companies use secret shoppers, who get their assignments mostly though consulting firms, to determine how well they are doing and to find out about their competitors. This includes "compliance" shopping, to see if employees are following regulatory laws such as properly checking liquor buyer's ID; "reveal" shopping, awarding certificates or money to cashiers who remember to offer fries with that coke; or "diversity" shopping, to make sure everyone is being treated fairly. All of which plays an important role in helping companies figure our where they need improvement.

ShopSmart offers tips on how to get started in the business of secret shopping:

  • Don't Get Ripped Off. Watch out for scams that usually come through e- mail, in newspapers or online. Never pay for advice or job listings.
  • Find Real Jobs. Visit sites run by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (http://www.mysteryshop.org) or Volition (http://www.volition.com) where mystery shoppers go to find work, ask questions and chat.
  • Get Certified. Another good source is Smiley University, an online school for mystery shoppers at http://www.aboutfacecorp.com. ShopSmart recommends trying out a few jobs first before committing funds to a certificate.
  • Do a Background Check. Before accepting assignments, check the company's reputation at the Better Business Bureau in that company's local area as well as Volition's forum.
  • Keep Good Records. Be sure to separate fees, which are subject to income tax, from reimbursed expenses, which typically are not. Any un- reimbursed expenses may be eligible for deduction from your income, including use of a car, which will also need to be backed up with detailed records. Get expert tax advice.

Minimal Compensation

Legitimate assignments usually pay around $10 to $25 or can be twice the amount if the assignment requires special expertise. Phone-in jobs can pay as little as 50 cents. Keep in mind that secret shoppers are independent contractors with no job security or benefits. Be prepared to wait for compensation. Companies often take 60 days or longer to pay you and reimburse expenses. Don't expect freebies because products purchased as part of an assignment must usually be returned. The exceptions occur when the assignment involves testing a service such as an oil change or a salon haircut.

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