by Cathy Stucker
(last updated May 4, 2010)
Mystery shopping, or secret shopping, is not as simple as picking up a paycheck for going to the mall; however, it can be just what you are looking for if you want to be able to make money and get free things by working a schedule you choose.
Just about any place that does business with the public may be mystery shopped. That means the opportunities for secret shoppers include assignments at stores, restaurants, hotels, banks, salons, movie theaters, automotive service centers and more. These businesses depend on mystery shoppers to give them objective feedback about customer service, cleanliness and other issues that affect their competitiveness and profitability.
If you are reliable and observant, and you have good writing skills, you can make money and get free products and services as a secret shopper. Here is a step-by-step plan to get started.
Set up a mystery shopping email address
This address will get lots of job notices, so setting up an email address exclusively for mystery shopping is a good idea. One good option is to set up a free account with Gmail. Add this email address to your PayPal account. Many companies use PayPal to pay their shoppers, so if you do not already have a PayPal account, get one now.
Get ready to apply
Although you do not need a traditional resume, it will be useful to have a list of your employers for the last few years, as well as educational accomplishments. Many companies request writing samples, so it is a good idea to have them ready. Typically companies as for an example of good customer service, an example of poor customer service, and why you think you would make a good mystery shopper. Write about 75 - 100 words on each of those topics, then save them in a text editor, such as Notepad, so you can copy and paste the samples into your application. Make sure your spelling, grammar and punctuation are perfect.
Register with several mystery shopping companies, as one company will not have all of the assignments you want. Never pay a fee to apply. Legitimate companies will not charge you. Your application is the only information the mystery shopping provider has about you, so make a good impression.
Along with never paying a fee to apply, be aware that there are scammers taking advantage of people's interest in mystery shopping. Never cash a check and wire money to someone you do not know. A mystery shopping company will not ask you to do this.
Apply for the mystery shopping assignments you want
Most companies will post assignments to a job board, or send emails announcing what they have available. They will give you the information about what is required and what reimbursement and fee will be paid. Although your first assignments may not be exciting or glamorous (think "fast food"), once you have proven yourself to be a reliable secret shopper you will see better opportunities.
Do a great job
Submitting an accurate and detailed report will qualify you for more assignments. Read the shop guidelines and report forms and pay attention to the details. Make your report the best it can be.
Mystery shopping is not a full-time occupation, but it can become a source of cash and freebies to supplement your family budget in your spare time.
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