Mystery Shoppers Earn Money And Free Stuff While Playing Spy

Get Paid To Shop

By NBC 6 Anchor/Reporter Trina Robinson
POSTED: 2:56 p.m. EST November 24, 2003
UPDATED: 6:56 p.m. EST November 25, 2003

"Barb" is a mystery shopper. We can't show her face as we follow her with a hidden camera. She's getting paid and having a free meal at a South Florida IHOP restaurant. Almost every kind of business now uses mystery shopping companies. They pay ordinary people to secretly evaluate customer service.

"It's like a secret spy, no one knows you're grading them," said Barb. Cathy Stucker wrote a book and recently visited Miami to teach others how cash in. "What mystery shopping is, is a great way to make extra money in your spare time doing stuff that you want to or have to do anyway," said Stucker. The business is so big, there's an association of hundreds of companies, continuously posting thousands of jobs.

"If you are doing a bank, you're getting a fee," said Mike Green of the Mystery Shoppers Providers Association. "For a restaurant, you may get a free meal plus a fee. You might get a night at a hotel."

Today, Barb is working for Shop'n Chek, which does mystery shops for IHOP.

"We just gave him our order," said Barb. "We'll see how long it takes for that order to arrive."

Barb sizes up everything from how quickly she got her breakfast to the cleanliness of the bathroom and more. After the meal, her job isn't done: "Making sure the dumpster and the landscaping is good."

While the details are fresh, "I transfer information to a worksheet and when I get home, I'll transfer it to the Internet."

Then the evaluation is emailed to IHOP's corporate office. Companies say, it's all about improving customer care.

"What's great about mystery shopping, and one of the reasons we use them at IHOP, is they're everyday people -- young, old, male, female -- from all walks of life," said Patrick Lenow, director of guest satisfaction for IHOP. "By using a detailed evaluation, they can really tell us how we're doing and provide an extra set of eyes. It's a great way to earn a little bit of extra money, and also get a great meal at the same time."

There are more examples: "I've done a luxury car shop, where I was allowed to use the car for several months," said one mystery shopper.

"Different types of clothes I've gotten to keep," said another.

These mystery shoppers from South Florida say, helping companies improve service is one reason they do it. And in addition to money, they sometimes keep the merchandise.

"One of the largest was a $300 reimbursement. I did a 5-star restaurant," said one mystery shopper.

"I go there and get gas and they'll reimburse me for that," said another. You won't get rich. Most mystery shoppers do it part-time.

"Usually a shop pays from $7 to $25 dollars," said one mystery shopper. "So if you do a couple shops a month, you get a pile of checks at the end of the month."

And it's not exactly easy money. You have to be super observant, dependable, web-savvy and fill out detailed reports.

"It's a great income for retirees," said Green. "Teachers make great mystery shoppers. They write well and follow directions."

But for a little extra income and a flexible work schedule, mystery shopping might be worth discovering.

"I am not limited to how many companies I can work for," said Barb. "So you can definitely make a good part-time income out of it." @


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