A mystery shopper asks:
I got several gift cards as Christmas gifts, and including some for stores and restaurants I sometimes visit as a secret shopper. May I use these gift cards on mystery shops, instead of paying with my own money? What about gift cards that are issued by the credit card companies (e.g., Visa, American Express), not the store or restaurant? May I use those on mystery shops?
Generally, you should be able to use gift cards on mystery shopping assignments. However, there are a few exceptions.
Some shop guidelines specify a method of payment. If the guidelines say that you must use a credit card, you must use a credit card and not a gift card. Gift cards, even the ones issued by credit card companies, are not the same as credit cards and should not be used when the client wants you to pay with a credit card.
I would also recommend not using a gift card when the guidelines specify that you should pay with cash. Even though gift card purchases are, in many ways, like cash purchases, they are not the same. For example, the client may want you to pay with cash because they want you to make observations about how the cash was handled. There may be questions on the report about whether the cashier counted back your change, if the cash drawer was closed immediately after the transaction, etc. If you pay with a gift card, you would not be able to answer these questions.
Most shops do not specify that you use a particular payment method. In those cases, paying with a gift card would be fine. (Unless, of course, the guidelines say not to use a gift card; however, I have never seen that.)
There are clients who now provide mystery shop reimbursements in the form of gift cards. If you receive a gift card instead of cash from the client, there should be no problem using the gift card on a future secret shopping visit.