Mystery Shopper Reimbursements

I get lots of questions about reimbursements for required purchases on mystery shopper jobs. Here is what you need to know about secret shop reimbursements and how they work.

When I make a purchase during a secret shop, do I get to buy anything I want? How will I know how much the mystery shopping company will pay for?

When the mystery shopping company offers the assignment they will let you know if there is a required purchase, if there is a specific item (or items) that must be purchased, and the maximum amount of any reimbursement. Some shop clients will name an item that you must purchase, while others will say to purchase anything you wish. If your purchase amount exceeds the maximum purchase allowance, you will not be reimbursed for anything over the maximum.

Do I have to have a credit card to make purchases on mystery shop assignments, or may I use cash or check?

Most of the time, you may use cash, check or credit card for any required purchase. However, there are times when the shop guidelines will specify the form of payment. That information will usually be in the information provided in the offer of the assignment. One note: When a shop requires a purchase and return, you are usually advised not to pay by check, as they may delay your refund.

Does the mystery shopping company give me money to make the purchase, or do I have to pay out of pocket and wait for the mystery shopping company to pay me back?

In almost every case, you will pay for any required purchase and be reimbursed by the mystery shopping company. There are occasionally shops where you will be provided with gift cards to use on the shop, but those are rare.

Beware of “mystery shops” where you receive checks or money orders for large amounts, with instructions to cash them, shop at one or more local merchants, then wire most of the money to someone (often in a foreign country). These are not mystery shops, they are scams that have nothing to do with mystery shopping. The checks are forgeries, which you will discover sometime after wiring the money.

How long will it take to be reimbursed?

That depends. Most mystery shopping companies describe their pay cycles on their websites. They may say that payment will be made on the 15th of the month for all shops completed in the previous month. Or they may pay every two weeks, or on some other schedule. I recently did a restaurant mystery shop where I was paid less than one week after the shop date, but that is not typical.

Sometimes companies will expedite reimbursements when you must make a large purchase. For example, I did some assignments that required purchases in the thousands of dollars. The company made sure to pay me within a week or two after completing the assignments. I put the purchases on credit cards, and had the cash in hand well before I had to pay the bill.

The exact procedures for mystery shop reimbursements vary, but the secret shopping company will let you know how the reimbursement will work when the shop is offered. If you have any questions, you may contact the mystery shopping company before accepting the assignment.

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