Question from a mystery shopper:
In some recent articles, you talked about getting reimbursed for things you purchased on a mystery shop. I would like to be a mystery shopper, but I am a little nervous about putting out my own money then waiting (and hoping) to get reimbursed.
How long does it take to get reimbursed for mystery shopping expenses? Should I be worried about not getting paid? How much money will I have tied up in this, and for how long?
If you are working for a legitimate mystery shopping company, you will usually receive your reimbursement (as well as any fees payable for the mystery shopper job) within two to six weeks. However, if you do not follow the shop guidelines and the client will not accept the report, you will probably not be paid. When you read and follow the guidelines, you should not have a problem getting paid. (Beware: The people who send you a check for thousands of dollars and tell you to wire money somewhere are trying to scam you. Do not fall for a mystery shopper scam.)
Waiting two to six weeks for your reimbursement may seem like a long time, but keep in mind that when you are just getting started you probably will not get a lot of assignments, and most of them will not involve large purchases.
As you start getting paid for your initial assignments, the fees can help fund your expenses for the next round of shops. Here is what I mean:
In the first month, you do six fast food shops. Each one reimburses a food purchase of $6 and pays a fee of $8. If you made the maximum purchase for each secret shop, you are out of pocket $36. Over the next two weeks, you do three retail shops that pay a fee of $12 and require a small purchase. The purchases are not reimbursed separately, and the $12 fee is meant to cover both your fee and the purchase. At each of the three retail shops you spend $4, so you are out of pocket another $12.
In your first six weeks of shopping, you have paid $48 for required purchases. Somewhere around that time, you get paid for the first round of shops: $36 for the reimbursements and $48 for the fees for a total of $84. Your cash flow is now positive and you have not even been paid for the second round of shops yet.
This is only an example. Your actual experience may be different; however, it is rare for a brand new mystery shopper to get assignments with large purchase reimbursements. One reason is that those shops may be more complex than low-end mystery shopper jobs, so the company wants experienced shoppers. High-end shops are often given as rewards to experienced shoppers who have proven they do good work, or who have helped out with last-minute shops and other emergencies. Also, the mystery shopping company does not want new shoppers putting out a lot of money only to find that they did not complete the shop correctly and they will not be paid.
Still nervous? Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself and your cash flow:
For your first assignments, focus on fee-only shops, such as apartments, banks, car dealerships, purchase-and-return retail shops, etc. That way you will not have any cash at risk.
When you do start taking on shops with reimbursements, only choose those you can afford to front the cash for. If you don’t have the money, or will have to pay interest on it, don’t accept the shop. Once you have been mystery shopping for a while you can use the payments you receive to fund required purchases so you can take more shops, or those with larger reimbursed purchases.
When you accept an assignment, make sure you follow all of the guidelines. That means doing the shop on the right day, at the right time and in the right place. It also means getting all of the information you will need to complete the report, writing a thorough and accurate report, and submitting the report on or before the deadline.
Consider using a credit card for expenses, if allowed by the shop guidelines. Use a card where you are not carrying a balance so that interest does not begin accruing as soon as the charge is made. It is very possible that you will have your reimbursement before the charge is due. Also, if you use a rewards card, the points, miles and cash bonuses will add up over time.