Mystery shoppers may be compensated for completing shops with the payment of a fee, reimbursement of a required purchase, or both a fee and reimbursement. Typically, the shopper pays for any required purchase out-of-pocket, and receives payment from the mystery shopping company a few weeks later.
Each company has their own methods they use to pay secret shoppers. Some offer options, so shoppers can choose, perhaps between direct deposit and a mailed check, while others have a “one size fits all” approach.
The mystery shopping company will tell you at the time you apply how they issue payments. Here are the most common choices:
Check. This was the standard payment method for many years, and it is still used by many mystery shopping companies. Many shoppers prefer checks—after all, it is always fun finding money in your mailbox! However, although it happens rarely, checks may be lost or stolen. You also have to allow time to receive the check in the mail. If a company says they issue checks on the 15th, it could be a week or longer before the check is in your hands.
Direct deposit. The downside of direct deposit is that you have to give your banking information to the mystery shopping company. Of course, a reputable company will not do anything unethical or illegal with your information, and they will safeguard it to the best of their abilities. Nothing is 100% safe, but many mystery shopping companies have been using direct deposit for years without incident. Only give your banking and other personal information to a company you know to be legitimate and reputable.
PayPal. Some companies have converted to paying exclusively through PayPal. Receiving payments via PayPal is free and easy. Fees are paid by the companies, using PayPal’s Mass Pay feature. Shoppers can withdraw money from their PayPal accounts with no fees by transferring it to a bank account, using the PayPal debit card, or using funds from the account to make a purchase from a merchant who accepts PayPal. There is a fee if PayPal mails a check to you.
One new wrinkle is the use of gift cards to pay shoppers. Some clients are choosing to provide gift cards instead of a cash reimbursement. This may be acceptable, but not in all situations. See this post about mystery shopper pay and gift cards for a discussion of the pros and cons.
Each mystery shopping company makes choices about how they will pay shoppers based in part on shopper preference, but also on what works most effectively for the company. If you are uncomfortable with a mystery shopping company’s method of payment, you can choose not to work with them. There are many mystery shopping companies using each payment method described here.