I want to say thank you for this thread. I wondered about secret/mystery shopping when I was 18 years old and working in a drug store because we got shopped all the time, and I thought it would be a cool job but didn't know how one got it (pre-internet so I figured you just had to catch ads in the classifieds at the right time or be in the know).
Anyway, I think I am now signed up for FOURTEEN mystery shop companies. I've already done over 20 shops since mid-May. I think I'm a little burnt out on doing so many reports now.
I've learned a few things:
* When doing a vehicle shop, make sure to research the vehicle (yeah, should be a no-brainer) so you know how to present yourself. I shopped a $36,000 car the other day but didn't present myself as someone who was ready to buy a $36,000 car and didn't really have a good cover story ready even for keeping my current car (I could've told the truth -- I love my car and want to keep it, for one, because it was an engagement present from DH, rather than a pricey ring, which would also explain the inexpensive rings on my finger).
* Beware of the shop that seems to good to be true. I jumped on a shop that pays $65 and thought, "No problem" when it said it was a difficult, detailed shop that would last about 2-3 hours. By the time I was done with the shop, I was worn out. By the time I was done writing the report, which took several hours more, I was even more worn out and realized I would've been better off picking up multiple $15 shops that required very little effort. I will never pick up one of those shops again (it was for Ikea if anyone's wondering). I figured out, after signing up for fourteen companies, that it really isn't difficult at all to find shops that pay, rather than just reimburse or pay very little (like $5).
* I won't do any more reimbursement-only shops for things like pizza; I prefer cooking most times to spending money to eat out. That was one of the first ones I did, and it required way too many pictures in my opinion to be worth getting a "free" pizza (which, as another poster pointed out, is cold by the time you get to eat it).
* I won't do anymore grocery store shops for stores where I don't regularly shop (most of them have had produce priced way too high for my taste).
* I won't accept any more grocery shops for lower-end stores that require focus on pharmacy when they don't have an actual pharmacy (lower-end stores are those that are set up like small-scale versions of Costco or Sam's Club -- merchandise still in their packing boxes on open warehouse shelves). No actual pharmacy means haunting the OTC aisles for several minutes in the hopes that an employee comes into the area. I won't let the scheduler talk me into picking up one of those again either unless they want to pay me a big bonus for doing so (I let one talk me into it but have since learned my lesson).
* I've done cell phone shops for three different mystery shopping companies. My favorite one has a pay amount in the middle, $15, but requires the least amount of effort and, best of all, no picture of the front of the store. The other two companies paid less and more ($11 & $17) but required much more, like pushing the salesperson to discuss specific phones if they don't do it voluntarily and detailed scenarios to present to ensure I get shown phones that are supposed to go with those scenarios.
* Also, beware the Cheesecake Factory and Disney Store shops. Not only do they not reimburse, but they only pay in gift cards to their stores. I rarely get anything from either company anymore (it's been years, except for the once I wanted banana cream cheesecake a few months ago) so gift cards from those companies are pretty useless to me.
Of course, these shops don't pay as much as my regular job does when you break it down, but all my OT (overtime) gets banked as CTO (compensatory time off -- extra vacation time essentially) so I'm not getting extra cash for any OT I work. I could choose to get paid out my OT, but it's an all-or-nothing deal for each fiscal year -- bank all my OT or get paid out all my OT -- until the next fiscal year when I decide again. I took almost three weeks of CTO on top of three weeks of vacation last year so I obviously could use the CTO.
Anyway, sorry for the long post. I thought some more feedback would be nice.
I found if you register with jobslinger.com or volition.com, those are mystery shop assignment databases so there are a bunch of companies to sign up with from there. Jobslinger.com is connected to MSPA, the official mystery shop company association, so I think it's safe. I can't vouch for Volition so I'll have to see how the next few weeks go as far as getting paid by all these companies.
Oh, and correction -- I've done mystery shops for fourteen companies so far; I'm signed up with more than that.
I think my favorite mystery shop company so far is Monterey Mystery Shopping. They paid me $50 for my first shop, which was for a high-end motorcycle ($30 plus $20 bonus for it being my first motorcycle shop with them and it was my first mystery shop period, not counting the ones I do as part of a committee at work). They don't require very much and, so far, seem to always pay $30 for their shops (I have three more scheduled with them on Sunday for car shops). They quickly paid me my $50.
I also found that a line I firmly draw is for shops that involve letting some unfamiliar company touch my car for any reason. DH and I have a mechanic he's gone to for years. I thought about an oil-change shop that only pays $5 but reimburses up to $60 for the oil change and thought maybe we could save the $50 it would cost with our regular mechanic to get the oil changed on DH's truck. Well, I looked at the Yelp reviews for that location and found it very much not good so DH and I will stick with paying the $50, rather than risk something happening to his truck.