Retail Secret Shopper: What is it? How does it work? Is it legit? Is it for you?

  • book T-ROC Staff
  • calendar Sep 8, 2021
  • clock 8 mins read

Retail secret shoppers, sometimes also called mystery shoppers, are used by retailers and brands to gain a better understanding of how customers experience their stores and venues.


How does a secret shopper work?

Essentially, a retail secret shopper is someone trained to visit stores, engage sales personnel and brand ambassadors, and report back to management about their visit and the overall shopping experience. The reason they call this person a “secret shopper” is that those individuals working in the store have no idea the secret shopper was sent there by management. In other words, store sales staff believe that the secret shopper is just another customer who happened to pop in that day. The whole idea being that store personnel will treat the secret shopper exactly as they would treat any other customer, thus, giving management a pretty accurate and unfiltered glimpse into how customers actually experience their stores – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

What types of businesses use secret shoppers?

Really any type of business that features face-to-face or one-on-one interactions between service personnel and customers or end-users can benefit from secret or mystery shopping. For example, restaurants, banks, even car dealerships, can learn a lot from secret shopping. It’s also important to note that mystery shopping doesn’t have to be done in person. A lot of companies use secret shoppers to measure the effectiveness of their call centers, customer service hotlines, and these days, even online chat services. Anywhere customers are served and products are sold can most likely benefit from mystery shopping.

What qualities should a good mystery shopper have?

If you’re considering becoming a secret shopper, there are plenty of opportunities out there. However, this gig isn’t for everyone. You need a certain set of skills to be an effective secret shopper, and, quite frankly, you have to possess the right personality for the job. Secret shopping might sound easy enough on the surface, but it can put you in some uncomfortable situations depending on what your management team is expecting you to find out. For example, what if they want to know how salespeople handle conflict? Guess who’s going be asked to create a little bit conflict? You.

Here are a few, but certainly not all, the qualities most good mystery shoppers possess.

Strong communication skills

As a secret shopper, you are going to be asked to engage store personnel. In fact, you’re most likely going to be given a very specific mission to learn certain things as dictated by management. It’s up to you to be able to guide the conversation and adapt it as the encounter evolves in order to obtain the unique intel management is seeking.

Think on your feet

One of the most exciting aspects of being a secret shopper is that each day and each individual experience is different. However, this also means that you never know exactly what’s going to be thrown at you. No matter what occurs, it’s up to you to never break cover and always come off as a genuine shopper with no agenda.

An eye for detail

As a secret shopper, you’re being sent into the store to uncover important details. Are the salespeople smiling when you enter? Do they greet you properly? Are aisles and displays nicely merchandised or do they look cluttered? Does the store appear clean or could staff to a better job? It’s easy to notice the big things, the question is can you spot those minute details?

Good recall

Secret shoppers have to work from memory. It’s not like you’re going to be able to take notes when interacting with a salesperson or brand ambassador. You’re going to have to remember everything about how the encounter played out. Most secret shoppers get into the practice of writing stuff down as soon as they depart the store, as the more time that passes, the foggier recollections get. Still, a good memory is a major part of being a good retail mystery shopper.

Good writing/reporting skills

Retail secret shoppers go into stores alone. Management will not be able to see and hear what you experience. Instead, they expect you to write up clear and highly detailed reports describing your shopping experience and staff encounters. They’re not looking for generalities, nor will they appreciate vague recollections of your time in the store. You must be able to write in a professional manner, without grammar or spelling mistakes, in a way that paints a crystal-clear picture to management of what you experienced down to every last detail.

Pull no punches

One of the most important characteristics of a good secret shopper is simply the willingness to always be honest. It’s not easy to report negatively on a salesperson you have met for just a few minutes, knowing that person will likely experience some pretty big consequences due to your honest assessment. It’s also not entirely easy report to management about all the problems you found in their stores or venues, particularly if you spot issues management had no idea existed. Nevertheless, unless your report is entirely candid and honest, the best actions to remedy situation will never be taken.

What does a retail secret shopper do?

We’ve already talked about retail secret shopping in general, but what would a typical day on the job look like? Again, this in large part depends on the specific areas management wants to gain insight into – customer service, conflict resolution, store layout, product merchandising, etc. That being said, here are some things that retail secret shoppers are often asked to find out.

– How many employees were working the sales floor when you arrived?

– How were you greeted? Did someone quickly say, “hello,” and ask if they could provide assistance? Or were you left your own devices?

– Was the customer service representative who engaged you well-informed on the products and services being offered? Were your questions answered satisfactorily?

– Did the customer service representative inform you about current sales happening that day, or any special programs being offered?

– Were you proactively asked if you wanted to sign up for brand newsletters, email lists, credit card accounts or other offerings?

– If you went into the store to discuss a problem with a product, how were you treated? Was your problem resolved? What options were you offered?

Is a retail secret shopper a legit job?

Unfortunately, this is a pretty popular question. Let’s start by answering it this way. Yes, being a secret shopper is absolutely a legit job and one that pays on average about $20/hour. However, there is one caveat. You have to be working with a reputable retail mystery shopping or secret shopping company. There are a lot of scammers out there that will try to woo you in with promises of great pay and awesome career opportunities. The catch is that these scam jobs come at a price, as the companies demand that you pay them to see a list of their so-called great jobs. Don’t fall for it!

Any legitimate mystery shopping company is always looking for great people and will never ask you to pay for anything – not a list of jobs, not for retail secret shopper training, not for necessary materials or manuals, not for anything. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Legitimate secret shopper companies, who believe you have the skills and personality to succeed at the job, will gladly provide you with proper training, job placement, and anything else you need.

Another great way to tell if a company is a reputable secret shopping provider is to check to see if they are a member in good standing with the Mystery Shopping Professionals Association (MSPA). If they are, they are most likely legit.

If you’re interested exploring secret shopper opportunities, The Consumer Insight, an MSPA listed member of The Revenue Optimization Companies T-ROC) has opportunities nationwide you can search on the T-ROC job portal

If you’re a brand or retailer interested in learning more about mystery shopping, consumer insights, and other critical aspects of retail management and operations, explore the services of The Revenue Optimization Companies (T-TOC), a leading provider of people and technology solutions to Fortune 100 companies. Learn more at

If you found this post interesting and insightful, we invite you to explore additional posts revolving around all things retail at

TROC is the leading provider of premier staffing outsource, software, managed technology services, and consumer insights for the top global brands, retailers, manufacturers, service providers, and distributors. The company’s distinctive solutions address the entire lifecycle of brick and mortar brand and retail operations by combining retail expertise, best practices, and technology to help its customers achieve sales and operational excellence as well as a sustainable competitive advantage. As a Retail 4.0 thought leader, T-ROC enables companies with high-value products in the physical world to thrive through the digitalization of the physical shopping experience. To learn more about T-ROC, visit

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