You walk into one of the finest restaurants in town — a steakhouse chain with most entrees north of $40 and every side an additional $10.

You pull up to the bar with your date — you arrived early — and order two cocktails.

You get a bottle of wine with your meal… split an appetizer… and each order an elaborate main course with several of those exorbitant sides.

Even though you’re stuffed, you split a dessert. You’ve already got a doggie bag filled with steak, and you can always add some cake on top if you like.

Alert the valet you’re leaving and have your car brought feet away, avoiding a walk through the rain.

And how much did you spend on this luxurious night out?

Would you believe nothing?

In fact, would you believe you actually got paid to indulge in all this decadence?

I’m sure it sounds too good to be true. But if you’re a secret shopper, it’s just another day at the office.

Corporate America’s Best Kept Secret

If you’ve never heard of secret shopping, here’s how it works.

Most major corporations in America are, for obvious reasons, concerned with customer service, product quality and the consumer experience.

But that’s a hard thing to measure. Shops will behave differently when they know bosses are around, and customer surveys tend to only get you stories of extremes — good and bad.

So a number of companies hire what are called secret shoppers — folk to give honest feedback about their shopping (or dining or traveling) experiences.

Let’s say you decide to become a secret shopper…

First, you’re given an assignment. Usually, you have to purchase something, ask about a particular product, get a particular type of meal or something along those lines.

If you buy or consume something, the company foots the entire bill.

Then throws a stipend on top — sometimes as little as $5, sometimes much more.

In exchange, you write up a thorough review of your experience. Remember the names of anyone you interacted with… make note of everything that happened… remark on whether you were properly upsold (“Do you want fries with that?”)… comment on décor and cleanliness…

That’s it. Write up a private review for a company and you’ll get all sorts of luxurious freebies — with a little spending cash in your pocket as well for your trouble.

Now, to be clear, when you start out as a secret shopper, you won’t get the most interesting assignments off the bat.

Instead, you might be asked to shop the sleep department of a Crate & Barrel (without buying anything) or get an oil change at a Jiffy Lube.

But after you’ve completed a few assignments, your ranking will improve enough to get more choice shops.

Like an all-expenses-paid meal at Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

Or — when you get to the top of the mountain — a weeklong Caribbean cruise or a junket to China with a tour company.

As a side hustle, it’s hard for me to think of one that’s more fun… or a better way to grab luxury experiences without worrying about cost.

After all, the more secret shopping you do, the more money you make.

My only caution is you have to make sure you sign up with a legitimate secret shopping company.

There are scams out there… If any secret shopping company is asking you for cash upfront or says they need a credit card number — beware.

The easiest way to tell if a company is legit is if it’s a member of the MSPA — Mystery Shopping Providers Association. (Mystery shopping and secret shopping are the same thing.)

You can also visit some of my favorite secret shopping companies — like IntelliShop or Market Force.

No matter what your financial situation, secret shopping is something you should consider. It’s a great way to dine in style, travel in luxury and get some nice items for around the house… Not only can you get these things for free but you also get paid to enjoy them.

Not to mention — there’s a certain amount of fun involved as well. You get to be something of a secret agent in the retail world. The James Bond of buying.

As long as you don’t mind penning the occasional write-up — and who hasn’t written an online review now and again with no real reward?

The bottom line is secret shopping is one of the most satisfying ways to live luxuriously — without having to think about the price tag.

Unconventionally yours,

Ryan Cole

Ryan Cole
Editor-in-chief, Unconventional Wealth

P.S. Have you ever tried your hand at secret shopping? Think this is a pastime you could enjoy? Have any doubts about how to get started? Let us know at feedback@unconventionalwealth.com.

Ryan Cole

Ryan Cole is the editor-in-chief of Unconventional Wealth. He’s been covering the alternative investment space for nearly a decade and writing about finance and investment for almost 20 years.

Ryan has walked the walk for years, living a very unconventional life. He’s led snowmobile tours through the mountains of Colorado, settled in Japan for five...

View Bio & Posts

Your exploration
of opportunities unknown begins now
Get Started »