Ok now let me just say this coming from a person who has been on both ends of the mystery shopping experience. Yes its very very real. Yes not only does retail stores have real mystery shoppers coming into the store to shop and give there review, but so does fast food places.
I know this because I have been on both sides. I have worked for a fast food place and I know for a fact that the companies hire companies to hire you to become mystery shoppers for them. And this doesn't happen in just big huge cities or mid cities, anywhere that there is a fast food or retail chain there is probably a chance that there is going to be a mystery shopper needed for that business.
Now I have worked for a food place and have had mystery shoppers come there and then I have been the mystery shopper. I have done both the retail and fast food shops. Yes the fast food shops are cheaper sometimes to do but you can get great deals with the retail stores too and usually the purchase doesn't have to be a certain amount and can be a thing of gum or a candy bar in retail stores like Kmart.
Yes it is true that you go to either the food place or the store and you purchase an item, yes its true that you purchase the item first with your money But the company that hired you to do the shop, will pay you and most of them pretty fast as soon as you turn in your report and any other necessary paperwork such as a receipt faxed to them or mailed in to the company so that they know that you did indeed go there and complete the shop on the day/time that was allowed.
Yes most companies that hire people to do the shops pay pretty good and sometimes if they are in a "bind" to get the shop done fast, they will hike up the price of the shop by a few dollars and even some companies will talk to you and give you extra money for gas/mileage if you agree to go there and do the shop (not all but some will) I was paid extra to go and do a book store the same day that the lady called because they were in a bind and needed it done that day and I did it for like $15 extra and I didn't spend but about $5 in the store on whatever I wanted/needed and then got paid $10 just to do the shop and then the extra $15 to do it that day!! So I made $25. Yes its not going to make you rich or anything like that but its fun to do and I enjoy getting out and going shopping and looking around so its right up my alley. I haven't done any in awhile but am still open to them.
The same way with the food shops, I go there and sometimes they ask you to buy a special item or maybe a special number combo or just any combo etc and you pay for that but then you get your money back plus the amount that they pay you for the shop so its usually a pretty good deal.
Now here is where the important part comes in "No matter what, don't pay the company or an individual any amount of money for you to become a mystery shopper for them" Just don't do it!! That simple.
You can go online and do a search for mystery shopping companies or something like that and find them rather then having to pay a company for a list. Now some of the places are legit, I know because I have paid for one, I can't remember the exact name of it right now so I will blog about it later if I remember it but don't pay for something where all you have to do is just search online for free and go from there.
So the answer to the question...yes they are real Mystery shoppers