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Retail Eyes are a company who provide mystery shopping services for a variety of clients. Registering with the company allows you to shop for them. On completion of your report, you will be paid for your shop, and reimbursed for your expense!
Registration with Retail Eyes only takes a few minutes, although you will need to pass a spelling and grammar test in order to successfully register (which isn't too difficult). You also tell them which areas you're willing to shop in. You can select up to 10 areas, which is very useful if you're moving around the country a lot anyway. So if you work between two cities, visit family on the other side of the country, or even just having a day out somewhere, you can let RetailEyes know and you'll be able to see assignments for those areas. However, as you won't be paid any travel expenses, don't volunteer for jobs that are too far out of your way! You can also advise them of when you're flying from UK (and some international) airports, as they have many airside jobs available (although I've not been able to test this feature).
Once you've registered, you're able to see jobs (or "assignments") in your local area(s). The jobs are uploaded onto the website, and are accepted by shoppers on a "first come first served" basis, so it pays to check the website regularly. You're never forced to take a job; you must apply for it, so the work is as flexible as you want it to be. On the other side of that coin, however, work won't always be available all the time. Some weeks you may not get any work, others you may get several in the course of a week. Don't expect to get regular work
The assignments themselves vary widely. Retail Eyes have a wide variety of clients, including fast food outlets, pubs, retailers, bookmakers, pharmacists, and even airports. Correspondingly, your role varies in each scenario. You may be asked to simply shop as you would otherwise. You may have to make a rather complex or unusual enquiry. They also have "age verification" jobs for their younger shoppers to ensure that the clients are asking young people for identification. The exact task varies each time, and you are provided with a a detailed series of job notes that provide you with the scenario that you are required to follow. With such a variety of jobs, it's never a boring life as a secret shopper! Even within one chain of stores, there are often a number of different scenarios that you can be asked to do. One day, you could simply place a bet on a horse (and keep the winnings, should you be lucky enough!), the next you might get a free lunch, the day after you could be enquiring about services in a pharmacy before sitting down to a nice lunch in the local pub. All you need to do is keep an eye out for good and bad service, and file your report at the end of the day. The report is generally quite detailed, and you will often need to keep hold of your receipts, take a photo of the location, and remember details about who served you. If you don't have a good eye for detail, the job probably isn't for you.
The pay is, however, variable. It's not as glamorous as some people imagine. Do not expect to earn a living from this, as there simply is not enough work. You will likely earn less than £1,000 per year. Retail Eyes make it perfectly clear that this is not a full time job. You get no travel expenses, so you're not expected to travel too far out of your way. You might not get jobs as frequently as you would desire at times, so you won't always get a regular income. You will always be reimbursed for your purchases, but you will have a limit (so you're not going to get a free holiday or TV out of it!). A small number of jobs don't pay you for your services, although you will get to keep the product(s) that you've purchased, however this is made perfectly clear prior to accepting the job. Each job that does pay only pays a small amount, but it all adds up over the course of the year. You will be paid every fortnight, so if you do have regular work for them you've often got a small, but noticeable, pile of money arriving in your account every other week!
If you are shopping for Retail Eyes (or any other mystery shopping company), you are required to register with HMRC as self-employed, fill in a tax return each year, and pay tax on your earnings as required. You MUST do this, and you can face a hefty fine if you don't. It's not worth risking the fine, as it may well be more than the sum of your earnings! If you do have to pay tax, the net pay obviously becomes much less, and is probably not worthwhile working with RE if you're earning in one of the higher tax brackets.
As a student, I find Retail Eyes to be a good source of additional income. You get paid to shop, and you can fit the work around your schedule. The pay may not be fantastic, but it provides a constant supply of "pocket money" to keep you going. The jobs themselves are enjoyable, and the work is relatively easy if you have a keen eye for detail, and are able to stick to their deadlines.