Confessions of a Secret Shopper

By Tiffany Miller for PayScale

Sandy Jones-Kaminski isn't afraid to get naked on the job.

No, it's not what you think.

She's not a stripper or nude model for a sculpting class.

Jones-Kaminski is a secret shopper. And she strips down regularly for massage, facials and body scrubs.

We're pretty sure you'd do it too, if given the chance.


Accidental Job

The 46-year-old Seattle-based business development strategist and marketer picked up the secret shopping gig as a side job. It all happened by accident.

She had a bad experience at a spa and decided to bring it up with the manager.

"I was complaining to him in a really nice way. (I said) listen, I want to give you some feedback. I'm a manager, too, and I would want to know, if I were you," she said. "If you package it correctly, people always respond, 'Yeah, what happened?'"

The manager took her criticism well and offered her a job. He asked her to continue observing the staff. He'd pay her or she could get her services for free. Jones-Kaminski chose the free service.

So Jones-Kaminski's free-time pleasure turned into an easy gig. She had plenty of experience with good and bad spas. They'd been her vacation of choice for years. In her 20s and 30s, she'd take spa trips alone and now takes spa vacations with her husband.

"I'm hyper aware of how things are supposed to be. It's both my blessing and curse," Jones-Kaminski said, explaining how she sometimes wishes she could stop analyzing her experience.

The secret shopper said she would caution people from taking on the job. She said too many secret-shopping gigs could turn your once favorite activity into chore.

"Be careful you're not ruining your passion," she said.


Landing More Gigs

Jones-Kaminski's started the secret shopping jobs while living in San Francisco. She continued after a cross country move to Chicago.

She said it happened the same way, complaining politely at the Nordstrom Spa on Michigan Avenue.

She told the manager of her secret shopping experience and she quickly had another job.

"It's been the way of getting these clients. Give them free feedback first. They're more inclined to work with you," she said.

But when Jones-Kaminski started losing the pleasure of going to the spa, she decided it was time for a break.

"The experience was way too valuable to me," she said.

So she took some time off and moved back to the west coast; this time to Seattle. And eventually took secret shopping jobs again.

"I've decided I won't refuse a job if they offer it. But I don't actively seek anything anymore," she said.


Mishaps Happen

So, what does she look for? Jones-Kaminski has an eye for the details, problems few may notice like whether or not a robe is large enough for heavier ladies. She also notices major problems we all notice, like yelling in the hall.

Her favorite mishap, though, was during a massage at a spa in San Francisco.

"I was in that state, half asleep. Exactly where you want to be. Euphoria. Then there's this eep," she said.

She ignored the sound at first, heard it again and mentioned it to the massage therapist.

"Must be something outside," the therapist told her.

But the truth came out after the third "eep."

It turns out that the therapist was hiding crickets under the massage table to feed her pet frog.

You can read more about Jones-Kaminski's spa experiences on her website, thespaspy.blogspot.com. She says she still loves traveling to spas on vacation and lists her 10 favorite spas there.

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