Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mystery Shopping For Fun and Profit

I'm not a shopaholic. Except for garage sales and grocery stores, I'd usually rather avoid shopping altogether. Yet I recently signed up to become a "mystery shopper".

I've wondered about mystery shopping for several years; finally, my curiosity won out and I decided to look into it. If nothing else, it would get me out of the house once in a while and give me something to blog about.

Let me say upfront that I'm not going to make a fortune, or even a living, from mystery shopping. What I will be able to do is score a few free meals for my family and make enough to pay for my gas for my own necessary errands.

Here's how it works for me:

I signed up for a sort of clearing house or job broker for many different mystery shopping companies. After the fact, I realized with a little deeper research, I could probably have located the companies on my own, but the investment was small ($20 for three months) and I earned that much back in the first week. I don't think it will be necessary to renew the subscription when the three months have passed.

I have picked two days out of the week to be my primary errand-running days. One is for local errands and the other coincides with my weekly vegetable pick-up which is in another part of the city. When searching for mystery shopping jobs, those days and locations are the only jobs I consider. I pick one or two "shops" for each of those days, and work them around my personal errands. That assures me that I'm making efficient use of gasoline, and it leaves the rest of my week free to do whatever else I need or want to do.

After just three weeks, I've earned $42 in cash commissions and received reimbursement for 2 free pizzas, 1 pizza buffet meal, 1 meal (up to $22) at a chain sports bar/grill, and 1 gallon of paint (we always need paint!). Because I'm working these into my other outings, the time involved is minimal. Reports are required to be submitted after each shop, but the are usually multiple choice and short answer forms to do online.

A typical "shop" will include going "under cover" to review a business' appearance, customer service, cleanliness, employee sincerity, etc. Sometimes a small purchase is required, then reimbursed. Occasionally, a purchase and return are both required. Sometimes, no purchase is required at all.

In fact, not all "shops" require shopping! One of my first assignments was simply to visit a chain fast food restaurant after dark, then document and photograph any of their lights or signs that weren't working properly. Another assignment paid an hourly wage for me to set up a table and hand out cheese samples for a few hours at one of the big box retailers.

Living in a major metro area, I believe I could put in as many hours mystery shopping as I'd like. For me, that's just a few a week, but there are many, many jobs available. There are even shops available in the more rural areas, including the small town where I grew up. I didn't take that job, but I might have, had I been planning a trip there at the right time.

I have to admit that I wondered if mystery shopping was a legitimate way to make money. It seems to be, albeit not a lot of money. Still, if you like to shop, and schedule your jobs carefully, you can wind up with some free food and a little cash in your pocket.

I'm not going to link to any of the companies I'm working for (only 3 at this point) because there may be some kind of rule against "going public", but if anyone is interested, contact me via email (in my profile), and I'll be glad to point you in the right direction.


Tug said...

I always wondered about that - my daughter LOVES to shop! Unfortunately, she has gone back to full time 'real job' out of necessity...glad that you're able to take advantage though!

Annie Jones said...

Tug: If K is interested, a lot of the shops are flexible and can be done during the evenings and weekends.

Tug said...

I'll have to ask her about it when they come down this weekend - I doubt it, but it's worth a shot! Thanks Annie.

Lisa said...

I get emails about this all the time but didnt want to pay anything for it! I want to make a little money, not spend it. :)

Annie Jones said...

Lisa: Like I mentioned, you don't have to pay to find these jobs. I learned that after the fact. :(