Hi everyone! The following is a guest post by my friend Brock over at Clever Dude. Please join me in welcoming him to Color Me Frugal today!
Mystery shopping, or secret shopping, is a nice way to pick up some extra cash by scoping out businesses “secretly,” or without the employees knowing. I’ve done a significant amount of mystery shopping over the last few years. I earn an average of $50-$75 a month from mystery shopping. Obviously it isn’t a significant amount, but a little extra pocket change or a free dinner with my wife once a month isn’t something to complain about. Over the years I’ve learned several lessons that increase the value and efficiency of mystery shopping.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links.
Tips for Success With Mystery Shopping
- Time: Driving twenty minutes each way to a big box retail store across town, spending an hour in that store talking to 4 different departments, and then filling out a lengthy report for $18 isn’t worth it. Since you can choose which mystery shops you do, I’ve stopped choosing shops like this. When you choose mystery shops, you always need to be aware of how much time the entire thing will take, and decide if it’s worth it for you.
- Efficiency: With the experience I have as a mystery shopper, some shops only require 10 minutes in the store. They also don’t pay much, around $12 to $15. One of these shops by itself may not be worth it, but sometimes I can sign up for multiple shops that are in the same vicinity. I can stop by on my way home from work and knock out two or three shops in half an hour, which is more efficient as far as my time.
- Register with Multiple Services: I’m registered with six different secret shopping services. This gives me a greater selection of shops to choose from, and results in a better opportunity for matching up shops in a common area.
Unfortunately, sometimes an unforeseen circumstance may cause a particular shop to not be worth the effort. I ran into just such a scenario recently.
There were two shops available at a nearby mall, one for a sporting apparel store, and one for a nutrition store. The sporting apparel store paid $13, and the nutrition store paid $20, but a purchase was required at the nutrition store. I was going to be in the area anyway, so I signed up for both. I had difficulty finding anything inexpensive at the nutrition store that I could purchase while still making the conversation with the sales associate seem natural. I ended up purchasing a $34 bottle of vitamins.
For my efforts in completing both shops, I essentially got a big bottle of vitamins and lost $1. The shops ended up being a bust. I take vitamins, so I could use them, but I could also find vitamins less expensive than $34. As a result of this experience I added two more items to my tips for success with mystery shopping:
- Investigate the Store: I knew a purchase was required, but I had no idea the range or price of the products that were available at the store. Before accepting the shop I should have checked their website and done some research to determine what I could buy and still make the shop worth my time and effort.
- Know the Return Policy: I’ve done shops before in which the directions explicitly say that I cannot return the product. After the fact I read through the directions for the nutrition store again very carefully and noticed they did NOT contain that statement. The store’s return policy clearly states that a product can be returned for a full refund if I’m not 100% happy with the purchase. I could return the purchase, and receive the full payment for the shop. This will require a bit more of my time, but I do drive by this mall every weekday.
Being a successful mystery shopper is more than just signing up for as many jobs as possible. There’s an art to it, and it takes time to perfect that art. These are some of the more important rules that I’ve learned over the last few years that help make mystery shopping a side hustle that pads our budget a little each and every month.
**Editor’s note: I’ve done a fair bit of mystery shopping myself in the past. My favorite shops to do were movie theaters, since I could get paid to watch movies! However, there was more than one occasion when the deal involved me going to multiple movies in a row, resulting in me spending up to six hours at a time at a movie theater. Ugh! But I have to say, getting paid to watch movies at a theater is far better than paying for it! I haven’t done any mystery shopping recently, but when I did in the past I worked through Kern Scheduling and had a good experience with them.
Have you done any mystery shopping? Do you have any tips to pass along in addition to these?
Suggested Reading: Believe it or not, some people are able to turn mystery shopping into nearly a full-time business. Check out this great book- Ultimate Mystery Shopping: Transforming Your Hobby Into a Profitable Home-Based Business– for more tips and tricks from someone who’s been in the business for nearly 20 years. Note: This book is available for free borrow for Amazon Prime members as of the date of this article publication.
CMF’s favorite FREE money management tools!
Some of the best online tools out there for money management are at Personal Capital, and the awesome news is that they are all FREE! Cash flow tracker, 401(k) fee analyzer, investment checkup, net worth monitoring, and many more! I’m a net worth junkie, so the net worth monitor is my favorite. Check out my Personal Capital review here, or click here to check out all the awesome tools for yourself!