The following is an interview with Travis, a husband and father who balances debt, finances, and family. Travis shares the experiences, struggles and successes of his family as they fight their way out of credit card debt on his blog, Our Journey to Zero. He is also a contributing writer for the My Journey Out of Debt blog in the CareOne Community.
Travis also does mystery shopping for extra money. Mystery shoppers are hired by market research firms to pose as a customers and gather information about their experiences at retail establishments.
I asked Travis if he would be willing to share his mystery shopping experiences with us and he graciously agreed. Here’s our Q&A:
Q. I’ve known about mystery shopping for a long time, but recently I was surprised to hear some women I knew at a dinner party talking about it. I didn’t know that I personally knew anyone who worked as a mystery shopper. How did you become interested in it?
A: About a year ago, I read a post in the CareOne Credit user community where the writer documented how he planned his wife’s birthday celebration on a very tight budget. He was able to sign up for a mystery shopping job at one of their favorite restaurants, and thus the meal was essentially free given that he was reimbursed for the meal.
I don’t live in a large metropolitan area, so I didn’t know the extent of the opportunities I may have for mystery shopping. However, the potential of being able to go out to eat out on someone else’s dime seemed worth checking out.
Q. How does mystery shopping work?
A: For each mystery shopping company that I’ve registered, I’ve had to read over their terms and conditions, then take a short quiz to prove that you’ve actually read the document. Once I passed the quiz, I was qualified to do shops for that company.
I check the websites every couple of days looking for new shops in my city. The company I use the most posts new jobs on the last day of the month – although sometimes new jobs come up randomly throughout the month. For each job I sign up for, I have to do the following:
1.) pick a date to do the shop (there are sometimes restrictions on what day and time a shop can be done).
2.) Read the instruction documentation
3.) Do the actual mystery shop
4.) Fill out the post-shop report on their website.
Every shop requires that you provide some sort of proof that you completed the shop. Sometimes it’s a receipt, sometimes it’s a business card.
For jobs that are at retail stores, typically I have to talk to employees about particular products. For these shops I am paid a flat fee usually between $15 and $25.
For jobs that are at restaurants, I take my wife, and sometimes the whole family to eat. We are reimbursed for our meal, up to a maximum amount. That amount is usually between $25 and $30.
Q. Do you work for one company or more than one?
A: I have registered with four different mystery shopping companies that operate in my area. However, I only use two of them on a regular basis.
Those two sites are:
Q. How often do you go on shops?
A: I typically go on 3-5 shops a month. For the companies I am registered with, shops for a given month are paid around the 20th of the following month. I usually earn somewhere between $45 and $80 per month.
Q. What advice would you have for someone interested in getting into mystery shopping?
A: There are many different mystery shopping companies out there. If you’re interested in mystery shopping, you just need to find the ones that are most active in your area. It doesn’t cost anything to register with legitimate mystery shopping sites, so just keep searching until you find one (or a couple) that you like, and really work well for you.
I have never encountered a legitimate mystery shopping company that charges you to register with them. If you find a company that requires you to pay a registration fee, I would be skeptical and move along.
Keep your expectations in check as to how much money you’ll earn mystery shopping. I’ve heard of people making hundreds of dollars mystery shopping in a month, but I suspect it would take quite a bit of effort and time to do so. As mentioned, I earn between $45 to $80 mystery shopping per month.
Finally, know how much time you want to spend, and evaluate if it’s worth it to you before you jump in. Between the time it takes to read the instructions, do the shop, and enter the post shop review, a single retail shop probably requires 60-90 minutes of my time. When you break down your payment in a “per hour” rate, it may not seem worth it. However, I never complain when that check for $45 to $80 arrives in the mail.
A big thanks to Travis for taking the time to answer my questions. Have any of you ever participated in mystery shopping? What have your experiences been like?