For all of the eight years of Consumerism Commentary’s existence, I’ve written about big ways to earn more income, like changing a career path, learning how to negotiate, or building your own business, much more than I’ve written about options that might seem more available to most people. I’ve generally shied away from the smaller ways to add to your bank accounts. The time you spend on any projects can easily be worth more than the small income the activities generate. When I write about financial responsibility, I want to encourage using the time you want to trade for earning income thoughtfully rather than undertaking small projects that only add to financial well-being incrementally.
Because I like to focus on the big picture, I’ve never discussed they small ways people can use their spare time to generate extra income. Because this income is usually small, these are activities people may not want to do unless they also enjoy them. For the most part, these are not full time jobs or career paths. These are suggestions for the majority of middle-class workers in the developed world who feel their finances could use some assistance and are willing to trade some of their free time in return for some more money.
This is the first article in a series about earning more money.
The first option to explore is an activity that could make many modern consumers happy. If you like shopping, why not get paid to do it, and pick up some additional perks along the way? Secret shoppers or mystery shoppers are hired by corporate executives who want to get a real indication of how the companies’ branches, offices, or franchises are operating.
Secret shopping scams
As with any money-making prospect, the first rule of thumb is to avoid scams. Nefarious people abound, looking for people willing to take any steps if they think it will help them earn money. Most people find secret shopping opportunities by searching online, and scammers can easily post job listings. Here are some signs that the secret shopping opportunity is a scam.
- You are required to pay to participate. If there’s an enrollment fee, a listing fee, or any kind of fee that you are required to pay before receiving a job, the opportunity is almost definitely a scam. Even if they promise you will earn your fee back, any up-front costs are red flags.
- The company sends you a check to cash at the bank as part of your assignment. This is a common scam. You would receive a check for a large amount and be required to send part of the money back to the company quickly. Avoid this. Some banks do legitimately use secret shoppers to evaluate branches, but you won’t be required to deposit a check and send money to the company.
- You must buy products or services using your own money. While it is common for legitimate secret shopping services to operate this way, and reimburse your expenses after the fact, many don’t require spending money at all. If you’re just starting out, stay away from companies that require you to use your own money until you’re comfortable with them.
Secret shopping responsibilities
When you receive an assignment, you will usually have a date or a range of dates during which you will need to perform the task. The company will outline the task. The task may involve walking into a store and asking for help, going to a doctor’s office and scheduling an appointment, or ordering a meal at a restaurant. The company may provide you a script to use, particularly if the assignment involves calling the company. After your experience, you will need to complete a questionnaire describing your encounter and return the completed form to the company. Almost always, these forms can be submitted online.
A key skill required for successful secret shopping is the ability to remember details. You generally won’t be able to take notes while you are undercover; this will alert employees that they’re being observed. You may need to remember details like how many employees were visible, the quality of the greeting you received, sales techniques, layout of store, and compliance with the company’s standards.
These same skills will help you succeed in other types of jobs as well. Determine the best use for these skills. While they could help you earn some money as a secret shopper, if you are inclined to do well, you might be able to use those skills in other, more lucrative jobs.
Secret shopping income potential
The income from secret shopping is limited only by the time you have to devote to taking on new assignments. The higher quality of the questionnaires you return, the higher the probability you’ll receive more assignments. Some jobs don’t pay at all, but you’re allowed to keep what you buy. A typical example is the meal you eat while secretly shopping a restaurant. Most jobs that pay offer $10 to $20, or perhaps lower due to fallout from the economic recession as supply of potential shoppers increased. If you are able to find enough jobs from the same company, you could build up a reputation for being a high-quality secret shopper. If the company has more lucrative assignments, this could increase the possibility of receiving those assignments. If you do well, you could receive more assignments than you can handle, so be realistic with the assignments you accept.
Do you have time to go on one shopping excursion per week? You could be looking at an extra $500 to $1,000 over the course of a year, or even more if you are able to land more lucrative assignments. This can pay for a vacation or strengthen your emergency fund. If the time it would take to go on a weekly secret shopping excursion would take away from your quality of life, perhaps spending more time with your family, working with a hobby you love more than shopping, or building your own business, you may decide that your time is worth more than what you could earn from this activity. It’s more than just a financial decision, its personal.
Secret shopping is an individual activity. Each assignment could bring you to a new shopping location, which might be exciting, but there aren’t really opportunities to get to know people. For people who prefer working on their own rather than building relationships and forming teams, secret shopping could be a good opportunity.
Have you ever been a secret shopper? What were your experiences?
Photo: I See Modern Britain
Published or updated September 5, 2011.