Thursday, June 5, 2008

Mystery Shopping

A couple of years ago, when I first quit my job and started staying home, I signed up for a mystery shopper program. You may have heard of these: You get an assignment to go to a store, make a purchase, and fill out paperwork rating the staff's performance.

I wasn't very impressed with the moneymaking potential. Usually the assignments -- which you can accept or not accept -- were far out of my way, and the payments were small, so that anything I earned would not really be worth the time it took to do it. I thought I would be able to keep the items bought, but I have noticed that many of the assignments require only asking a lot of questions without buying, or you actually have to return the item.

Note that this is based on only one mystery shopping company. There are lots of legitimate ones out there. I found out about this one in a newspaper article. There are also a lot of ads out there for similar opportunities that look shady; if you decide to sign up for a mystery shopping company, do the research. As always, don't pay THEM anything, for sure.

I stayed on with the service anyway, since I didn't have to do anything but read the emails they (very) occasionally sent me with assignments. Then one day, there was an assignment for a toy store that I frequently pass while visiting family.

I took the assignment, and the next time my husband, the and asked the required questions. It took about 20 minutes, and I was able to buy a $20 toy and have it gift wrapped for my neice, who I was going to see that day. Really, we might have stopped at this store to buy her gift anyway! Not only did I get the toy for free, I got paid $14. I had to fill out a form online later that day and scan in the receipt, which took about 15 minutes.

This week I got the same assignment again, and grabbed it. This time I was able to pull off the assignment with my toddler with me. To me, the whole point of little jobs like this is being able to do them WITH the kids. If I need free time to do something, I can get a freelance project and earn much more.

So here's my mystery shopping verdict: Don't expect to make a ton of money at it, but it's not a bad idea to sign up for one or more agencies. You never know when an assignment will come up for something you want to buy anyway!