4 Ways To Make Secret Shopping Worth Your Time

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer Travis.  Travis is a customer blogger for Care One Debt Relief Services, and also appears weekly at Enemy of Debt.  Travis candidly shares his personal journey to pay off $109,000 of credit card debt and the tips he’s learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family.

Most people are very interested when I tell them I am a secret shopper.  They are intrigued by the possibility of making some easy money.

But, when I tell them that the average secret shopper job pays about $15, their eyes glaze over with disinterest.

The most frequent complaint from people when they first look into secret shopping or have even tried it once or twice is that it’s not worth the time and effort. Sure, there is the occasional financial institution visit that pays $45, or the very infrequent free night in a hotel, but most of the jobs are pretty low paying.  There are some tricks, however, that can make secret shopping very much worth the time and effort.


1. Don’t Drive Out of Your Way

Almost all the shops I do are in close proximity to places I visit often anyway such as my place of employment,  the mall, or the Walmart where I shop for groceries.  When I first started, I would drive all the way across town to do a job at a fleet and farm store.  Between the 90 minutes it took out of my day, and the gas needed to drive there and back it just wasn’t worth it.   I never make a special trip to do a secret shop.


2. Group Shops Together

The services I use give me several dates to choose from for each shop.  I will coordinate several shops (even across different services) in the same area on the same day.  For example, last month I did a shop at a nutrition store and a medical scrubs store on the same day that were in the same shopping plaza.  It’s right next to my place of employment, so I just did them on my way home from work.  Two shops, one location, zero extra drive time.


3. Seek Bonuses

When shops are not picked up, some services will offer bonuses.  Recently there was a job at a cell phone store that paid $18.  When it didn’t get picked up by the due date, a $2 bonus was offered.  After a few days it was increased to $5, then $10, then came the Holy Grail of secret shopping:  the “make me an offer” email.  My offer to do the job for a total fee of $35 was accepted.  I could have gone higher, as I saw the last location increased to a total pay of $60 before it got picked up!


4. Incorporate Shops Into Your Life

There’s a buffalo wing restaurant and sports bar near our home that my wife and I like a lot.  They also happen to be registered with one of the secret shopping services I use.  If I see a shop available, I’ll schedule it for a Friday and make it part of a date night.  Time with my gorgeous wife AND get the dinner for free?  It doesn’t get any better than that!

This month I will be paid $105 for the four jobs I did last month.  I spent about an hour in the stores, and another hour entering the shop data into their website.

That’s over $50 an hour.

How about you all? How does Secret Shopping sound to you now? Have you ever tried it?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/149902454@N08/34587191230/sizes/l

About the Author Jacob A Irwin

Hi folks! My name is Jacob. I am the owner and operator of My Personal Finance Journey. I started this blog in January of 2010 and have enjoyed the journey ever since. Since finishing up graduate school in Virginia in 2014, I have been working in biopharmaceutical development in Colorado. You can read more about me and this site here​. Please contact me if you have any questions!

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Leave a Comment:

Michelle says October 14, 2013

I used to do a lot of secret shopping, but lately I have really toned it down. Doing the surveys can just be so tedious! 🙂

    Travis @Debtchronicles says October 15, 2013

    After having done secret shopping for awhile, I know which shops have excruciatingly long survey forms and which ones are pretty easy. I use that as a deciding factor as to whether I take the shop as well. The wildcard here is when a service picks up a new business. Thanks for reading, Michelle!

MonicaOnMoney says October 14, 2013

I’ve never done mystery shopping but I have looked into it more lately! I think it worth the time and money.

    Travis @Debtchronicles says October 15, 2013

    Like anything else it takes a little time to get into the swing of it, Monica. Once you learn which shops are worth it, and use the techniques above you can make yourself a more efficient shopper, minimizing the time spent on it and thus increasing it’s value. if you give it a shot let me know how how you like it!

Clarrise @ Make Money Your Way says October 15, 2013

Now I see some of the advantages in living in a small city because we only have 3 big malls here and going out to shopping is not really a problem at all. I always write down what I’m going to buy to save more time and the price range of the items. 🙂

    Travis @Debtchronicles says October 16, 2013

    As far as secret shopping goes, it is an advantage to live in a smaller city (I live in a smaller city as well of about 110,000 people as you don’t have as far to go to places – although the one clear across town still isn’t worth it. However the downfall is larger markets get more shopping opportunities. Thanks for stopping by!

Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen says October 15, 2013

Sounds like you’ve got it down! I’ve never tried it before and never seriously considered it. If I want to try something new maybe I’ll refer back to this post!

    Travis @Debtchronicles says October 16, 2013

    I’ve been doing it for about 2 years now, so I do have a good system. If you do want to try it, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or a tweet or something – I can share with you what services I use.

Lisa E. @ Lisa Vs. The Loans says October 15, 2013

I’ve been meaning to get into this soon. Thanks for this!

Jasanna Czellar says October 18, 2013

Which companies do you recommend?

Cathie says October 18, 2013

I shopped for about 3 years. It’s great for things that you need anyway, like oil changes, or a sandwich at a sub shop. I’ve also had some pretty cool date nights, including a couple of high-paying casino shops. But I have to agree with Michelle – the surveys are sometimes unbearable. And if you are a half-way decent writer, it can be especially frustrating when you see “this answer does not contain enough words.” So much for being concise.
But all in all, these are very good tips.

Alice @ Earning My Two Cents says October 18, 2013

I mystery shop all the time and do reviews on my blog of legit companies so people know who they should sign up with. I love it as an extra source of income and I agree with your recommendations. I shop things that are nearby unless they are offering me $25-$30 to get fast food 20 mins away. That way the gas is paid for. I also factor in the length of time it takes to complete the shop, how complex it is, and how lengthy the form is. There are some shops that, due to the specific requirements, are really hard to complete (ie. a high end restaurant) and consequently sometimes the company refuses to reimburse me if I make a mistake. I often forego difficult shops because if I wouldn’t normally pay that much for the meal and can’t afford it without reimbursement, then I pass.

    Travis @Debtchronicles says October 26, 2013

    That’s a great point, Alice there’s a lot of factors to consider when deciding whether a shop is worth it. Thanks for sharing your experiences as a mystery shopper!

Diane says October 18, 2013

Been mystery shopping for too many years to remember (more than 15). You have mentioned many tips that I follow – the main one being avoiding lengthy evaluation forms with a lot of narrative. I love the short forms or ones that are completely yes/no or drop down menu answer forms. You’ll figure out who has them very quickly. Here’s a couple more tips. I will do a form with some (or a lot of) narrative if I have done that type shop before. I just save the response and use it over and over again (obviously I change names and other comments slightly). It is a lot easier to update an old narrative than write one from scratch. For bonuses – wait til the end of the month-schedulers have deadlines and need to get all the shops done by the end of the month. Sometimes I only do two or three shops -once the bonuses are offered. You can make just as much money doing a couple of bonus shops as you will doing regular shops all month. Phone call shops are great – they are low paying- but you can do as many as you want just sitting at home. They add up – nothing gives me a greater kick than when an email arrives saying XYZ Company has deposited money in my Paypal account. Stay away from auto dealership shops (unless you’re a car freak). Ugh! Long winded salesmen, you have to take a test drive and the forms never end. Pay is OK but it takes way too much time at the dealership – then they never stop calling you. I was avoiding the cell phone shops for the same reason – but I took a deep breath and did one. Easy easy easy – now I do them all the time. So it’s hit or miss – you have to try each kind and each company to find what works for you. I have done every imaginable type of retail store, restaurants, gas stations, oil changes, labs, movie theaters, hotels, casinos, car dealerships, self storage, assisted living and many others. I’m learning about (undercover) video evaluations and may try them as well! You probably can’t make a living doing this – but it can be fun and a good way to make extra money……

    Travis @Debtchronicles says October 26, 2013

    Great tips, Diane! The one I’d like to zero in on is your statement that sometimes a shop is much easier once you do it the first time. Cell phone shops are one of those for me, and I suspect the audit will be as well. Once you do it once, it gets much easier. One of the reasons I jumped in on both of the cell phone categories is that there are *alot* of them in my area – so it makes sense to take advantage of them. Thanks so much for your thoughts, Diane!

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