The lure of “free stuff” is one of the things that attracts many people to mystery shopping as a career. As mystery shoppers we may receive products and services of all kinds as we make required purchases during shopping assignments. Of course, these items are not really free—they are part of our compensation.
Shoppers who recognize that freebies are not really free will make choices that maximize the financial rewards they receive from mystery shopping. Here are some examples:
Choose assignments that reimburse for things you want or need to buy. There are mystery shops of just about any kind of business you can imagine. When choosing assignments that include reimbursements, focus on those that enable you to get things you want or need and would normally buy. For example, doing a shop of a party supply store that includes a reimbursement is not a good choice if you do not need party supplies. You will probably pick up just about anything in order to make a purchase, and will not get something that has value to you. Instead, you will probably acquire something that will just take up space in your home.
On the other hand, doing a shop that pays for an oil change for your car can be a great deal. Doing that shop every month is not, because you do not need to change your oil that often. Of course, if your household includes more than one car, you can do the shop as often as you have a car that needs an oil change.
Choose assignments that offer adequate reimbursement. There is a trend among some clients to offer expense allowances that do not fully cover the required purchase. Although there may be times when those are acceptable to you, the best way to maximize reimbursements is not to take shops where you have to put money out of pocket that will not be repaid. Watch out for partial reimbursements.
Use coupons when appropriate and allowed. Some assignments specifically state that you are not to use coupons on the shop. Of course, you should follow the guidelines and not use coupons then. Others may allow the use of coupons—I have even seen shops of eyewear stores where they specifically state you may use a coupon on your purchase. Eyeglasses are expensive and this is a case where even partial reimbursement is welcome. Add a coupon that reduces your out of pocket expense, and these shops can make/save you a lot of money.
Choose purchases wisely. Although some mystery shops have specific purchase requirements, often you may decide what you will buy. There were some toy store shops I used to do that included a $5 purchase allowance. There are small toys that cost $5 or less, but most toy stores also sell batteries. Instead of buying a cheap toy that your kids probably don’t want or need, why not use a shop like this to pick up a pack of batteries? Mystery shoppers always need batteries. Heck, everybody needs batteries.
Many years ago, I did some grocery store shops that included a small fee plus an unusual reimbursement. We received 50% of the purchase amount for purchases between $20 and $50. That means if I spent $30, I was reimbursed $15. If I spent $50, I received $25. Well, duh, this is kind of a no-brainer. I did a few of these shops every month, and I always made sure my purchase amount was very close to $50 in order to maximize the reimbursement I received and make the most money possible.
There was another side to this reimbursement, though. Shoppers who saw the reimbursement as “free stuff” tended to buy things they didn’t need and would not normally purchase when they were spending what they saw as their own money. On the other hand, I realized that if I spent $20 of my expense allowance on a cake from the bakery, that meant I would have to spend an unreimbursed $20 on groceries I actually needed. I maximized my reimbursement by only buying things I would have purchased without the reimbursement.
A CPA friend of mine is fond of saying, “It’s not how much you earn, it’s how much you keep,” referring to paying taxes. He means that there could be two people who earn the same amount of money but, because of wise tax planning, one pays much less tax and gets to enjoy more of her income.
Mystery shoppers who are smart about reimbursements get greater benefits from mystery shopping than those who squander their mystery shopping expense allowances on stuff they do not need and may not even want. Use your time and money wisely to maximize your mystery shopping income.