You asked for it you got it.. How did I become a Secret Shopper?

WARNING THIS IS A LONG POST! By a land side in my poll last week readers asked for “How to become a Secret Shopper like me”.. But before I get to that let me just put out a great teaser for tomorrow’s post AND give away. I will have the honor of having Ellen from the wonderfully popular blog Thrifty and Chic Mom guest posting. She’ll be giving us all great ideas about how to put Chic into clipping, storing, using and NOT FORGETTING your coupons when you go shopping. Please stop by tomorrow and also check out her blog and her great giveaways (she even has cool sponsors.. I wish I had those!)

Oh don’t forget to enter my contests ending today here and the Woo Hoo Box Giveaway ending the 31st!

Okay on to the info I promised. The first and MOST important thing about becoming a Secret Shopper (SS) is NEVER and I mean NEVER pay a service or site to get a list of available shops. It’s a scam ladies! Having fallen for it myself before finding out how it’s really done, I know! I’ll never get that 25 bucks back and it ticks me off to no end!!

That said, you can pay to be trained and receive a certification from the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) See them here. I know I told you not to pay anything BUT the difference here is you aren’t paying them for a list (if you do what I did), what you are doing is getting training and certification. They give you an ID when you finish and pay. You can then use that ID when applying to legitimate companies and they may or may not offer you better shops based on that certification. I didn’t do this. But I did look through their list of participating companies for places to apply. I’ve been asked for that certification from several places but never turned away when I didn’t provide it. So this step is a matter of personal choice.

I shop for about 8 to 10 different companies depending on the shop and the fee. Where do I shop? Lots of places; McDonalds, Barnes and Noble, Giant, Muvico, Bed Bath and Beyond, PetsMart, 5 Guys Burgers, Bass Pro Shop, Holister and more. I’ve even been offered hotel stays, boo hoo with 4 kids I can’t get away with one of those!

Some companies will only reimburse you for what you’ve spent. But if that is two movie tickets, sodas, popcorn and candy then it’s a free night out in exchange for 20minutes of writing reports. For me the big deciding factor is the ease of reporting and the pay schedule/type that the company offers.

That brings me to my very favorite company (though they are in the dog house for not getting back to me for this post)..Shopn’Chek. They were recently bought out by a parent company but I’ll get to that. Why do I love them? Unlike most of the other companies their reports are generally click to answer, rarely do I have to write a long narrative (many places want this and trust me it’s a pain). They send me reminder emails a day or so before my shop (as I have a crazy life and schedule this is a BONUS). I get a weekly list of available shops in my area (you can opt out of this and just check when you want to). I love the variety in their shops. Sure they have a whole lot of Fast Food shops, but they also have grocery stores (I combine my shops with my couponing and WOWZA!), clothing stores, TARGET, club stores (Costco etc) and more. But the top reason I shop with them is they pay direct deposit ON TIME EVERY MONTH! I can always count on payment between the 10th-12th of the month. I just did my taxes and they even give you an annual summary of your shops, no other company I shop with does that.

It’s important to note that time is indeed money. I have stopped using a few places because of their reporting format and/or requirements. I won’t shop for a company that asks you write three sentences or more for each question on your shop (this can sometimes be as many as 50 questions) and then has someone go over your answers and rate you down if they don’t like your style or if you misspell something (we all know I don’t do the spelling thing). They may pay you what you were expecting but based on the rating they gave you your shopper score can go down, thus limiting your opportunities for better shops. I figure if I am only getting paid $12 for a shop and I spend 40 minutes reporting (writing answers for repetitive questions and recalling how many hairs the cashier had on his chin), then waiting three months to get paid, it’s not worth my time.

On the pay issue, many companies pay via Pay Pal, I don’t so much mind that. The problem comes up when they pay on a 60 day cycle. This means if you do a shop after the 10th of January you won’t be paid until March…WHAT?! That is why I like the direct deposit option. Your pay will be broken down (in theory) into two categories for every shop: Shop Pay and Reimbursement (or Special pay). The shop pay is the fee the company is paying you for your services. The Reimbursement is what they pay you for what you spent out of your own pocket. Like mentioned earlier, some shops will only pay the out of pocket expenses, it’s up to you if you want to do that. Some will only pay you the shop fee. In those cases it usually works out one of two ways. They require you to make a purchase but say you can return it. Or they say no purchase necessary. Again it’s up to you what you want to do. I’ve shopped PacSun, bought clothes for my 15 year old son without reimbursement. BUT, my shop fee was $20 so it was basically like getting that amount off a purchase I would have made anyway.

Now to who I shop for and how to get there. Remember I gushed about Shopn’Chek? Well they were bought by Market Force. They have lots and I mean LOTS of info on their site. They also do Merchandising (like people who stock magazines) but I haven’t checked that out yet. With them, as with all legitimate companies, you’ll have to fill out an application. Mine have always consisted of personal info, demographic data and a writing sample. Once you submit your application it takes them a while to review it and get back to you. Make sure to check your junk mail filters I’ve had emails from SS companies get stuck there. Once you are approved you’ll be able to go into several portals with Market Force. Each one is different and even the reporting criteria and formats are. You’ve really got to get a feel for what you like and what is available to you in your area. I also shop with Confero, Kenisis Marketing and a few more but I’d recommend starting with Market Force.

How much do you make shopping? Well that is sort of up to you. I’ve had months where I made less than $100 and others that I’ve cleared closer to $800 (my first year I made more, I’ve sort of paired down after 2 more kids). I’ve never been a full-time SS, some people are and they make MUCH more than I do. I generally take between 4 and 9 shops a week (more near the holidays and in the summer months) paying anywhere from $12 to $35 each. It’s a matter of balancing your time and what you are willing to do. One perk most people don’t think about, and that I take full advantage of, is the tax deduction. If you make more than $600 (in shop fees, reimbursement is not taxable) a year being a SS your are required to report it on your taxes. Fear not though because you can also deduct your mileage, car maintenance, DSL (or whatever type of net connection you pay for), printer ink, office supplies, computer (if you buy a new one and are a SS it’s deductible).. of course I’m not a Tax Pro, so check with yours, these are just things that our accountant does for us.

All in all it’s a good way to make an extra buck or two. It makes me feel like I’m “working” outside of my mom work. If you have any questions or want more info, feel free to email me.

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