Thursday, September 8, 2011

Secret Shopping is Kind of a Racket

Not really this glamorous.  I would bet that she's just shopping,
 not secret shopping
When I finished grad school and went through my I can't find a job/ how will I eat and pay rent!?!?!? panic, I explored every possible way to make a little bit of cash and save money. Ok, maybe not every way, but I was pretty thorough, I think.  Most of my efforts are outlined in this blog post from way back: Gimmicks and Schemes, but I though I'd take another look at one that sounds fantastic but rarely is: Secret Shopping.

The two secret shopping companies I registered with were Bare International and Ath Power.  In order to qualify to secret shop with these companies, I had to take a battery of tests covering everything from my work ethic to my opinion of secret shoppers to my ability to do quick mental math.  I passed, thankfully, and then started trolling the job boards for something I was willing/ able to do.

The problem was, for the amount of work involved, the payoff was usually pretty lame.  $7 to go to a store, interact with a store employee in a very specific way (there was a script!), buy something and then return it five hours later?  The bulk of the listings were a lot like that: time-consuming and at stores I wouldn't shop at, and if you didn't do exactly what the instructions said, you either had to do it again, or didn't get paid.  Some of the shops required you to open a credit card, some required you to apply to get through airport security even though you weren't flying anywhere just so you could buy a slice of pizza at the Wolfgang Puck Express and rate the experience.

So not worth it
The first shop I did, I was in a serious panic. I printed off the instructions, read and re-read them in the car beforehand certain that I would be called out as a secret shopper.  What would I do then? Clearly, I would run away in shame.

The thing that I failed to remember before that first shop, is that when I worked at Huge Corporate Bookstore, we got secret shopped all the time.  Sometimes you could figure out who it was just based on the fact that it was a new face and not a regular customer, other times we had no idea.  Even if I was certain the person was a secret shopper, I never exposed him or her in the vaguely Scooby-Dooish manner I expected, cause then I (the merchant in this scenario) would have totally failed the shop!

If you do try secret shopping, I promise, this will never happen.

So even though I was registered with two companies and could theoretically be secret shopping all day every day, I really didn't want to do most of what was available.  Usually I can convince myself to do nearly anything that involves a cash incentive, but it turns out that going to Urban Outfitter, interacting with two store employees, trying on a skirt and returning it five hours later and meticulously detailing my experience all for $10--not worth it to me.  Also, there's the added sting of rejection when you apply for a shop, and they don't pick you.  That's right!  Just like applying for a real job, they can say "no thanks" and then you haven't even made that $7.  Eventually, I found my niche in bank shopping.

This was a bit awesome in that you just go to the bank, deposit a check, and then rate the transaction.  Since I have two separate bank accounts, this was no problem, and I made about $10 per shop.  The downside to this one, was that I was only allowed to shop a bank once every three months or so, so I kept having to travel farther and farther away to new and exotic bank branches, which seriously cut into my profits.

Finally, the bank that I did most of my secret shopping at added a $5/month fee for a checking account with a balance below $5000 (seriously, why would I keep that kind of money in an account that doesn't earn interest?  Do I look like a fool!?!?!), so I severed ties with them and with secret shopping in general.  Over the course of the year, I probably made about $200, which is certainly handy, but at the end of the day, just not worth the effort.

Anyone else tried secret shopping and had a different experience?

1 comment:

  1. I signed up for secret shopping a few months ago, but I haven't actually done it. Partly because they keep having posts for gas stations (and I don't have a car) and partly because I can't pretend to be the kind of clueless shopper who goes into Sears (for instance) and requires hands-on assistance to pick an outfit. Just to be paid $10.