Purchase and return shops: take 'em or leave 'em?

Sometimes shops require you to make a purchase and return it within a specified time frame in order to get credit for the shop. Other shops require an expensive (or maybe not so expensive) purchase with the option to return. I see pros and cons to this type of shop. In my opinion-
You have no OOP expense and receive the shop fee.
You may get  paid more and/or a bonus as these are often less desirable shops.

You are often required to write a 2 part report- 1 part for the purchase and 1 part for the return=more work!
You may be required to do the return the following day-  more time, gas, etc.
While it is nice to have no OOP expense, you may be missing out on a "freebie."

Pro/Con??: You may be required to do a little "acting" of a scenario when you do the return (i.e. the reason you did not want the item).

I'll be honest. I did one, yes, ONE, purchase and return and have not done another one. For one, I hate doing returns, in general. Also, I felt like I was not completely believable when making up the excuse as to why I was returning the merchandise. The young salesman seemed so excited to have made the sale and I felt horrible returning it. Also, I was actually tempted to keep the very expensive merchandise (it was an optional return shops). In hindsight, I'm so glad that I did not keep it. The shop fee would not have come anywhere close to covering the cost. The report was more detailed than my non-return shops, therefore requiring more time to do the report. I do non-return shops for another company where I have no OOP expense and get paid the same, so for me, it's hard to justify spending so much time on a purchase and return shop. These are just my thoughts. What do you think?


Company Review- Tell Us About Us

I have done many shops for Tell Us About Us and have had wonderful experiences all the way around. To shop for them, you take a quiz specific to the client to be shopped and then you either self-assign or apply for the shop,  depending on the client. They give fast feedback and pay quickly. The shops are very straightforward and the forms are simple. They don't have a large variety of clients but the ones that they do have are very fun shops, in my opinion. The shops I have done are mostly reimbursement but because of who the clients are, I personally think it is worth it. I have also contacted the schedulers and gotten prompt and helpful responses.


Shop scoring by companies

   The issue of shop scoring is a mystery to many shoppers (this one included). The consensus is that many companies grade you in some way. Some do not tell you your score or provide feedback. Others give feedback within a couple of days or even hours of the shop being submitted. Scores are generally based on the timeliness of the report, the clarity of the report, whether the specific shop instructions were followed, and grammar within the report. I always enjoy getting quick feedback letting me know what I did well and any constructive feedback if necessary. Some companies specify that a shopper must keep a feedback of  "x" to continue to request shops or "x" to self-assign. Other companies never mention feedback. Do you enjoy getting feedback or think that some scores or arbitrary?


Reader questions: What resources to do you need to mystery shop?

One of the things I have loved about mystery shopping is that I have been able to make money without much of an initial financial investment. With that said, there are a few things you will need to get you started as a mystery shopper.

The intangible:

Time- You need to schedule a portion of each day dedicated to finding and scheduling shops. This may involve checking forums like volition for feedback on companies, checking your email, and checking job boards. Of course you also have to carve out time to get to the shop location, complete the shop, and write the report.

Good grammar skills- Keep a grammar handbook handy or bookmark a website with grammar tips. Some editors have been known to return reports or reject them due to poor grammar and spelling. Don't let careless errors cost you money!

The basics:

Email/Internet- I can't imagine how you can be a successful mystery shopper these days without access to email and the internet. Companies communicate primarily and, some solely through, email.

A watch- 3 words for mystery shopping: timing, timing, timing! Almost every shop will require you to record, at least, the time you are in and out of a location. Most shops require many timings in between your entrance and exit. Though cell phones with clocks/timers may work for this in some instances, I have had some shop instructions specify NOT to use a cellphone for timing because it may appear to the client that you are distracted (talking on the phone, texting, etc).

Camera- Many shops require specific photos to be taken. Again, a phone with a camera may work for some shops but others do specify that a camera with a higher resolution is needed.

Printer/Fax/Scanner- While I can see how it would be possible to complete assignments without a printer/fax/scanner, I believe having one make life much easier! You may want to print out your shop notes to take with you on an assignment and some companies to require certain documents to be printed and sent back signed. Some companies allow you to mail in receipts but most prefer, and some require, that they be scanned in and emailed back. I have not yet had to use a fax because I use the scan method but I know that some people do not have a scanner and choose to use fax instead.

Recording equipment- This is only required IF you choose to do a shop that requires recording. I am not very knowledgeable about this type of equipment as I have not done any shops that require it. I do know that some companies allow you to rent the equipment from them for the shop and return it.


Welcome MoneySavingMom readers!

If you have linked over from, you will probably want to start at the very beginning. Thank you for coming over. I hope that you'll find my blog helpful. Please post comments or questions that you may have about mystery shopping!

When is it NOT worth your time?

I have gotten many questions and comments about mystery shopping being worth your time vs. just not worth it for the money. This issue is going to differ from one individual to another. This is when you have to decide just how much your time is worth and what you want your personal return on investment (your time, gas, mileage on your vehicle) to be. One simple way to do this is to decide what you believe your time is worth per hour to decide if a shop is worth it to you. If you decide your time is worth $10 an hour and a shop is going to pay $6 shop fee with a $6 reimbursement you see that the "pay" is $12. But you have to factor in how far you will be commuting for the shop (mileage, gas, tolls- which most companies do NOT reimburse) as well as your time to complete the shop and the shop forms. For some of us a free meal is worth a 30 minute report. For others reimbursement alone with minimal to no fee will simply not be worth their time. It is a personal decision but you should decide in some capacity exactly what your time is worth so that you are making the most of your time.


Company Review: Bestmark

I had heard good things about Bestmark but had not done any shops for them until recently when they called to ask if I would take some shops for them. Since they do primarily automotive shops in my area and my vehicles were due for the services  they needed to shop, I agreed to take the  shops. Two of the shops were reimbursement for the service only and one of the shops had a nice bonus. Even though two of the shops were reimbursement only, I thought it was definitely worth taking them because they were services I would have to pay for out of pocket otherwise. Their shop instructions were straightforward and feedback was fast. They pay according to their payment schedule. They have plenty of shops in my area that are available to self-assign on their website at any given time. Overall shopping for Bestmark was a good experience and I will do it again.


Reader question: Waiting for a bonus?

    A reader posed the question to me: "Should I sign up for shops as soon as they are posted online or hold out and wait to see if there is a bonus?"
    There is not a "simple" answer to this question as it varies with the company and your personal preference of how badly you want that shop. If it is a shop that is posted every month and especially if there is a rotation requirement that prevents you from doing it every month anyway then, sure, I'd wait it out and see what happens. Corporate Research International is one company that is notorious for posting a shop for very low pay at the beginning of the month but increasing it to moderate to even high pay by the end of the month.
    I had been taking a particular restaurant shop for Marketforce once a month but didn't pick it up this month simply because I was a little tired of the food at that restaurant :)  But when they called me and said they would double the pay- I didn't think twice! So I've now learned I probably won't jump on this shop at the beginning of the month but will wait it out for better pay.
    With that said, if it is a shop you do not see posted often or is especially high paying, you might want to go ahead and jump on it before someone else does. There is nothing like the sinking feeling of knowing you could have had a great shop with good pay but you waited too long and it was taken.
I hope this helps. If anyone else has any suggestions, feel free to chime in the discussion!