How to do Route Shopping?

I've been doing MS very sporadically for several years and I'm thinking of picking up more work. What exactly is route shopping? How is it done and what kind of planning is involved? Are there templates or cheat sheets available to organize them? (I've already searched and can't find what I'm looking for.).

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I'm not sure about cheat sheets since route shopping is pretty location-specific. Basically, you just figure out where you want to go and pick up shops along the way.

When I did this full-time years ago, I used to be able to contact schedulers. I live in California, so I would say "Hey! I'm going from [home city] to [destination city] on [date]. I'm able to do shops in [list cities along the way]. Do you have any you could assign me in bulk along the route?"

I'd also done similar emails when I'd be in a bigger metro area and just fill up my days with work. Get a nice hotel shop in Anaheim (for example) and offer to to any shops in Fullerton, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, etc, etc.

If you're not on as friendly terms with schedulers, it's a lot of applying and hoping you get what you need for your specific dates and cities. It's certainly possible, but just a bit more work on your end to plan it all out and grab the shops that fit what you need.

It's good to have a record system that works for you. I'm simple and usually just use a hand written notebook to use along the way. A good binder with printed guidelines and blank report forms is a lifesaver for me. That way, I can write all of the info quickly and move on instead of having to work with the websites on a phone or tablet. If I'm doing multiple of the same shop, I'll even create my own template with necessary info for that particular client so it's super quick to scribble my notes and go.

If you're doing a trip for work only (no personal stuff), just track your mileage any the beginning and the end. If it's work interspersed with personal business, track your work miles separately.

Hope that helps a bit.
How many MSCs are you signed up with? How many scheduler have you marketed yourselfto with plesantemails or calls to share info and positive outcomes? A LOTmay depend on those factors, bwfore you even start to be concerned with keeping track of multiple days of trvel and assigments. serious route shoppers are probably signed up with 100-150 MSCs or more,and most probably have a good rep as video shoppers as well (While that is not essential, although it helps a lot).

Based in MD, near DC
Shopping from the Carolinas to New York
Have video cam; will travel

Poor customer service? Don't get mad; get video.
Also, if you search "route" for the time period "past year" you will find tons of more detailed info on developing and performing routes, both one day routes and longer routes. Also, the IMSC annual shopper confernce usually hs one or two sessions led by expert route shoppers. The first year that I went, I lerned enough to double my net MS income the following year. And, I was not a newbies at the time!!

Based in MD, near DC
Shopping from the Carolinas to New York
Have video cam; will travel

Poor customer service? Don't get mad; get video.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/04/2017 02:04PM by walesmaven.
I have found my relationship with the schedulers to be paramount. You cannot schedule a route with a non-responsive scheduler, or those sites where you apply for the job and then wait days for an answer. To plan a route, I need an answer fast -- preferably NOW, but certainly by later today.
I was always a fan of a one day route. I would open up Google Maps, see what major cities I was driving through, and I would make a master list of zip codes so I didn't have to go Google searching. Ctrl+F will become your new best friend for searching for info. The best routes are when you already know the area you're traveling through on longer trips. Example: Grandma's sad she hasn't seen me in two weeks. Come see me and have dinner, get some of this stuff I bought ya, your parents will come over too, and tell me how life, school, & work are going in person. I can even spend the weekend and relax and watch old TV shows like Petticoat Junction, I Dream of Genie, Sanford & Son, and all those goodies I enjoy. And after everyone is asleep, I can watch HBO and catch up on Game of Thrones and Insecure.... Errr I mean let's take a personal day and go to grandma's house. I'll take Friday off, go mystery shop for some cash, get to grandma's late evening, have a later dinner or even pick up dinner for everyone, and relax Saturday and Sunday with my 80 year old grandparents & 50 year old parents. Maybe invite a cousin or two as well.

If I left Lexington Kentucky and went to Grandma's house near Williamson Kentucky/West Virginia I would pass through Lexington (of course), but I may look up zip codes for Winchester, Stanton, Williamson, Ky, Williamson, WV, Logan, WV, Chapmanville, WV, Prestonburg, KY, and on and on and see what I could see. I'd use 5-6 job boards and then individual companies I know don't usually post on the boards or forums.

I get ready to leave for the 3 hour drive to grandma's at 6 AM. Feed the cats & the husband and there isn't time for coffee. But wait, I'm shopping today so this is gonna be more like a 12 hour drive to Grammy's... So MF has a shop in Lexington and I make an offer for $50 and it gets accepted because no one has done this shop and it's the last day of a breakfast shop -- I get a sammich and coke at 6:05 am. The little workers try to be friendly, but they're tired. Me too. Coke is not a substitute for coffee. At 6:30 I pull out because I sat and enjoyed breakfast. I've got myself $50.

Intellishop has a $25 shop I can pick up down the road so I grab the camera, stop and do the shop for all of 10 minutes, make my notes, and head on down the way. Now it's 7:15. My next shop is a MF shop that has gotten up to $35. They open at 8 AM (not 7 like their website says) so I poke around to see what Walmart has that might interest me. They open. I run and do the shop. Takes about 5 more minutes and now I have some delicious treats to take to Grandma and Grandpa. I'm up to $105 so far and it's just a little after 8 AM.

I head over to Prestonburg and someone is shopping an express service on a $200 last day bonus so I get some nitrogen in my tires for ($30) and it's the earliest I can get there and they opened at 9am so I'm back on the road by 9:35am. $305 so far, free breakfast, free sweet treats, and fancy air in my tires.

Winchester has a bonus shop that has gotten up to $250 but it had to be done later in the day. It's a lot of driving and they need a shopper ASAP. Hmmm I have time. It's very out of my way..but I go and do that real fast and the distance for driving makes it time for the shop when I arrive -- An hour and forty five minutes there for a ten minute shop... And so I grab up a gas station shop that has gotten up to $36 along the way and around 12:20 take some photos and sit in a McDonald's to use free Wi-Fi. I hang out there until 1:30ish and then drive over to Stanton -- another half hour out of the way but times on these shops... I've got $591 if I don't goof anything up too bad.

In Stanton, it's 2pm but I grab another MF shop that I made an offer for $75 on and take a few photos inside the store. Takes me just a few more minutes and I'm on my way by 2:15. At this point I'm up to $666 so something must be about to go wrong. I am kidding, these numbers are fake, but routes can be done if you get good shops at high pay.

I head down to Williamson and get there at 4:15 ish and I know there is a Bluebox store for $25 and the same in Logan for $25. I'll do those but I grab a bonus bank in Logan and Chapmanville for $75 each to make $150 -- it's Friday so they are open until 6pm and I'm an idiot for shopping on a madhouse, early month Friday but here we go.. I have $866 now. It's about 6:30 by the time I wrap up and I sorta rushed the last of it but thankfully there was Pizza shop I could do. It has a bonus of $25 on it. $891 today.

Oh, and the restaurant informed me when I called that it's BOGO pizza day, do I want a second one for free? YES PLEASE. Grab the pizzas at about 6:40 and drive to grandma's. I get there about 6:50 with 2 large pizza's and $20 worth of sugary goodness. My mom and dad are visiting, so is my aunt and uncle, and I have food. Everyone tries to pay me for food. My mom bribes me with a gas card. Fine, I'll take the $20 gas card.

Wahoo. I have come to save the day. We all hang out, eat pizza, overeat our sugary pecan nom nom's & cheers to us. I have reports I gotta finish. I work on those until 2AM and then crash out. Those last reports probably said some funny stuff... because I had 2 glasses of wine and was really sleepy. I sit on my lazy rear end all weekend at Gran's house and visit all the people. I also creep on Sunday to see if there's anything SIMPLE I can do on the way home. I like that monaaaay. (I've kinda grown outta this mindset).

This is all entirely fictitious. The geography is all over the place, and I wrote it hurriedly -- but it could happen and it does. I woulda made $891 on the way to Grans where I was gonna go anyway. Sure, I blew about 20 hours and drove about 550 miles today... about $280 there... $891-280 is $611/20 so you figure I really only made $30 an hour?

Again, fake numbers and bad math but overall, it coulda been a fun day and I would have made some money on a trip I was already making. Sometimes, when the money is right, we drive in circles because of time restraints and so forth on shops. You really gotta find your own groove and start kinda small. I used to panic with 2-3 shops in a day. Then I would cram 14-25 in a day if I could work it out. Now, I'm super selective about my money and time spent mystery shopping. I'll keep my eyes open for $50-$150 shops and only work in a couple a week so I'm making the most money for the least time -- my spouse enjoys that much more and I've been working on my own business. Oh, and I also work on an organic farm part time now.

I did day routes when I shopped full time. A route is having multiple shops. Some people do it for different states or multiple states, others, like me, do it close to home.

Create your own cheat sheet in Excel.

When doing a route, make sure you include easy report food shops and parking shops if you will be in the city.

"There's so much trouble in this world; surrounded by miracles" - Citizen Cope
I mainly do day routes, every once in awhile overnights. MountainCacher88 made an excellent suggestion of getting zip codes. Wish I had V8, that pearl of common sense wisdom is excellent and would have save me some heartache. ceasesmith offered some excellent gems.

I live in TX so I have 2 of the same company paper maps thumbtacked on a wall. I never thought of writing the zip or area codes in my focus areas, but I will now. Thank you Mountain.

ceasesmith mentioned relationships with schedulers and I totally agree that it is paramount. I have a scheduler that I've worked with for 2 years. She took a huge chance with me. If it wasn't for her, I'd make nothing. Because my routes for her can be 19 hours of driving, I do my best to give her updates on my progress throughout the day. It took me around 4 shops to learn to call if a shop goes sideways. I travel rural and remote areas. It isn't feasible financially to go back.

Side note, when a shop goes sideways, back yourself up with photos, videos and voice. Some shoppers may not be able to do video or voice legally, but I live in a one party state and I use it. If you're allowed to use voice recordings legally, USE IT!, especially when the shop is a sales pitch. Cheat sheets, a printed form of the actual report is important.

I have a huge 3 inch binder that zips and has a shoulder strap. It ain't perfect, but holds my basic needs for the majority of the companies I shop. Maritz has it's own binder.

If you can afford it, try and find a lightweight printer that is wireless and has scanning capabilities. I purchase clearance printers & hope for the best. I cannot tell you how many shops that were name my price bonuses because companies were desperate and I couldn't take advantage of the shops. This does not count when days like today went like clockwork and I had a solid 5 hours to get stuff done, but no printer. (yes, Maritz it's you)

Increase your profits by lowering costs by getting some good rewards credit cards. Make sure you set up a strict budget so you can pay the bills off every month and stick to it!

Set up spreadsheets to track the money earned, money spent and which routes are worth driving for 8+ hours a day. My spreadsheets track everything I can think of past mileage and fees. I even have a code for companies and their schedulers that pay too little, ask to much, have long pay dates and provide little or no support. My reward credit cards are set up on spread sheets so I can track expenditures for the sign up bonus, when to cancel said cards and then how much time I need to wait to apply for a new one to get the bonus reward again.

Plan your routes to provide breaks. Wearing yourself out leads to reports that need to be corrected, you've already done the work. Try to make sure you're rested before writing narratives. Personally, I prefer grocery stores most of the time. The major grocery store in TX is HEB. They price by zone. I live in what they consider a rich zone. My Dad lives in a zone where prices are always less, even when on sale in my area. This does require an investment in coolers, but I live in TX so coolers are already a fixed cost for my life. The winter time, I take the dog because he must do his duty. Those are the best days because I'm not concentrating on anything besides duty and watering him. My grocery bill is miniscule. I cannot remember when I spent more than $100 in Sam's Club or Costco since I started mystery shopping.

Don't stress out, great schedulers that assign routes will work with you if life goes sideways. Don't be afraid to ask for bonus or PAD. The worse that can happen is they say no.

Well it looks as if I've written another novel. I'm still a novice so many of the more experienced shoppers may offer different advice. I look forward to their input because I learn something new every time I read post on this forum.

Live your life in such a way that when your feet hit the floor in the morning; the devil shudders...And yells OH #%*+! SHE'S AWAKE!
Start off small, see if you can handle 4 to 5 shops per day as time allows. Remember, you still have to write up the reports. Let's say you live in City A. City A, City B, City C and City D all offers shops and are within 20 to 30 miles from City A. I would tackle doing shops in City D for one day, City C on another day and so on. Some of the other shoppers can handle doing multiple cities in one day but see what you can comfortably do first.
I love little one day routes. Start with those and see if you like the driving, and how many shops you can comfortably do in a day before you tackle big routes that take multiple days or weeks. Just get as many shops in one outlying area as you can, and look for shops on the way there. Sometimes I will make a big circle of surrounding towns. There are not always big paying jobs to be had, but just a few bonused ones strung together can get you a nice total for the day. Good luck!

I enjoy awkward questions and uncomfortable silences. This gas station pavement is $%^@*#& hot.
Tip... When doing a one day route, do the shop that is farthest from home first. If you run out of energy or time, you may miss the one closest to home and have to reschedule that one. Better one shop close to home than one far away!

Based in MD, near DC
Shopping from the Carolinas to New York
Have video cam; will travel

Poor customer service? Don't get mad; get video.
I always tried to factor in down time at a McDonald's, Wendy's, or Hardees so I could use their free WiFi. My area doesn't charge to use the dining room (apparently some charge an eat-in fee and run you outta the place after 30 minutes) or force you to leave in any amount of time. I've also noticed Lowe's offers free WiFi now so I can sit in the parking lot if I want. It definitely helps to knock out some reports while I'm on the road. I have ATT unlimited, so if I have cell service, I can turn on my hotspot and use that to write reports as well. I would much rather knock out reports before getting home than getting back and realizing I have 14 reports to input. Those days are rough.

For a long day on the road and/or a multi day/week road trip I always request (and require) extra reporting time. If a scheduler won't consider that she/he does not support route shopping or the client has NO leeway in their deadlines. Usually, it is the former, sigh. BUT, it is possible to educate alert schedulers to the benefits, to them, of granting deadline extensions to shoppers of known quality who will take a nice batch of their shops. So, give it a try, once you have established a rep for reliable and good reports. This is why it is ESSENTIAL to cultivate good scheduler relations from the getgo. We have to proactively market ourselves to schedulers.

Based in MD, near DC
Shopping from the Carolinas to New York
Have video cam; will travel

Poor customer service? Don't get mad; get video.
Such good advice here! In order to make the suggestions above work for you, remember to allow enough time to think about what you will need to have with you or locate for the duration of the route. Think about money, clothing, lodging, supplies, equipment, and alertness. Have you prepaid your monthly bills? Do you need to reschedule a medical appointment? Does the pet need a sitter? What else, or who else, in your world should be addressed in some way because of your route? Of course you want to do as much as work as possible. This is because you have a fine work ethic, you want to be known for it and you want to earn as much money as possible. But you also want to be safe and accurate. Where and when in the course of your route can you rest?

Some of the days in November carry the whole memory of summer as a fire opal carries the color of moon rise. - Gladys Taber
To this day when I schedule any type of route the first thing is to pad my schedule. In other words, if a shop normally takes 30 minutes I put it on the calendar for 60. If drive time between two is 20 minutes, I leave 30. I don't specifically schedule time for lunch or to take a break. The extra time built in allows for traffic, chatty associates, breaks and sometimes gets me home earlier.

At one point I considered a portable printer. I ended up finding it wasn't really needed. I got a feel for the types of shops that could be added last minute. My printing was already limited to gas station audits and I had created my own cheat sheets for them. I got in the habit of carrying along a few copies of the cheat sheets along with some letters of authorization. I also kept the same things on a thumb drive. The thumb drive was especially helpful on overnight routes for printing at the hotel.

Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It's not pie.
"I prefer someone who burns the flag and then wraps themselves up in the Constitution over someone who burns the Constitution and then wraps themselves up in the flag." -Molly Ivins
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It's a waste of your time and it really annoys the pig.
This is great info! I live in Chicago and I find a lot of work here, but I think in the cooler (ok, down right miserably cold lol) months, I'll go out to the burbs a few times a months where there are more chain-type stores and malls etc, and I can knock out a good one day route and be back in time to pick up my toddler.

How far in advance do you schedule your routes? I'm trying to plan a day next week to head out to one area with tons of shopping but I didn't know how far I can reasonably expect to plan a route.

I have a route that takes me 5 hours out of the way that I drive every year to see my Folks for Thanksgiving. I have a small RV and stay a couple overnights in a WalMart lot. I hit Starbucks early each am to do my reports using their wifi. I do similar 5 day trips 3-4 times a week as I enjoy a little out of state shopping and sight seeing on my own. And I get extra deposits into PayPal.

"She was not quite what you would call refined. She was not quite what you would call unrefined. She was the type of person who would keep a parrot." Mark Twain
@shaynes5 wrote:

This is great info! I live in Chicago and I find a lot of work here, but I think in the cooler (ok, down right miserably cold lol) months, I'll go out to the burbs a few times a months where there are more chain-type stores and malls etc, and I can knock out a good one day route and be back in time to pick up my toddler.

How far in advance do you schedule your routes? I'm trying to plan a day next week to head out to one area with tons of shopping but I didn't know how far I can reasonably expect to plan a route.


In a perfect world the next month is scheduled by the 10th of the current month. My world isn't perfect so I hope for 48 hours to a week. I've had emergency calls and maybe had 6 hours to sleep before hitting the road. I only have a ChiX, so if the weather is cool, he loads up and we're off to the races. Since you have a toddler, you probably need to have more flexibility.

LisaSTL made an excellent point of padding time for your schedule. There is one location I've shopped for 2 years, even when I show up before they open; I'm still the 15th customer in line. I'll wait 30 minutes for a transaction that takes 3 minutes and that is a good day. Instead of getting bent, I make it the last shop in that town and take advantage of the better grocery prices.

If you can fit in your personal errands with routes, do it. We have family meetings at least once a month. It's 110 miles roundtrip for an hour most months. I grab at least one shop when feasible to pay for the gas. Make sure you keep accurate mileage records.

Live your life in such a way that when your feet hit the floor in the morning; the devil shudders...And yells OH #%*+! SHE'S AWAKE!
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