How you decide "what's worth it" when choosing shops?

Hi everyone, I am in the middle of a dilemma. Mystery shopping is not my full time job. I really only like to do restaurant shops, and was thinking about getting more into hospitality (hotels, casinos etc). My husband and I enjoy this stuff, so mystery shopping helps us eat out more than we would on our normal budget. I also do bank shops sometimes because they are easy for me and I don't have to spend anything out of pocket.

I took a pause on mystery shopping over the past year or so because we were on a super tight budget and I didn't want to spend anything out of pocket. Now we are in a position where I could start shopping again, but i am trying to decide what makes it worth it to me. Restaurant shops, as everyone knows, don't pay much, but you can get reimbursed for a really nice dinner. So I want to set some thresholds for myself to follow this time so I don't feel like I've wasted time or had regrets.

So I am just curious how others decide which shops are worth it to you? I have some of my own ideas but I was just curious what others think.

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Our habits when not shopping are Sunday night dinner out with whatever family in the area is available. Beyond that we like to eat out at least once every two weeks for just the two of us. That makes a restaurant shop every two weeks a substitute for our habit being a household expense. (I don't like doing shops with a larger group even if it is allowed because our group dining is a time to just relax and chatter.)

When the grocery ads come out on Tuesday or Wednesday, I am willing to do grocery shops if a store I want to visit has some good deals I would go for anyway.

When I have packages to mail I will pick up shipping shops.

When I have distant places I want to visit, I will pick up nearby shops to make my mileage deductible.

I am no longer trying to make $X per month, so I truly have the leisure to pick up what works and no longer try to set up routes, coddle schedulers, work for peanuts or burn the midnight oil.
I want to double like what Flash wrote.

I do a lot of convenience stores, grocery stores, and post office shops, all near home. They can be reported on the app and then there is no report time when I get home. I do a few other types of shops and audits as fillers. I make little mini-routes so I can leave closer to noon (or after) and be home for dinner, and I love to do takeout dinner shops as well to finish off the day when they are available.
I sign up for shops that sound like they would be rewarding to me in some way: $12 for ice cream that my husband can eat one pint of in one sitting? Sure! $35 to go visit a designer known for plaid? Eh, okaay... $60 to have dinner in a train car? Yep. A full day at a pee wee golf type place.....did it, but never again. It's trial and error and sometimes epic fails.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/14/2019 11:00PM by Monk-N-Nut.
It's a very personal thing. To me, shops that I'm not spending a lot of money on are great, but my bread and butter comes from reimbursement shops, even if it's $5.00. Some shops I do as fillers, like a meal shop that is quick and easy to do with not much of a fee when I'm out all day doing shops. When I need money quick, I do a lot of the app shops so I can get some quick cash. When I have some extra money, I'll do a fine dining shop or a hotel shop. Once I was in the position to do a cruise shop and even though we went over reimbursement, the shop fee covered it all. I would not have been able to afford that $5000 shop any other time that I've been shopping.

We all shop for different reasons and you just have to figure out what is in your best interests. If a date night with your SO doesn't happen often and you get a nice reimbursement shop, it's very likely worth it because it's something you don't normally do and hopefully you'll enjoy yourselves. Like I said, it's very personal. What could be a no way now how shop could be your OMG I can't believe I get to do this shop for someone else.

Shopping the South Jersey Shore
My wife and I like to eat out, too. However I don’t like doing our meals as shops. I just don’t enjoy the meal when I have to focus on various requirements.... I’d much rather do a couple of apartment visits and use that money to pay for a relaxed meal out.

As for determining if it’s “worth it,” look at whatever expenses, time, travel, etc. that the shop would entail and ask yourself, “what compensation would make me feel good about going this shop?” We are all different. Some places are more expensive to live than others. We like different things and most of us will do things we like for less than those we don’t like. Etc.

Hard work builds character and homework is good for your soul.
Yeah - I do regret doing dinner shops when they are lower in cost because the reimbursement I get didn't seem worth it, and I can usually afford to eat there anyway.

There's one really bad one in my area that is a brewery company that owns several bars, restaurants and some hotels across a couple of states; the places are fun and I actually really enjoy going there, but the food is only average, and unless you order something really basic like a burger, it's really hit or miss. The service is also hit or miss. So if they had a better mystery shopping program they could probably learn a lot. The reimbursement is really not enough for two people, and I always bring my husband so we actually lost money on some of those shops. I did them a few times when I was starting out just to get some experience, but no more! The extra regret came because the most expensive one I did was the worst meal! And guess what, their scheduler is always DESPERATE!! smiling smiley
I have backed off doing a lot of the dine-in restaurant reimbursement shops over the past few years unless I am positive it's going to work out well. We are big foodies and the food has to be really great. And, we tend to go way over reimbursement when we do dine-in shops. So take-out and curbside dinners have worked out the best, plus they are so much easier to report!
It always depends...

Is it summer and is the work site indoors? (To date, there is no official heatstroke bonus designation.)
Is it near any place I like to go? Does it pay enough for fuel and something I want to buy there?
Is it going to be well-paid pain in the back, or will it cost more in ibuprofen and chiro visits than it pays?
Does it offere anything that is interesting in some way for me?
Is it the itty bitty teeny weeny technically a job that more than pays for itself? (If so, I am there!)
Do I have enough energy to add it on the fly?
Is it so late at night that I must choose narrative over sleep?

I only need a few dollars per month this, and if I am frugal I need less money than that. I get to work this in ways that are good for me (or at least not bad for me). Sometimes, I wish that I could plan and execute the gigantic routes or gad about the world. Those work styles would reference and rely on previous experiences in massive work and slightly more glamorous living that I knew a bit about many lifetimes ago. But that is for other shoppers. I am satisfied with what I do and with the freedom to do more or less of it.

.. September is dressing herself in showy dahlias and splendid marigolds and starry zinnias. October, the extravagant sister, has ordered an immense amount of the most gorgeous forest tapestry for her grand reception. - Oliver Wendell Holmes
@CeciliaM wrote:

I took a pause on mystery shopping over the past year or so because we were on a super tight budget and I didn't want to spend anything out of pocket.

This stood out to me as being illogical.

You should be shopping if you are on a tight budget. Most people here shop because they need/want more money. There are a few who are lifestyle shoppers, myself included.

After shopping full time for 20 years, I went back to work full-time. I now shop after work, at lunch and in the evenings. I also do bigger projects involving travel on weekends.

When you are in dire straights, you need to figure out how to make money and cut expenses at the same time.

Do you drive a car and need gasoline? Look for gas station shops and audits. Reimbursed gas and a fee.

Do you buy groceries? Obviously, cut out a good portion of that expense with grocery shops. You'll have to buy them $10-$15 at a time, but eventually, after enough, you won't need to spend money anywhere else.

I have done a TON of quick fast casual and fast food shops on my lunch hour or on my drive home. The fees usually end up being about $150 a month. That's a lot of $5 and $15 fees. I chose the shops with reports that take 10 minutes or less. I eat every day. Might as well get paid to do it.

I can pull $2000-$3000 a month in fees on top of my "regular" job. It really makes life easier. It's like getting a $30,000 raise on top pf my annual salary.
@SoCalMama wrote:


This stood out to me as being illogical.

You should be shopping if you are on a tight budget. Most people here shop because they need/want more money. There are a few who are lifestyle shoppers, myself included.

There are so many situations where it is completely logical that I would not hazard to judge.
@Flash wrote:

@SoCalMama wrote:


This stood out to me as being illogical.

You should be shopping if you are on a tight budget. Most people here shop because they need/want more money. There are a few who are lifestyle shoppers, myself included.

There are so many situations where it is completely logical that I would not hazard to judge.

I'm not judging her, but pointing out the for the majority of shoppers, they shop for money.

If she is not shopping for money, something is wrong.
I do two types of shops: lifestyle enhancement and a little extra cash

I ONLY do the ones that are for money at places where I'm ALREADY going. If I don't have to drive the kids across town for soccer practice or piano lessons, I won't pick up the Best Buy shop. If I don't have to take the kids out of town for a soccer game or a trip to the museum, I don't pick up any shops along the interstate.

And often, when I'm GOING somewhere, I am on a time crunch, and can only pick up one or two anyway.

However, when I am going somewhere, and I can squeeze in a few extra minutes, I frantically search for shops that are on the way....

On a really good month, I might make $400-$500 net. On average months, it's a couple hundred
Wow. Disparate views from extensively experienced mystery shoppers. I would only say this: being a mystery shopper, even one with vast experience, does not qualify us to tell anyone else what to do about being a mystery shopper. Each shopper can identify the relevant factors, which may be unique, and determine how best to proceed. We are not qualified to direct other lives. We are merely ICs who work our work uniquely and have discovered a few things that work for some of the people some of the time.


@SoCalMama wrote:

@Flash wrote:

@SoCalMama wrote:


This stood out to me as being illogical.

You should be shopping if you are on a tight budget. Most people here shop because they need/want more money. There are a few who are lifestyle shoppers, myself included.

There are so many situations where it is completely logical that I would not hazard to judge.

I'm not judging her, but pointing out the for the majority of shoppers, they shop for money.

If she is not shopping for money, something is wrong.

.. September is dressing herself in showy dahlias and splendid marigolds and starry zinnias. October, the extravagant sister, has ordered an immense amount of the most gorgeous forest tapestry for her grand reception. - Oliver Wendell Holmes
I do the shops that I would likely do as a customer myself. Also out of interest and to stretch a budget. Not because I need to. I was always a saver since high school when I cut lawns and had entry level jobs. In my early 50s I got selected for a layoff after 7 rounds. Reviewed my investments, took unemployment and I "retired" early. Looked around online for ways to reduce costs in a household. Among the many things I found, one was mystery shopping. Some of the places I go to such as a grocery store or casual restaurants I would shop anyway. Now I get "compensated." It's a win-win. There are more things that I don't do such as valet park, cell phone plans, etc.
What is personally worth it to me is going to be a waste of time for someone else. It also varies for me. Sometimes I just want the lifestyle enhancement, other times pure hard cash. Can’t stand cell phone shops and banks but when money is tight that is where I go...the rest of the time I go for as many reimbursement type shops as I can (especially groceries and gift shops). I have read many a person say they won’t pull out of their driveway for this or that and I absolutely would! It’s just so personal.

Liz
@Traveliz wrote:

What is personally worth it to me is going to be a waste of time for someone else. It also varies for me. Sometimes I just want the lifestyle enhancement, other times pure hard cash. Can’t stand cell phone shops and banks but when money is tight that is where I go...the rest of the time I go for as many reimbursement type shops as I can (especially groceries and gift shops). I have read many a person say they won’t pull out of their driveway for this or that and I absolutely would! It’s just so personal.

Liz

That's a smart way to shop.
I aim to get $40 in a day minimum. Obviously some days I make a lot more than that. One apartment shop can get me that minimum. 3 cell phone shops or banks. If you are working you can cram some into your lunch hour or on the way to and from work. In addition to the grocery shops (what I actually pay in groceries is under $100 per month,) the gas stations that reimburse your gasoline can be pretty great.

One of the strategies that can really enhance my mystery shopping income is to get more active as the month wears on. For instance, there's a storage shed shop $40 miles away from me for $40 right now. Bonused up from $20. There's also a Sonic for $20, bonused up from $10. Plus a gas station heavily bonused at $35. I will use $8.00 in gas to get there and back and I''ll charge $20 for general wear and tear and driving time. $95.00 -$28.00 leaves me a net profit of $67 for an easy half day of work. I may fire up my phone, and check my apps like Observa and find I can work all day there and back, in which case I will make at least $125.

Obviously you may live in a place where bonuses are rare if ever. If that is the case you will have to adapt your strategy for where you are. Are there lots of grocery stores? You can get every bit of your grocery money reimbursed if you are smart about it. I do routes on weekends when the hours are 12-6. Can you insert a couple of cell phone shops in that route? Can you do an apartment shop one day a week? If so that's about $120 a month.

Try to develop a BASE strategy and then tweak it and add more different kinds of shops. Ignore fast food unless you need lunch or it's well bonused. Go for the shops that bring in some money. It all adds up but you are gonna have to hustle.

I enjoy awkward questions and uncomfortable silences. This gas station pavement is $%^@*#& hot.
What makes a shop worthwhile for me?

I'd like to say that I will go out of the way to help out a scheduler who has been good to me (responds to e-mails, maybe even once in a blue moon asks how I am, LOL).

I drive far to do my shops. Therefore, a prime consideration is the MONEY. If I've just driven 3 hours to get to my "anchor" shop, I'm not getting out of my car for a "filler" shop for less than $25. I'm just too tired, too frazzled from the long drive to do it for less.

Last month I must have done over 25 of those $25 shops, because I got paid $530 for them.

smiling smiley

Tomorrow I have 3 "anchor" shops in a town 175 miles away. Each of these shops is paying me $75. I will take a fast food for $35, and 3 hotels at $25 each, for a loooooong day (7 hours drive time) for a $345 day.

Friday I have only one anchor shop at $75, also 175 miles away, and I'm searching for shops to go with it to make it a $300 day, too. I don't think I'll find any. But I committed to that shop, so I'll do it.

Edited to add: Just thinking about those two days makes me tired.....

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/14/2019 05:42PM by ceasesmith.
I don't think anyone is trying to direct anyone else's lives. The OP asked a question and many answered. No one said "YOU must do this or that." They made suggestions and offered help, as was asked.

@Shop-et-al wrote:

Wow. Disparate views from extensively experienced mystery shoppers. I would only say this: being a mystery shopper, even one with vast experience, does not qualify us to tell anyone else what to do about being a mystery shopper. Each shopper can identify the relevant factors, which may be unique, and determine how best to proceed. We are not qualified to direct other lives. We are merely ICs who work our work uniquely and have discovered a few things that work for some of the people some of the time.

Shopping the South Jersey Shore
Actually, the tone of it was tacit "should". I know from this because I am painfully acquainted with people who do not know when they are directing and commanding instead of stating or suggesting. Thank you.

.. September is dressing herself in showy dahlias and splendid marigolds and starry zinnias. October, the extravagant sister, has ordered an immense amount of the most gorgeous forest tapestry for her grand reception. - Oliver Wendell Holmes
I think that's known as interpretation. You two interpreted some posts differently. We aren't always all going to agree on the intent of what someone else writes. I also didn't notice any directive or command in anyone's posts. Writing "you should" is not the same as writing "you must".
I have told my sister she should wear blue more often, it really looks great on her. It doesn't mean I am demanding that she do so.
LOL! Once, I told somone they should wear a certain color. They still hate me.

But back to the thread. Today, I weighed shops against projects. Projects won. The shops would have taken care of my budget need for now until the end of October. The projects will never go away unless I work on them today. Very boring. Yawn. But practical. And, there will be more shop days between now and then.

.. September is dressing herself in showy dahlias and splendid marigolds and starry zinnias. October, the extravagant sister, has ordered an immense amount of the most gorgeous forest tapestry for her grand reception. - Oliver Wendell Holmes
@JASFLALMT wrote:

I have told my sister she should wear blue more often, it really looks great on her. It doesn't mean I am demanding that she do so.

smiling smiley
My 16 year old daughter looks absolutely beautiful in navy blue. In fact, I can't get over how much that color just fits her perfectly smiling smiley

Just threw that in.....
I do 80% restaurants and my goal is not to drive far. Luckily my town is "restaurantville", mostly chains, but even chains have one or two meals that are great and well worth it for me. I live alone, so usually do about 5 restaurants a month for lunch where you can go alone or bring someone along. I had an amazing double boned Pork chop dinner at BJ's Brewery the other night, enjoyed it and their report is easy, more about service than food. I also do a bar audit for same company close to home and an early drink and appetizer gets me out of the house and feeling productive. I don't do them for Coyle due to the driving and demanding reports, so find MSC's that work for you, enjoy your night out, and if this is your entertainment, go for it. My spending 35.00 for myself wouldn't be happening, and I hate Apartments, my restaurants are so much easier. You'll find many different views, so it is a personal thing as to what makes you choose certain jobs. For a first date, I wouldn't do it, or a romantic dinner, but all else works.

Live consciously....
Maybe you should wear your red dress and denim jacket somewhere else but at home? Hope you don't "hate" me for saying so, LOL. I have some red garments I wear at home that I could never wear out of the house (I'd probably get in trouble for indecent exposure) smiling smiley but why not a red dress with a jacket?

@Shop-et-al wrote:

LOL! Once, I told somone they should wear a certain color. They still hate me.

But back to the thread. Today, I weighed shops against projects. Projects won. The shops would have taken care of my budget need for now until the end of October. The projects will never go away unless I work on them today. Very boring. Yawn. But practical. And, there will be more shop days between now and then.
Today I have to go to the grocery store so I scheduled a merchandising job at the same store (that isn't due until the end of the month) and am doing them both today. There is a post office 2 miles away so I picked that up, along with another audit at a different grocery store a few miles from there...I have varying types of non-mystery shop assignments and projects that I do and I get them all scheduled to me in advance with a flexible due date, that way as I pick up shops I can just do the projects that are nearby on the same day. As long as the shops are quick and easy fillers it works well for me. Not long ago I picked up a $75 purchase shop (where you can cancel the service within a few days) with a $100 bonus that was only 5 miles from my house. That's a no-brainer.
I do restaurant reimbursements at places where I'd like to eat anyway. Later this month, I have a $125 brunch reimbursement shop coming up. It's my MIL's birthday around then and I will go with my wife and both of her parents there. They are the type to order lots of soda, most expensive item on the menu, too much dessert, etc. (this is my opinion- ordering drinks and not sharing dessert in a restaurant is wasting $ to *me*), but they will be ordering that stuff anyway and we always end up paying the bill even if it isn't one of their birthdays, so we will end up with a $125 discount on probably a $200ish meal. I like the restaurant reimbursements because I don't have to deal with tax stuff. This restaurant is a 10 minute drive from my in-laws, so to me, that's fine and worth it. I typically won't do a restaurant shop if it's far, I need to take the train in to Manhattan, spend extra money getting there, etc. I did one restaurant shop in Manhattan for $200 (which I consider good amount of reimbursement--yay credit card points!) because a friend who wanted to meet up works near that restaurant and she understands MSing so she was helpful. I will do a $5 phone shop because I can do it in my jammies and I make sure to keep those totals under a certain amount so I don't have to worry about taxes for that. I will not do a phone shop under $5, and the company I use has been mostly offering $3 shops. No thanks.
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