Overview: Members of the Mystery Shop Forum have frequently asked if it is financially feasible to survive solely on mystery shopping income. Volunteers, who were successfully earning $2,000 or more per month, were solicited and Mystery Shopper Magazine is proud to present the third in a series of interviews on the topic.
This interview differs from the previous two because, although this shopper has proven capable of earning $3,300 a month, she has opted to earn less.
MSM talks with JPGilham:
MSM: Please give us a brief overview of your background prior to mystery shopping and, if you will, discuss what past work experiences have contributed to your success as a mystery shopper.
JP: I had my own taxation/accounting business for 12 years with over 400 clients. I then worked as a Corporate Comptroller for a voice/telecommunications company. I left this job to continue my education. I can’t think of any way that this experience has contributed to my experience as a mystery shopper. I keep great records and by the time December 31 rolls around my tax return is basically already done so that helps a lot. I’d say that as an accountant I would have an eye for detail, but I really don’t. I think I’m an example of how someone can come into mystery shopping with nothing to draw on in experience and still be successful at it.
MSM: How did you first learn of mystery shopping and what was the impetus for you to begin? How long have you been doing it and at what point, did you realize it could become a lucrative venture?
JP: I have been mystery shopping for over six years now. I started doing it as a means to earn money while at school. I’m always looking for ways to earn money and mystery shopping worked out really well for me once I got serious about it. I did not realize it could be lucrative, initially, until I found the Mystery Shop Forum and learned a great deal more about it. I received some great advice from the forum and learned how to make more money, more efficiently.
MSM: In an earlier discussion, you stated, “I was regularly earning about $2,800 to $3,300 a month, but dialed it back to around $1,500 to $1,800 this year because I was getting fairly stressed.” Could you please describe the circumstances, which caused you to reevaluate and, ultimately, make the decision to limit your mystery shopping?
JP: I was earning $2,800 a month mystery shopping and working most days and then, I did the phone apps (Gigwalk, Field Agent, and Easy Shift) and made an additional $500 from them. However, I found that having a day planned out, mystery shopping, and then stopping to do phone app jobs, meant that I was often running very late and I became very stressed. I need to finish shopping, so I can input all my reports by 7:00pm, since I am an early-to-bed person and I tend to make mistakes if I work later.
In addition to mystery shopping and doing the apps, I was also going to school full-time and was becoming a real witch to live with. I don’t think my marriage would have made it if I had kept it up. If you didn’t have other commitments, such as family and school, you could certainly do it with a lot less stress.
MSM: Please describe your average workweek, including number and types of shops, amount of time spent away from home and the time required to report the shops, when you were earning $2,800 to $3,300 a month and now that you are earning, what you consider, a less stressful $1,500 to $1,800?
JP: When I was earning $2,800 to $3,300, I worked every day, almost without exception, and did a minimum of five shops and up to about 13 a day. I really did it full-time. To be done with the reports by 7:00PM, I needed to always return home by 2:00PM to 3:00PM, so I was often up at 5:30AM, and on the road by 6:00AM.
I very rarely shopped overnight and, in fact, only did it twice and then, both of those times, I made it a vacation and took my husband along. I think you can still earn reasonable money without having these long overnight trips that many of the more experienced shoppers talk about and, at most, I only went 150 miles away from my home.
Now that I have scaled back, I earn $1,500 to $2,000 a month and I shop about three days a week with maybe a fast food in the weekend. On those three days though, I do six to 12 shops, but as a norm, usually it’s around six. I have my weekends off to spend with my husband, apart from the occasional fast food.
I am registered with 150+ companies and I am picky about the shops I choose. I never shop for less than $17.00 and I don’t even touch phone apps anymore. Apart from video shopping, I won’t do targeted shops either. I find that I can earn the money I need to earn without doing those things. I’m not in a large city, but I’m centrally located, in the middle of three small towns, so it seems to work for me. My average per shop is approximately $35.00.
MSM: It would be difficult to generate significant earnings from mystery shopping without a sound strategy. What is yours and what makes it so effective? How has it changed since you have “dialed it back”?
JP: When I dialed it back I first dropped all the phone app assignments and that, in itself, relieved a lot of stress. Then I stopped accepting all shops that paid less than $17.00,even if it is next door to me, and even then, I will only look at them if there are a group of them near me. I negotiate for bonuses more now than I used to, and about 50% of the time, I’m successful. Also, I sit and wait for a job to sit on the job board for a while and then I email the scheduler and tell him/her that I can do it for a certain bonus sum. Other than that, I really haven’t changed my strategy very much.
MSM: If you had it all to do over again, what would you or could you have done differently to better manage the stress? How permanent is your decision and what would cause you to change your mind and why?
JP: I would realize that life is very short and we only have the here and now, so it’s just not worth it to chase the large sums of money, if it’s going to stress you out. I don’t think I could keep going at the pace I was going and if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t do it. I would not start the phone app jobs, even though the money was almost instant and very gratifying. My decision to work less is permanent and I will not change my mind.
MSM: What advice do you have for new mystery shoppers and for experienced mystery shoppers, who want to increase their income?
JP: I would recommend video shopping as you get well paid for the assignment. It’s an investment of around $700, but well worth it. Having said that probably only $300-$500 of what I earn is from video shopping income and some months, none of it at all. (I personally don’t like video shopping so I only take those assignments when they are nearby and worthwhile.)
The real secret, as mentioned on the forum many times, is to register with as many companies as you can. I took a week off from shopping, wrote up a brief shopping experience and then applied to every single company listed on the forum, cutting and pasting my shopping experience into their forms as I went.
Finally, be prepared to travel. I purchased an economical car, specifically for mystery shopping.
I know some of the big earners travel for weeks at a time, but I just haven’t found I needed to do that. When I say, ”be prepared to travel” I mean 100+ miles, probably once a week and then 50+ another day of the week. Make sure you have your car packed with food and drinks to save you money from buying lunch on the road. Take a photo of your receipts as soon as you get them! There’s nothing worse than traveling 150 miles and getting home to find you cannot find your receipt.
Most of all, try to enjoy what you’re doing and realize you are making a difference. What you may not know is that some of those great employees get their bonuses based on your report and you’re in the position to make it happen!