Adventures in Secret Shopping


Inspired to try something new

I remember a few months ago, reading a blog from Michelle at Making Sense of Cents about secret shopping, and I thought it sounded like something fun to do. So, I clicked on the link from her site (hopefully she made a referral fee from me), and I signed up to be a secret shopper. When I first signed up, I had all of these grandiose ideas of what type of shops I would be performing. I imagined myself taking meticulous notes while trying on shoes at Nordstrom or somewhere fun like that. After all, since I have become financially fit, I do not get to indulge in my former shopper side as much and I thought this would be a great way to revisit the “old me.”

So you can imagine my disappointment when I get my first list of available jobs and they are all pretty much for car dealerships. If I had a particular American made car brand, I could have that thing serviced like crazy and make a ton of money. The problem is that I don’t, and I was less than thrilled with my secret shopping options. Every week, I would get a new email about new secret shop opportunities, and every week I was continuously underwhelmed by the selections available to me.

Encouraged to keep trying

Then one day I get a phone call from a lovely man at BestMark asking me why I have not completed a shop yet, and I informed him that I was not impressed with the fact that all I was offered were car maintenance shops for a brand of car that I didn’t own. He then shared that I could bring a friend’s and still get paid for the shop. I thought that was a wonderful idea, except I couldn’t think of a friend with this brand of car either. So, he continued to try to brainstorm ideas with me, and then shared that I just needed to complete a few shops so that they could determine my quality of work and then other opportunities would open themselves up to me.

Finally, a new type of shop opened itself up to me, and I was thrilled about it because it involved setting up a wedding registry. The last time I set up a wedding registry was eleven years ago, and I loved the experience then and was excited to try to do it again. I prepared ahead of time for my shop, and made sure that I was aware of every nuance that I had to retell, I left my wedding bands at home as I got into character, arrived at the store only to find out that the specific person that I was set to interact with was in fact not in that evening. #epicfail.


If at first you don’t succeed…

On the plus side, BestMark was fabulous and added money to my next shop for reimbursement for my travel and offered me other dates that did not work. However, I finally completed my first shop a few months ago, and it was a lot of fun. It was a shopping experience where I had to ask for specific help in an area of the store. I felt as though I was a super-secret undercover spy walking around taking pictures without drawing attention to myself and taking notes but trying to make it look like I was talking on the phone because I was dictating into an app.

After my first shop, I realized that the lovely man who spoke with me a few months ago was absolutely right. Now that I was officially on the map as a secret shopper, new shop opportunities have been added to my list. I still see lots of car maintenance shops; however, now I have more lunch and dinner shops as well as retail shops. I recently got to indulge in a high-end lunch with a friend that was paid for by the company.

I share my story because sometimes we are too quick to judge what may or may not make sense for us when it comes to side hustles. I heard secret shopping, and I wanted to have one type of experience; however, it does not mean that I couldn’t enjoy the reality. I have since made quite a bit of money doing this and I have not only had fun playing the spy in stores and car dealerships, but I have enjoyed a number of wonderful meals with friends at no cost to me. So it is not only a side hustle but also a social outlet for me. If you are not happy with what you see when you sign up, keep at it, you may not get a call from a guy like I did, so consider this your call to continue to pursue the experience.

Have you ever been disappointed with a money-making opportunity? Did you keep at it or move onto something else?

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Shannon is a financial planner who left a “traditional” financial services firm to start her own company, The Financial Gym, because she felt traditional financial services firms did not have the tools or resources to help people in their 20s and 30s who are starting out and trying to build assets while also managing debt. She realized that the key to long-term personal financial success is a commitment to financial fitness and making smart financial choices. Through her blog, Financially Blonde, her book, Train Your Way To Financial Fitness, her podcast, Martinis and Your Money and The Financial Gym, Shannon is committed to making financial fitness fun, easy and accessible for everyone.

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