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Get Clued in on Mystery Shopping

You’ve probably heard of the job; whispers in the company break room or between the mommies at playgroup talking about “secret shopping”.  The first time I heard that someone could shop and actually get paid (instead of the other way around) my heart started palpitating! What a dream job; forget filing all day or pushing a broom to earn a paycheck! Also known as “mystery shopping”, this market research job has been around for decades in varying degrees, but is a legitimate billion dollar industry these days.


Many are employing the services of mystery shoppers including bricks-and-mortar retail businesses, online stores, restaurants and entertainment venues and others. These companies can get valuable feedback about the way their businesses are meeting the needs of the consumer through sleuthing shoppers who provide an unbiased opinion. As a mystery shopper, the information you sent out to gather varies from assignment to assignment, but typically has to do with customer service, the store facility, product displays and more. How quickly were you greeted by an employee? Rate the cleanliness of the restroom facilities? Did the server introduce himself by name and offer you the special of the day? These are just a small sampling of the questions you may be asked via online surveys after your secret shopping assignment.


Unlike just taking paid surveys from home, you will need to have access to reliable transportation to get to the job assignment. Once at the mall, movie theater, dining establishment or other venue, you will be asked to keep track of a number of quantifiable details as well as provide your objective opinions about the consumer experience. Typically, you will be required to make any purchases from your own funds and are later reimbursed at the successful completion of the job. While you are paid back for your purchases and even mileage in some cases, you may or may not receive additional compensation for your time and efforts. Sometimes the “payment” is just that you get to keep your purchase, other times you are offered extra remuneration – it just depends on the mystery shopping service you are working with as well as the client company.


If you are looking to break into this exciting part-time opportunity, you can sign up with a variety of market research firms that offer mystery shopping. Some of these organizations are solely dedicated to secret shopping while others are full-service, offering paid surveys, focus groups, product sampling and other market studies on behalf of their clients. For a starting point, visit a free online database of market research and survey opportunities such as and register with as many mystery shopping providers as possible.


Free Email Service for Your Paid Surveys

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “F” – as in “F” for free!  While there may be no such thing as a free lunch, there are certainly dozens of choices for the savvy Internet user who wants to send and receive emails for free. If you take surveys online or are thinking about earning money this way, snapping up a free email address or two is a good way to keep survey-taking completely separate from your personal or work messages. Plus, many of these no-cost email services will treat you to plenty of storage space for storing your mail; pretty darn-good spam filtering, an intuitive interface and even on-the-go access. While it’s hard to complain about free stuff, there are some trade-offs for complimentary email service. These cons include having to see imbedded advertising in your email, lackluster folder organizing, limited message searching and other small foibles that I’m willing to live with. If you’re looking to get your paid survey jobs off to a clean start, consider signing up for an account with some of my personal favorite free email providers. I’ve listed three to get you started, but if you search the internet, you’ll find many other free email services.

Gmail: Gmail is Google’s answer to free mail and instant messaging. With tons of free online storage space you can collect all your messages as well as organize them nicely with labeling, flagging and other productivity features. When you use Gmail, you will see advertising embedded in your message that is based in the context of words found in your email. Actually, this could be of interest to you, if you want to see what ads come up for online surveys.

AIM: Aim Mail is supported by AOL and features unlimited online storage space, decent spam protection and a user-friendly interface. Lacking a bit in productivity features such as labeling, smart folders and threading, you’ll still find this free option for email to be a very viable choice for your online survey communications.

 Yahoo! Mail: This well-known free email service treats account holders to unlimited storage, RSS news feeds, SMS texting, instant messaging and more. Pretty much everything you need and more for keeping in touch with administrators of paid surveys. Productivity and searching features are pretty good, but still could use some refining as could the spam filter.


Top Tips for Paid Surveys

Millions of people like you agree; taking surveys can quick and easy way to bring home a few extra dollars in your spare time. Don’t go and quit your day job because you certainly won’t get rich or even make enough money to support yourself completely. But, if you make taking surveys for money a regular part of your daily or weekly routine, you can earn enough extra cash to pad your pocketbook in a really nice way. Whatever your situation; young or old, working or looking, liberal or conservative, male or female, adventurous or a homebody, city dweller or country person, you can find paid surveys that will seem tailor made to suit your personality.  But, where to start; there is a mind-dizzying array of online survey sites from which to choose, and some corporations and educational institutions even offer paid surveys directly. Following, I have listed some ideas for getting started in online surveys, staying organized and how to keep the momentum going!

Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket:  That’s right! With so many survey sites around, you should branch out and register with as many legitimate sites as possible. This increases your odds for receiving invitations and passing screeners. The more actual surveys you get to take, the more rewards you’ll earn. Head to a reputable survey database, such as Survey Avalanche, to peruse all the various survey sites in one conveniently organized place.

Honesty is the Best Policy: As I’ve mentioned before, keeping your answers on paid surveys completely truthful helps everyone in the end. Client companies get the valid consumer data they are paying for and you earn a reputation as a dependable good guy who deserves many more survey invitations.

The Early Bird Catches the Worm: Sounds so cliché, but it is true. Many opportunities to take paid surveys need to be acted on quickly. This requires checking your email several times a day and responding to invitations in a timely manner. Most paid survey “tickets” fill up fast and then the proverbial train pulls out of the station full steam ahead. I’m embarrassed to mention how many paid surveys offers I’ve derailed because I haven’t followed my own advice. The good news is that many surveys require a fast sign up response, but then let you actually complete the full survey at your own leisure.

Persistence Pays Off: Don’t get discouraged if you do not qualify for certain surveys or have lulls in the amount of invitations in your inbox. Just keep completing screeners, checking websites and reading forums for the latest opportunities to take paid surveys. Over time, after you have built up a reputation within a number of survey providers, you will have a steady stream of projects to work on and some great pocket money to spend as you please!


Survey Spotlight: Greenfield Online

With hundreds and hundreds of legitimate survey sites out there, sometimes it can get a bit confusing about who is who on the survey landscape. Some survey sites are like finely manicured lawns, others are thorny bushes that will really stick it to you. To familiarize you with some of the better choices in survey providers, we’ll occasionally put the spotlight on some of our favorite programs where you can speak your mind and get rewarded at the same time. Today, the focus is on Greenfield Online and we hope by the end of the post you have a clearer understanding of who they are.


Greenfield Online (aka Ciao Surveys in some countries) has been a worldwide internet survey solution provider since 1994.  In recent history, Greenfield Online has changed hands several times, firstly being bought out by Microsoft in 2008 and then just recently acquired in 2009 by Toluna, a mega research panel with millions of members. Greenfield reports to have 25 websites that cater to survey takers in more than 60 countries around the globe. Fans of Greenfield Online enjoy the easy access to international paid surveys and being catered to in their native tongues while critics feel like this survey site giant still has plenty of room for improvement, especially in the survey acceptance and reward rates. As Greenfield continues to completely merge with Toluna Surveys, I expect will see more changes one way or the other.  The Greenfield Online website is posting that just days ago, on January 5th, a new reward system has been put in place that gives members more “power and flexibility” over rewards and to use points for things really wanted like “cash, merchandise, charitable donations or exciting prizes”.


One good thing about Greenfield Online is that all rewards are paid in the currency of your home country each time you complete surveys; however, failing to qualify nets you nothing. After you reach a pre-determined amount in your account, you can have those funds transferred to your Paypal account. Greenfield Online does offer frequent invitations to join surveys, on average three per week, but sometimes members report it may be hard to qualify for the full surveys. In May of 2009, a new Help Desk function was created to assist member navigate their way through the process with fewer problems. To wrap it up, let’s see what 2010 and a Toluna touch do for this well-known and much-used paid survey site.


Surveys: A Rewarding Family Hobby

Looking for a good, wholesome family activity that will encourage some quality time together? Getting the whole gang onboard with paid surveys is a great way to pursue a worthwhile activity together and earn some extra cash at the same time! Not only will you have new topics of conversation for the dinner table, but you’ll be able to save up for a family treat, whether it is a trip to the amusement park or a dream vacation. You may have already been taking paid surveys and enjoying the monetary benefits of sharing your opinions, but just think how excited the little rugrats and teens will be to have a chance to earn money of their own! While there are plenty of paid survey sites that are geared to adults, you’ll also find quite a few other surveys sites and opportunities for children, ‘tweens and teens to participate.

Signing up the entire family to take part in online surveys really expands your presence as consumers in the marketplace. While mom might do all the grocery and household shopping and can qualify to take surveys on those topics, dad may find paid surveys on sports, home repair and automobiles interesting. Tell the kids that they’ll be taking cash surveys on fun topics such as fast food, video games and music and they’ll be begging to share their opinions. It goes without saying, that the more surveys your family is able to participate in, the more income you’ll earn together.

The income earned from paid surveys can really help out today’s families in so many ways. Whether you’ve made a group decision to save up for a big family-related purchase (minivan, perhaps!) or are all spending the extra income separately, just having supplemental income in any amount helps today’s cash-strapped families. When your children start to take surveys for money, you should consider setting up a savings account for them. Earning a few dollars through paid surveys is the perfect opportunity for you to teach the fundamentals about earning, saving and spending to your family.


The Tax Man Cometh

The good news is that if you’re reading this post, you’ve hopefully earned lots of money taking online surveys. The bad news is that you may have to pay taxes on that money. Everyone is in agreement; you’re not going to get filthy, stinking rich taking surveys online, but you will earn some decent supplemental income that will help you achieve many of your financial goals. Whether you want to save up and splurge on a luxury item or are just trying to pay the monthly bills, money earned from paid surveys will get you part of the way there. However, you do need to be aware of your tax obligations created by taking online surveys before you go ahead and spend all your newly found loot.

I’m not at tax accountant, nor do I play one on TV. So, remember to take these comments for what they are, friendly advice. For the most part, when you take surveys, participate in focus groups, complete mystery shopping assignments or help out in other market research studies you are considered an Independent Contractor . This means that, although you are being compensated for your services, you are not an employee of any specific survey site or marketing firm you do business with. If you earn more than $600 from any one company, they will be obligated to report your earnings to the Federal Government from that company– which means you will owe your fair share of taxes on that amount (which of course varies by your income level). Now, say if you earn $100 from five different surveys sites, totally $500, you would not be responsible for paying any taxes.

In addition to paying federal income taxes on any money you earn by taking surveys, you will also have to do the same for any merchandise that you receive as compensation for your services or prizes won. On the W-10 form, you will need to declare those prizes and products with an estimated retail value over $600. A good rule of thumb is to follow the lead of the survey site, if they ask for your social security number and contact information for a W-10 form, this means they are planning on reporting your earnings and you should too! On the positive side, as an independent contractor, you can deduct business expenses from you annual tax return such as stamps, envelopes, even part of your Internet service fee. Please, please consult with the person who files your taxes for further elaboration of your tax burden and benefits.


How To Avoid Survey Scams

Sometimes registering for paid surveys through a new site can leave even the seasoned survey-taker a bit wary about the turning over his personal information and leaving comments. Even though the overwhelming majority of survey sites are completely legitimate and on the up-and-up, there are still a handful of rotten apples that can spoil your overall experience taking surveys if you are not cautious. Often, traversing the mostly safe terrain of online surveys makes both new and returning respondents occasionally hesitate and miss a good opportunity in fear of clicking on a proverbial landmine.  So, how can you determine if the survey you want to take is legitimate and not some sort of scam? There are several ways to improve your odds of working with the best providers of online surveys  

Be a Snoop: If you have the time, one of the best things you can do to be vigilant about the survey sites you join is to check them out yourself. Visit the website and check for important details about their health and honesty that may be found in the “about us” section or through other respondent’s testimonials. Even better than reading a possibly biased survey site, visit discussion forums unaffiliated with the site where people are free to voice their opinions exactly as they like, good or bad! You can even check with the various online “better business” type organizations for their stamp of approval.

Use a survey database: Find a survey database that organizes and categorizes various providers of online surveys in one convenient, searchable format. Not only will you countless hours researching companies on your own, you’ll be hooked up with some of the best paying surveys of the day. These database sites stay afloat, in large part, by redirecting you to legit survey sites that pay them referral fees for the business. It just makes logical sense that they wouldn’t steer you in the wrong direction.

Ask Around: Ask friends, family and co-workers for their experiences taking paid online surveys. If they’ve been making money for any time with paid surveys, you’ll quickly be directed to the top spots that keep your safety and security in mind. You can also ask complete strangers about their experiences with online surveys through various internet discussion forums on the topic.


Taking Surveys On Your Lunch Hour

lunch_deskAdd a little flavorful interest (and extra income) to your routine workday by shutting the office door and participating in online surveys during your lunch hour. In today’s tanking economy, everyone is looking for a way to make an extra buck or two – even those who are gainfully employed. Sometimes a single paycheck is just not sufficient to meet the monthly bills, sock away a little in savings and still have extra for fun. When you share your opinions through free online surveys, you can pork up the proverbial bacon that you are already bringing home. Save the rewards from online surveys in your rainy day fund or use the windfall to splurge one or two of life’s little luxuries that you wouldn’t normally enjoy.

So register to take online surveys and start bringing a packed lunch from home rather that eating out on your break (you’ll save money brown bagging it, too). Before you start using the office computer for personal use, check with your company’s policy regarding Internet usage. Some companies don’t allow an internet usage on company computers, while others are more tolerant of limited, acceptable use during break times. If there is any question, ask your supervisor or human resources department for more details on their expectations. There is also the possibility that you can take surveys online from your own laptop brought from home.

If you are able to use your down time at work to use the internet, hook yourself up with online survey sites. Most online surveys don’t require a large time commitment and can be knocked out quicker than your colleagues indulging in a smoke or coffee break. You’ll find many online surveys to suit your interests and pastimes, many paid surveys ask for your opinion on many topics including music, movies, consumer goods, services and more.  Often, you can even find paid survey sites that will take advantage the knowledge you have in your job, such as health care professionals or those in the high-tech industry. These cash surveys also tend to pay very well as companies are eager to gain valuable insights from your expertise


Online Surveys for College Kids

The rumor is true; more and more college kids are wielding their clout as consumers to pick up some extra income during free time. In addition to earning some cash to help fund a higher education (or a couple keggers and a Spring Break trip), taking surveys gives young folks an insight into the way the product development and distribution process works – perhaps better than Marketing 101. Answers submitted through free online surveys are used by corporations all over the world to make key decisions about improving existing products and services or creating brand new ones. So, when you take surveys, not only do you reap the rewards offered by the survey which could include cash or merchandise, but you also benefit in the end as part of the target market that these companies are courting.


Typically, the entry age for taking paid surveys is 18 years old, which is the age of most college freshman entering straight from high school. Additionally, some survey sites transfer cash compensation into your Paypal account which also requires you to be 18 years old. You may already be using a Paypal account at school as a way for your parents to transfer money for your living expenses. If you aren’t, sign up for one at the same time you are signing up with various survey sites. Other ways that online survey providers reward you for taking surveys is by offering cash sent by check or points that can be redeemed for awesome merchandise such as music downloads, movie tickets, ipods and other cool stuff a college kid would love.  If you get lucky, you may even bee able to set up a sweet dorm room decked out with high tech gear if you win one of the many exciting sweepstakes sponsored by various survey sites.


College kids will find paid surveys on many topics of interest with the younger generation from fashion and fast food to the latest movies and television shows. There are even several survey sites that reward you for listening and giving your opinion on music from the bands all over the world.  If you like to head to the mall, you may also be able to pick up mystery shopping assignments. You can join a marketing firm that specifically looks for the opinions of 20-somethings or register with survey sites. If you have the time between studying and socializing, sign up for all the paid online surveys you can find. The more paid surveys you complete, the more money you will rake in for your wild times!


Ben Franklin Would Have Been a Great Market Researcher

It was 18th century American Statesman, Benjamin Franklin, who went on record as proclaiming “honesty is the best policy”. Still today, more than 200 years later, this guiding principle for living a life filled with integrity and truthfulness still holds true, even when taking online surveys. Especially when taking online surveys! Some people might think it is okay to fib a little or tell a little “white” lie when filling out information on paid surveys; like, who’s looking and who really cares? Actually, providing misleading information via online surveys can create a host of problems for the company administering the market study.

Even if you are not telling the truth on paid surveys by misrepresenting your annual income, your age or your true opinion of a product, these seemingly inconsequential little lies are anything but harmless. One of the biggest, overarching problems created by dishonesty on paid surveys is a loss of time. And, our friend Ben Franklin was also wise enough to point out that “time is money”. So, wasted time is wasted money. When market research companies conduct online surveys and end up with invalid or skewed data (knowingly or unknowingly) it ends up costing the client company time, and therefore money, advertising to the wrong target markets, improving the wrong features, selling in the wrong parts of the country and more.

Quite frankly, marketing firms and their client companies don’t want you to bend your answers to fit a preconceived ideal. The best policy to follow when you take surveys is to just “tell it like it is”; give your demographic information on the up-and-up (who cares if you’re 49 and aren’t bringing home the salary you think you ought to) and answer all the objective, “opinion” questions with straightforward honesty. Companies are always happy to get glowing reports on their products and services, but your constructive criticism is actually more useful in product development and marketing decisions.

When you are honest in free online surveys, it shows. Your answers pass through all the data quality filters and your feedback actually plays a role in important business decisions. And, as a result of your honesty, you will gain a favorable impression with the marketing firm administering the paid surveys and /or with the client corporation itself. Opinionated, dependable and above all, honest, respondents who participate in online surveys are typically the same people who get numerous invitations to take surveys for money on an ongoing basis.