How to Make Extra Money & Get Free Food By Evaluating Your Local Grocery Store
Mystery shopping often gets a bad rap. Some companies want you to pay to get started, or don’t cough up any opportunities once you sign up.
But what if I told you there is a company that will pay you for your feedback, plus reimburse you for part of your groceries? And that same company has an app to make being a grocery store mystery shopper incredibly easy?
I know, because I worked for The Source for years as an undercover beer auditor. The money was always good, and getting food and drinks for free was a huge perk. :)
The Source runs mystery shopping projects in local grocery stores, relying on regular people to provide observations about store and employee performance. If you’re game for doing a bit of reconnaissance while picking up your weekly groceries, working with The Source could be a great side gig for you.
Ready to get paid to go grocery shopping?
What’s Involved in Being an Grocery Store Mystery Shopper?
Mystery shopping a grocery store is mostly a matter of paying attention and being an honest judge of a shop’s performance. For example, you might be asked to count the number of associates working in each department, decide whether those associates are engaging with customers, and report how they respond to questions.
As you do your shopping, you’ll travel between grocery departments, observing different parts of the store. Taking a couple of notes on your phone or in a small notebook is a good idea, so you don’t forget anything, but try not to be obvious about it. Plan to spend 30-45 minutes observing and interacting with store associates as you go about your shopping and then check out with a cashier.
The hardest part is completing your report quickly. In many cases, you’ll need to report back by midnight the same day you visit the store, so you have to make sure you have time to write up your observations.
Why do you have to submit your report so quickly? For one, the company wants as much detail as you can remember from your visit to the store. Even if you take notes, you’ll want the information to be fresh in your mind. In addition, The Source needs to share information with their grocery client as quickly as possible. If you had a poor experience with an associate, that store would want to be able to talk to its employees about the situation as soon as possible.
How to Get the Job
You’ll want to first apply online through The Source's website. Once you’re accepted, you’ll be able to see opportunities in your area and request jobs at your local grocery stores.
“You have to take a short quiz to sign up for a shop you want and make sure you understand the instructions,” Alice Sibley explains on Earning My Two Cents. “Their shop reports are submitted on their website and are easy to complete and usually pretty short.”
Don’t worry if you’re already working as a contractor for other mystery shopping companies. As long as you’re not sharing information between assigning companies or become an employee for any of them, you’re free to work as much as you wish. Pay attention to the rules of each assignment, though -- you may only be able to visit a particular store a limited number of times each month.
Make Mystery Shopping Easier With the The Source Mobile App
Since Sibley shared her review, The Source released a mobile app for its field agents (that’s you, mystery shopper) to use while they’re completing assignments. I wish it had been around when I was mystery shopping all the time!
Use the app to submit reports on-the-go and even photograph your receipts to submit for reimbursement. This makes the process much quicker, since you can take notes in the app while in the store. If you’d like, submit your report from the parking lot!
You can even search for nearby mystery shopping opportunities if you wind up having a bit of free time on vacation or while visiting family in another state -- why not make a little extra cash while picking up groceries for your group?
“You can put in a zip code of your current location and find out what projects are available in close proximity,” writes Nirra, the Mystery Shopping Teacher.
What’s the Pay?
How much you make depends on how many assignments you’re eligible to pick up.
Megan Thacker of Work at Home Adventures explains that field agents typically earn $30-$500 per month.
“Trendsource [MSI’s parent company] pays twice a month,” Sibley explains. “Many mystery shop companies pay only once a month and sometimes they will only pay for those shops that you complete in the previous month, leaving you with a two-month delay till you get paid.”
U.S. participants can choose direct deposit or a mailed check, while Canadian and U.K. contractors can choose to be paid through PayPal.
There’s one catch: If you’re in the United States, you’ll need to provide an EIN. An EIN is an IRS-issued number for businesses. While it sounds like a big deal, getting an EIN takes just a few minutes online. If you do a lot of freelance work as a sole proprietor, it’s probably a good idea to have an EIN and use it rather than your social security number for all your W-9s and other employment forms.
Is Mystery Shopping Grocery Stores Worth It?
Most of the online reviews say yes, and I agree.
Amie from Mystery Shopper Magazine noted that great communication makes it worth working with The Source. “The prompt communication I have consistently received from my schedulers, the ease and simplicity of reporting performed shops, and the quick payment for submitted shops are just a few of the reasons I continue to seek opportunities from this company,” she shares.
Since most of The Source's assignments pay between $10 and $20, try to bundle your shops. It’s more cost effective to visit several stores in one route than to leave home to visit just one shop. The trick to this technique is to use the mobile app or keep a notebook in the car so that you can keep track of the various stores you visit.
Is Mystery Shopping Legit?
You bet! And Trendsource, The Source’s parent company, is clear about that on its website.
“No reputable mystery shopping company will charge fees to work for their company,” the The Source FAQ states. “There are purchase requirements for some projects that are out-of-pocket expenses you must incur, but you will be reimbursed for the required purchase when the project is completed, reported and verified.”
The company was even a founding member of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), which maintains a code of ethics and standards for mystery shopping programs throughout North America. MSPA and its members are diligent in helping potential contractors avoid mystery shopping scams.
A legitimate way to earn money while doing something you’d be doing anyway? That’s always a win in my book.
Your Turn: Have you ever worked as a mystery shopper?
Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to Trendsource for working with us to bring you this content.