After you have completed even a handful of mystery shopping assignments, you likely have developed the understanding that mystery shopping can cost your money just as it can make you money. There are a number of hidden costs associated with mystery shopping that many new mystery shoppers fail to take into account, such as the travel costs and the non-reimbursed portion of a required purchase. After you take these costs into account on some assignments, you may save money simply by staying at home. Before you sign up for any mystery shopping assignments, be sure to a do quick analysis of the assignment first.
Travel Costs. This can be one of the most costly hidden expenses of any assignment, but it’s very easy to calculate the cost if you take a minute or two. Use an online mapping tool to calculate the mileage between the assignment site and where you will be traveling from (typically your home or office). Then take the average miles per gallon of your car and divide that by the number of miles to the job site. This gives you the approximate gallons of gas it will take you to drive to the site. Be sure to multiple the figure by two to get a round-trip estimate of gas consumption. Finally, take that figure and multiply it by the cost of a gallon of gas in your area. This is your travel cost.
Required Purchases. New mystery shoppers may be fooled by the assignment requirements when it comes to required purchases. Often, an assignment requires a minimum purchase of $5 or $10, or a minimum purchase of 5 or 10 items. You may think you will buy an item that is exactly $5, or you may purchase the cheapest five items you can find. And this is where most new mystery shoppers stop this line of thought. Unfortunately, when you get to the store, you may find the cheapest thing at the store is $10 or $15, or you may find that those five cheap items you planned on buying ended up costing you $12.
If you don’t know specifically what you plan to buy at the store and what the item costs, take a minute to research the store’s merchandise online. If you find that a store’s cheapest item is $15, and only $5 is reimbursed, you can see that you will have a loss of $10 on the required purchase.
Do The Math. Take into account all of the areas of payment, such as the shop pay, bonus pay, and reimbursement for purchases. Then subject all of the costs of the assignment. The result is your net profit or net loss for doing the assignment. Keep in mind the 45 minutes to possibly two hours or longer it may take you to do the assignment, including the time to travel, the site visit, and the report. Then you can very quickly calculate the payment per hour to see if the assignment is worth your valuable time.
It’s Not Always What It Seems. If you end up with a very low end result on your total payment calculation, or even if you end up with a net loss, you may still want to take the assignment on. Keep in mind that all assignments are not equal. Some assignments may require you to purchase a frivolous and unnecessary item, such as a pair of earrings or a cigar. Other assignments may require a purchase of an item you were going to make anyway, such as food or gas. If the assignment is for a purchase you were going to make anyway, it is definitely a job worth taking as the payment will supplement a part of your regular expenses.
Also, keep in mind that you can write off your travel expenses on your taxes. This is a bonus you won’t see until tax day, but it is worth taking into considering.
It may seem a bit complicated to make this calculation at first, but if you make a habit of calculating this on each assignment, you will ensure that you never lose money as a mystery shopper. After you get used to the calculation, it will be something you can do very quickly and easily.