How to Be a Professional Consumer

Financial IQ, How To

We’re all consumers and that means we shop, we try new products, and we talk to our friends about what we like and what we don’t like.  So, why not get paid for what we do anyway?

Some people do just that — make money for being professional consumers. Is it worth the time and effort? Here’s a look at a few things you can do as a professional consumer and how to make the experience profitable.

Beta Testing

Beta Testing sounds like the perfect job: Getting paid to play video games, try out new software, or play with electronic gadgets. The fact is, companies do beta testing all the time in order to identify problems, work through issues, and make their products the best they can be.

This kind of testing is usually done in-house by quality control employees or other professionals. Occasionally, however, companies will offer beta testing opportunities to consumers, so their products can be tried in real-world conditions.

How do you get in on this? The best way to become a beta tester is to get on the radar of companies that interest you. That might mean starting a blog that evaluates products you’re interested in, writing to manufacturers expressing your interest in beta testing, and keeping up on product news so you can be in the right place at the right time when a product is about to be launched. Some beta testing work is listed on job boards, but beware of scams that promise free gadgets or electronics in response to testing. If it sounds too good to be true … Well, you know the rest.

Most beta testing doesn’t pay anything other than the chance to try out something new and earn bragging rights on your blog or amongst your friends. Sometimes with software or games, you’ll get to keep a free copy. Beta testing is something to do because you love doing it and not because you want to get rich or even earn a living.

Mystery Shopping

Companies like to evaluate their customer service and sometimes the best way to do this is to pay shoppers to go undercover. This might mean going to a car dealership pretending to be interested in buying a car, applying for a home loan, or purchasing items at a retail outlet. People who are paid by companies to shop are called mystery shoppers, or secret shoppers, and it can be a fun way to earn a little cash.

It’s important, however, that you’re not taken in by the many mystery shopper scams out there.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has even published a report aimed at protecting consumers from fraudulent mystery shopper outfits. As this report says, “Marketers who promise lucrative jobs as mystery shoppers often do not deliver bona fide opportunities.”

Here are a few things to watch out for: Companies that require you to pay to become a shopper, ask you to cash a check, require you to “evaluate” the services of a money transfer service like Western Union, or offer you unreasonably large sums of money.

There is legitimate mystery shopper work out there, but you have to be able to separate out the real opportunities from the fake. One way to do this is to consult the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website. It only lists shopping assignments from companies that do not require payment. It also offers “certifications” to shoppers for a fee, but you don’t need to get these certifications in order to browse and apply for shopping assignments.

These assignments might pay anywhere from $5 to $150, or they might reimburse you for a dinner or a portion of a purchase. In other words, it’s not a way to get rich but it can be fun to get paid for things you’d be doing anyway.

Focus Groups

If sitting around a room with a bunch of other people talking about a product sounds like a good time, focus groups might be for you. Companies hire market research firms, such as Delve, to gather consumers together to get their responses, evaluations, thoughts, and ideas. It’s a way to do first-hand, objective research with a controlled group of consumers, and some people make a fair amount of money being a part of such groups.

To become a focus groupie, you’ll need to register with a market research firm, which will ask for your contact information as well as details about your race, age, consumer preferences, etc. If you’re a single person 18-34, you’ll be in relatively high demand. Mothers and senior citizens are also desirable demographics for focus groups.

As with other professional consumer opportunities, focus groups have their fair share of scam operators. Make sure to research any marketing company before signing up with it. Consider checking the Better Business Bureau and looking for online reviews. Also avoid any company that requires a sign-up fee; legitimate market research firms will pay you, not the other way around. That pay can be fairly significant ($50 to $200), depending on the time or effort required.

If you have some time on your hands, and you enjoy being a consumer, it might be worth your while to investigate these opportunities. Just remember: Buyer beware — particularly when you’re a professional buyer.

Vivian Wagner is a freelance writer in New Concord, Ohio. Vivian blogs via

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