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Mini-business plan–combine mystery shopping and eBay (or Craigslist)

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Periodically, I like to write about ideas I’ve had but won’t be carrying out any time soon. Last time it was webhosting. Today it’s secret/mystery/whatever shopping combined with a dash of eBay.

I’ll start of by saying that I can’t guarantee it’ll work or anything. I’m just throwing out how I would do it and if you like the idea, then I hope it’s useful.

This would probably work best for people who are working part-time or who do side-jobs but aren’t sole income providers for their family. You’d also need a certain reserve of starting cash–for reasons you’ll see below.


1. Sign with some mystery shopping group.

Don’t find one that charges you to shop, there’s lots of free ones out there! The FTC has a good page about this. They say:

The truth is that it is unnecessary to pay money to anyone to get into the mystery shopper business. The shopping certification offered in advertising or unsolicited email is almost always worthless. A list of companies that hire mystery shoppers is available for free; and legitimate mystery shopper jobs are on the Internet for free. Consumers who try to get a refund from promoters of mystery shopping jobs usually are out of luck. Either the business doesn’t return the phone calls, or if it does, it’s to try another pitch.

So this isn’t where the initial investment comes in. They recommend for getting started.

2. Go shopping.

Depending on the jobs you get, you may be required to purchase something. However, you should be able to get a reimbursement. They might also offer a discount. This is ok, because it’s part of your business plan.

You want to focus on these jobs (for the plan. You can do whatever you want, but for the plan you’re going to have to buy stuff).

3. Get the reimbursement/discount.

Keep the item on hand until you get your expected money back. Only mystery shop at stores with good return policies. If the promised money doesn’t come through, register a complaint about the job (I’ll talk about that below) and return the item.

However, we’re hoping that you’re working with a legitimate group. And now you’ve got your money (or most of it) back. Hopefully a commission too, but if not that’s where the next part comes in.

4. Put the item up on eBay. (or Craigslist or a similar place.)

Voila! You have something new, never-used, mint condition. You can sell it on eBay.

For more about running an eBay store or simple selling on eBay, I refer you to the index of Mighty Bargain Hunter’s “Making Money with an eBay Store” series.

5. Optimize!

Here are some optimizing tips I came up with:

  • Don’t spend more than you can spare. You should be getting reimbursed, but don’t put your finances at risk just in case.
  • Choose jobs based on what you can sell best. Think ahead about what has good resale value. Build-a-Bear’s resale potential is much less than you paid (and were reimbursed) for it. To optimize, consider bigger ticket items or at least useful things.
  • Corollary to that, check resale prices online before making purchases. Maybe a new copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe goes for $.49 plus S&H. Will you make a profit?
  • Choose items based on what you’re prepared to ship. (Can you handle shipping a large tv?)

As I said before, these are just thoughts, ideas, a little scheme I came up with but won’t be implementing (yet). If you decide to go through with it or if you already do it, please let me know! Perhaps I can interview you or link to your story. 🙂

Before I close, I want to reiterate the importance of finding a reputable group to work with. Maybe you know a (trusted) blogger who does this or maybe one of your friends does it. Talk to them, see exactly how it works.

If you don’t know anyone in the business, check online for stories of people being scammed by the group. Check the Better Business Bureau. Read the FAQ and ask to talk with others within the group to make sure you know how you’ll be paid, reimbursed, and such. And don’t pay to sign up. The people you’re working with should already be getting a commission.


Your options in mystery shopping may depend on your area. However, even if you sign up (FREE) for the account and occasionally check to see if you can do some resaleable shopping, you’re doing great. You’ve opened yourself up for opportunities. Mystery shopping isn’t the sort of thing you can support yourself on (from my friends’ experiences anyway) but it can bring in a little extra cash, suitable for debt snowflaking or savings snowflaking!

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qzcomplete » Mini-business plan–combine mystery shopping and eBay (or Craigslist)
November 14, 2007 at 3:44 pm
  Mini-business plan–combine mystery shopping and eBay (or Craigslist) by clip31
November 14, 2007 at 8:33 pm

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one } November 14, 2007 at 3:50 pm

That’s definitely an interesting business idea, probably won’t make a ton from it, but it’s better than nothing. I recently wrote a 15 page business plan to secure some funding from the local univerity to help start my blog as a business, so that’s my plan! Good luck!

FrugalBabe November 14, 2007 at 5:24 pm

A few years ago – when we were in debt and never able to spend any money eating out – my husband and I signed up with a local mystery shopper network. It was free, and worked just as promised. It was primarily for eating out, although we did have one visit to Target and one to a hardware store, where our purchases were later reimbursed (that’s how we paid for our very simple garden irrigation system).
Normally, we would get an assignment to go eat somewhere, with specific instructions about when to arrive and what to order (usually an appetizer, two entrees, a dessert and drinks). Then afterwards, we would have to complete an on-line survey about our experience. We always got reimbursed. We had one shop where we were reimbursed $90. Usually it was $30 or $40, with several $50 nights. The surveys took about 45 minutes or so, although the $90 one took us about two hours.
We don’t do it anymore, because we decided that we were tired of filling out the surveys, but we probably went out to eat 10 or 15 times for free, which was awesome when we were way too poor to do something like that on our own.

mrsmicah November 14, 2007 at 7:23 pm

That is a cool idea, FB. Going out to eat isn’t in our budget, unfortunately. And while I don’t plan to do the mystery shopping/ebay thing myself, this might be something I could get into. 🙂

matsonian November 15, 2007 at 9:06 am

A great idea… one I had not thought of! I am going to use QuickPlanner Plus and develop full strategic plan for accomplishing this and post it on our user’s area at for others. I will, of course, give you credit mrsmicah. Thanks!

Jamar Robinson December 25, 2010 at 2:53 am

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