Monday, November 16, 2009

Paid Consumer Opinion Surveys, I Am on to You

Back when I got into hardcore couponing (I would say these days I'm softcore, about like Playboy or even those "boudoir" pictures with the soft focus and feathers), I read on several frugal blogs about getting paid to take consumer surveys. The way this works, basically, is you sign up with a survey company, and they send you emails every now and then that link to "screening questions," and if you answer those questions and get picked, you take a longer survey online, and get paid 4 or 5 bucks to do it. In the frugal blogiverse, it's all about how small amounts of money add up, and four dollars is nothing to sneeze at, etc. So I signed up, and I responded to every email that came my way. I thought, "Well shoot, I have tons of opinions, you mean I can get paid for these? Great!"

The first problem is that the opinions they want from you are like, really boring opinions. They're not asking you who is more attractive, Mike Rowe or Jon Hamm (Matt asked me that yesterday, it's a toughie), or which Jane Austen novel is the best (Persuasion, and I will fight you). Nope, people who pay marketing companies to do surveys for them want to know things like this:

When was the last time you bought lawn care equipment such as a rake, shovel, pruning equipment, an edger, wheel pump sprayer, grass seed, or fertilizer?

Me: I don't know what some of those things are.

Where did you purchase your lawn care equipment?

Me: It must have been at Home Depot, or Lowes, or maybe somewhere else. Are you sure this is the survey you want me to take?

Did store sales associates help you select your lawn care equipment, or did you select it yourself?

Me: I'm bored.

How much did your lawn care equipment cost?

Me: Honey, how much did, like, our rake cost?

Matt: Please ask yourself if you really want to be doing that.

So it's not a bucket of yuks, and this can go on for 15 or 20 minutes, easy. But the real issue with these surveys, I've decided, is that the "screening" questions that you answer--that they don't pay you for because they're not the actual survey itself--are actually in themselves a valuable source of marketing data. I wouldn't go so far as to say that in some cases there IS no "real" survey that you're getting screened for, but it does seem that the screening questions go on a long time (5-10 minutes sometimes) and elicit very detailed information about your consumption and habits. Another way to say this: I have answered so many questions about my menstrual cycle, its regularity, and my ways of managing it that you would not believe. Then I don't meet the criteria for the real actual survey, and I'm left wondering what else that survey could possibly have found out about My Uterine Lining and Me.

So I'm over it. I mean, it wasn't a scam in that when I did complete the longer surveys, they paid. The money would accumulate and I'd get a check for like $9. Like a birthday card from your great great aunt. And if you want to try it, Money Saving Mom's awesomely comprehensive blog, linked in my sidebar, has deets on it. This is a really popular activity among the froogies. There is even a survey company that is seen as the "exclusive" one to get in with. Like, they don't have their sign-ups open all the time, but every now and then, somewhere on the interwebs, a link will appear that takes you to their sign-up process. It's like Brigadoon, and it creates a lot of excitement in the shimmering moment it appears.

I won't say that all the surveys are totally boring. One I actually liked was watching a trailer for Prince Caspian a few times and giving feedback. I told them that the trailer had too much Reepicheep. And you know that Lowes commercial where the woman works at a fancy lamp store, but at lunch she runs to Lowes and buys the exact same lamp for less, while Gene Hackman caresses us with a voiceover? I watched that and gave feedback. Let me tell you, if my survey experience is any indication, a LOT of marketing money is being spent to study how women interact with big box hardware stores. I predict that soon there will be mani pedi kiosks in Home Depot.

And just as much is being spent studying the television habits of children. I've answered lots of questions about my kids and their viewing. Usually I say that they start the morning with Regis and Kelly, watch through the day, and then at bedtime we have to drag them away from "Cheaters" on The CW. So I always get picked for those surveys. Back in the summer I got picked to preview these episodes of some kids' show about bears. They sent me actual DVDs in the actual mail. Then they wanted me to watch the episodes with Hank, then sit with him as I answered questions online. We were trying to get ready to go to Australia, and I thought of Tracy Morgan on 30 Rock: "I'm not gonna do ANY of that!" And then I didn't even send their DVDs back. I thought this would effectively sever my relations with Amalgamated Consumer Desire or whoever they are, but nope, they still email me "screening" questions. Just the other day I didn't get picked to talk about the grooming products I use on my pet.

So check into it if that's your bag, but I am dunzo.


Amy said...

It's so funny you've posted about this, cause I was just reading about it the other day and wondering how it all works.

So when you didn't get selected on the one about menstruation, did it make you all insecure? Like maybe your uterine lining isn't good enough? I mean, cause, maybe it isn't. And they just don't wanna tell you.

Oh--and I think we should start a survey company asking people questions that are more interesting, like your Rowe/Hamm one. Like, "In a given week, how many times do you spray whipped cream from a can directly into your mouth?"

Keely said...

Yeah, I started trying to do that in university. I never got paid more than $4, and I wasted a LOT of time. And I got really irked when campaigns that I vetoed, loud and clear - like that stupid Tampex "Upgrade!" - still made it to circulation, practically unrevised.

Kate said...

I just got into the survey emails about a month ago. It all started from a link that popped up while I was reading your blog. I answered a bunch of questions for Fisher Price. It was funny because, seeing as how I do not have children, I had no idea what they were asking about.

Since then, I've completed surveys about everything from the new Budweiser wheat beer to Allstate insurance. These things have become my go-to entertainment when I'm trying to procrastinate. Good times.

Carrie said...

I signed up for Pinecone Research because, like you said, people were so excited when they were taking new participants. And yeah, I was underwhelmed and quit after a few surveys.
HOWEVER, I got called up about a month ago by a market research company that offered me a phone interview survey about online banking, and it paid a hundred and twenty five bucks! They said it was going to take an hour but it actually took half an hour. I got the check just a couple weeks after talking to them on the phone. I would definitely like some more of that action.

danajk said...

So this is not for me, I know. But my husband is all over it. He does it for Delta to get like 22 Sky Miles for every 200 surveys he is in. He got some cologne in the mail that he had to try out and get opinions on. Fun times.

Becky said...

Dana, was the cologne Sex Panther?

(C'mon, Anchorman anyone?) That is kind of a fun one, actually!

Carrie, geez, wow, that's pretty good. I got screened for a Gap one that would have been an in-person focus group for $75, but I guess they didn't think I was Gappy enough. Which I totally am though.

I did get to look at upcoming Vera Bradley patterns one time, but there was no money in that. I just liked giving my opinions on that one.

Katie, you are funny. No wonder all the Fisher Price toys I've bought lately have been really strange, like My First Wine Opener.

Becky said...

And Amy, and everyone, what DO you think on the Rowe/Hamm question?

I think for pure aesthetic contemplation I gotta go Hamm, but I bet Mike Rowe could give ya a real goin' over.

Dirty Jobs!

Mad Woman said...

First....The answers are Mike Rowe and Mansfield Park.

There, that's that out of the way. I did the survey thing for a while too and the questions bored me to tears without any great benefit for me, so I stopped.

I like Amy's idea for a survey company. I could totally get on board with that.

The Dental Maven said...

I think I'd rather do one of those "Assembly work at home" jobs.

Jenni said...

Jesus, Becky, that sounds like a whole JOB. And it's Mike Rowe for me.

Michele said...

I always try to figure out what my time is worth. 20 minutes on a screening call without the pay off - nope, not worth it. $9 for 20 minutes work. Nope, not worth it. I figure I could save more money in the long run by darning a cloth napkin for a few more years use.

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

Hmm... I think I'd rather assemble IKEA furniture without instructions.

Otis resident said...

I took one of these surveys once or twice & I never received anything more than more email surveys. I confess that I AM a hardcore couponer though, Becky, we'll have to talk about that sometime. (Still have a few more days before that CVS 3/15 should start beeping!) I was contacted for a research study once, they just wanted to watch how one of my girls played with various toys, etc. We participated, our pay was like a whopping $10 (or was it $15?) grocery store gift card!

gretchen said...

The whole consumer survey world is run by out of work actors. I swear. Over the years, I've had numerous friends who had jobs working for these survey people. And it's all rigged. I had one friend who would do these surveys, just making up the answers, then give the company the phone numbers of her friends if they wanted to check up on her work. She'd call me and say "Okay, write this down so you'll know what to say when they call you...You are a smoker. You prefer menthol cigarettes. You are between 18 and 24. You live alone and make between $30,000 and $40,000 a year." And sure enough, somebody would call me and I'd have to try to remember the big lie. CRAZY.

The Messy Mom said...

I had to google Mark Rowe and Jon Hamm and I don't think it is because of my age, but rather the fact that I don't have cable.

I have been trying to take baby steps back into the coupon world, but not very successfully. I did not get the paper on Sunday and now they are sold out. Oh well. I guess that would be the equivalent of a Victoria's Secret catalogue? As far as how hardcore I am.

delaine said...

I have only recently been getting emails about taking some survey or other. I haven't done it yet. Not likely too. Now about the Mike Rowe/Jon Hamm survey, my vote goes for Rowe. I'm just saying...

Beth said...

I do the survey thing, but I do find myself wondering if they are getting most of their information for free in those "prequalifying" questionnaires.

It does take time, but I do it in moments like this one...I am typing here to avoid looking at my homeschooler who is supposed to be figuring out an answer and is instead trying to read it on my face.

The money I earn is my Totally Frivolous Spending Money, which is really just a matter of semantics to get around Mommy Guilt. IOW, if I want a nifty pair of earrings I will use "my" money instead of taking it out of the clothing fund...because what if my son suddenly outgrows all his clothes and has to go naked because of my earrings?? :) My husband is a sensible man and thinks this is all very silly, but he's not a mom.

Michele Renee said...

Is Cheaters really still on TV? I can't believe I'm admitting that I've watched it before.
I do not watch the TV shows this season that these two men are in, although I have seen a couple episodes of Dirty Jobs a while ago. So I had to Google some images of these two and I would go with Rowe.
But most of all I wanted to say....Your husband asked you to tell him your opinion of attractiveness of two actors??? Wow!

Aviva said...

There was awhile when I was doing surveys for a bunch of different companies. (And often got asked the SAME questions about the same topic.) Seems like most of them give you entries into a sweepstakes, and since I never, ever, ever won one of the sweepstakes, it just got old.

Like you, the ones that offer actual cash if "qualify" got old too after I got tired of endless screeners.

These days, I only do which has consistently paid off for me. No, they don't give me actual cash, but they give me cash credits that I can use towards various items. My main thing to do with my credits is getting a free subscription to TV Guide magazine. So pretty much, when I notice that my annual subscription is running low, I start doing all the e-rewards surveys I can and collect enough credit to get another year's subscription. :-)

I've also done the in-person market research studies, and those are a blast and pay well. I got paid $200 to let three people come over to my house and interview me for an hour about technology. I got paid $150 once to go participate in a group thing where we opined on US tax forms and some possible changes they were considering making to the forms. :-) I'm so opinionated that I can go on and on about just about anything. :-)

Becky said...

Wow, that is not bad money, Aviva. I would totally do that.

And Michele R, first Matt asked me which of those two guys would win in a fight. (I said Rowe.) Then he asked who would win "a Handsome-off."

I am with all you Mike Rowe people, but doesn't anybody want to speak up for Jon Hamm?

And I don't know if Cheaters is still on, lol. I don't really let the kids watch it. Because it's on past their bedtime.

Veronica said...

I enjoy an episode of Dirty Jobs here and there, but I have to say that I'm in the Jon Hamm camp...

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Noan said...

Hi, I'm a lurker. I am so enjoying your August postings. I clicked below todays post and ended up on this consumer survey posting. I know I am l most two years behind for commenting on this post, but I think I have some useful info for you. Forget the surveys about lawn care, what you want to focus on are the pharmaceutical company surveys. They pay $25 for a brief on-line survey, $100 for a phone survey, and if you actually drive and spend a couple hours telling them what you think of their advertising that will net you a cool $250-$300. And I have found it to be rather cathartic - I will tell them what I think about their ads, their products, and then throw in a few opinions about their profits and pricing.

And while I am here, I hope you don't mind if I share what I think about your decision to stop your house cleaning service. BIG MISTAKE.