If you use the Internet, everything you do is being tracked and sold, and you’re not making a penny from it. I’m not here to encourage you to install some plugins to block it all though – far from it. I want you to do as I’ve done and embrace the idea of selling your personal information and feedback, but actually get something in return. Don’t be one of those suckers that sells their information for nothing!
Am I crazy? Maybe, but the $2000 worth of cash, coupons and free products I receive every year from using all these tactics suggests otherwise.
Speaking of free stuff – don’t forget we review and give away loads of gadgets every week.
Sell Your Shopping Habits
Each week when my wife and I unpack our shopping, we scan the barcodes using a quick and simple little device; we then hop onto a website, upload a picture of the receipt and plug in the scanner. For this simple act that takes no more than 10 minutes a week, we get about $3 worth of points (which can then be swapped for things like Amazon or iTunes vouchers).
This might not sound like much, but it adds up to a tidy $150 a year. You can sign up at ShopAndScan.com, but be aware that you might not be accepted into the program. ShopAndScan is UK only, but the Nielsen panel is similar and operates worldwide (UK users, register here), and though they pay out in competition form rather than regular points, the average return for your efforts will be much the same.
Cost: 10-20 minutes a week
Reward: About $150/year, or prizes.
You can also sell your shopping info right back to the supermarket you bought from, which brings me onto the next point…
Loyalty Cards and Store Credit Cards
You need to do your own research here, but savvy shoppers can get remarkably good rewards from store loyalty and credit cards. Hear me out!
If the word “credit card” makes you run, then you’re thinking about them wrong and probably suffer from a lack of self control. Here’s the secret that credit card companies hate: pay your bill in full at the end of every month by direct debit, never withdraw cash (it incurs an immediate accrual of interest, unlike regular spending which only accrues interest if you don’t pay it off), and never spend more than you can easily afford to pay off immediately. It’s really not that hard: don’t use your credit card for credit. The exorbitant APRs don’t matter, because you’ve never going to owe money on them. Their profits are all made on those who spend beyond their means, and you’re not that foolish.
I personally use a Tesco combined loyalty and credit card with no fees – to buy and pay literally everything, including household bills. As well as rewarding me with loyalty points for purchases at any store (not just Tesco), it also means they know how to keep me shopping at their supermarket by sending me coupons I can actually use. The exact rate of return is 0.5% on Tesco purchases and 0.25% everywhere else. Again – it might not sound like much, but that’s a small trickle of points on everything I buy (and return rates can be far more generous than that in some countries).
Cost: Zero, because you won’t be overspending.
Benefit: Cashback, or reward points – anywhere from 0.5% to 5%.
There are certainly better “reward” rates out there, but most have a monthly fee or minimum spend which you’ll need to do the math for.
Broadband Speed Tests
A recent UK survey showed that cable internet speed (by which they mean the only national cable service provider, Virgin Media) on average outperformed similar fibre services from the national provider, BT. The reason they know this is because hundreds of people just like you or I have volunteered to plug a box into their router which continually monitors the uptime and quality of connection. At no point is your internet traffic “captured” or slowdown experienced, but your contribution will ensure that accurate speeds can be measured and providers kept honest.
SamKnows is the biggest such monitoring group in the UK and USA, covering all the major providers. They recently announced that instead of quarterly draws, all participants would receive a 6 month subscription to Netflix from next year. That’s right – plug in another router, and get free Netflix. (Note: we couldn’t find any information about rewards in the USA, it seems like there are none).
Sign up to join the waiting list for the USA or UK and Europe. No other effort is required once accepted: just plug the unit into an outlet and your modem, and let it run. You’ll have full access to speed data it collects via an online dashboard or mobile app.
Benefit: Free Netflix (in the UK)
If you follow me on Twitter (you really shouldn’t), you’ll know I’m a sucker for free stuff. Here’s how these programs work: I click a button to say “count me in!”, and a few weeks later $10-20 worth of coupons arrive in the mail to get a certain product completely free. After trying the product, I jump online and post my thoughts, with supermarket loyalty points bonuses for publishing something to Twitter or Facebook. There’s no minimum follower count required, so even if you’re a relative social media nobody you can still take part.
— James Bruce (@w0lfiesmith) June 23, 2014
These programs serve to offer feedback to the manufacturer and help the viral reach of a new product launch. In the UK, BzzAgent and Tesco Orchard are the largest panels. For US residents, Dealicious Mom has a long list of programs you can join, though I can’t vouch for any of them personally.
Cost: Your Twitter followers might start to hate you. Do you care? I don’t!
Benefit: Free stuff.
Become a Mystery Shopper
Finally, there’s the elusive world of mystery shopping, in which you’ll visit a retail location and make some observations about things like the service quality and queue length. You’ll need a good memory, a sharp eye, and a knack for cloak-and-dagger approaches!
Depending on the assignment, you’ll be rewarded with cold hard cash, a free meal, or a certain amount to spend on anything you like in the shop. It’s hardly get-rich-quick scheme (though some people have made a job of it) – as well as spending your time actually visiting the shop, you’ll also need to fill in a short survey afterwards and upload a receipt – but if you take assignments you’d otherwise be doing anyway (like buying gasoline from a local station or visiting KFC), you can’t really go wrong.
Gapbuster is open to anyone worldwide – you’ll need to complete some basic training on top of assignment specific training before starting though. Marketforce pays more, but the assignments are more complex. UK readers: be sure to read this detailed MoneySavingExpert thread before getting started.
Cost: Varies – usually 20 minutes of online questionnaire on top of any time spent doing the assignment.
Benefit: Varies – typically up to about $25 per assignment, in cash or free products.
Your Opinion Counts, So Stop Giving It Away For Free
You can’t really give up your day job, but know that your opinions, survey input, feedback and shopping habits is actually worth money to companies – and if you’re not getting something in return, it’s about time you started.
Are you getting anything in return for your personal information and opinions? Are you making money online? Let us know about any other ways to do this in the comments!
[Image credits: Shutterstock – Barcode Scanning]