4 Saving Secrets of Mystery Shoppers

Mystery shoppers are everyday people hired to shop undercover and identify customer-service problems at stores. In the process, they spend hours observing how stores operate. Here are their money-saving tips:

Ask and receive. Many department managers at stores can cut the price of goods you want — if there’s a defect or the price is higher than you planned to spend, says Renee Barnett, a mystery shopper in Tennessee. “When I recently told a manager about my budget for a side-by-side refrigerator, he sold me the $1,400 model I wanted for $1,000,” she says.

Solicit and save. Many stores place coupons in newspaper circulars and magazines you may not get to see. “When I buy a non-food product, I often ask the cashier if there’s a current coupon I missed and if I can have the same discount,” says Barnett. “I recently bought 12 crystal glasses worth $32 each for $6.80 apiece this way.”

Nail the sale. Most stores hold sales at the same time each year. Mark up a calendar so you know in advance when they’re held. If you buy too early at full price, you may be able to bring back the merchandise and your receipt and get the discount. “I bought a $69 pair of shoes a day before the store sale and was given the $54 price by the manager a day later,” says Anne Obarski, author of Surprising Secrets of Mystery Shoppers.

Keep it real. Make friends with helpful salespeople by taking their business cards and stopping by to see them when you’re shopping. “Eventually they’ll call you at home to tell you about upcoming sales and specials, or hold items for you,” says Obarski.

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