In My Humble Opinion

icon-2174805_640My inbox occasionally has an offer to “Earn easy money at home!” You can be a secret shopper, paid to buy and review products, or evaluate the customer service experience in a physical store. It sounds intriguing, but who has time for that? It said “easy” money, didn’t it? Instead, I’ll answer online survey questions about different topics because I’m a bit flattered to be asked my opinion.

Each survey pays me a dollar amount that accumulates until I want to cash out in the form of a gift card or frequent flyer points. The instructions emphasize that they want my honest and thoughtful feedback, and they want me to pay attention to the questions. They ask whether I’ve recently purchased a submarine – I’m tempted to check that one just to see what happens.

Some surveys ask me about my leisure activities, some about what news programs I watch. What car I drive and which kind I may buy next. Stores where I shop for clothes and what kinds of vacations I take. Whether I recognize various bank ad campaigns and where I saw or heard them. The most complex survey I received wanted to determine whether I would use a Milwaukee airport rather than either of the two Chicago airports. I was given pairs of choices over and over again contrasting price with travel time/convenience. How low did the ticket price need to be to justify turning a two hour trip into six; while a low fare is appealing, I can’t imagine actually choosing to spend all day getting somewhere.

Who is Gallup is talking to when they measure presidential approval ratings? None of the surveys I’m taking ask me whether I approve. And they’re not about TV shows (guess I’m not a Nielsen family). No, the recurring theme in the surveys I’m taking is purchasing behaviors. What do I have and what am I thinking about buying next.

A small shopping mall near where I grew up was anchored by a Zayre’s and included some forgettable shops and an office for a market research firm. An interior walkway connected the stores. As you dashed in to buy paper plates or laundry detergent, you were likely to see a friendly person with a clipboard. This was not a large shopping mecca, certainly not upscale, and the foot traffic seemed meager, but they were surveying anyone who’d stop for a moment. At the time, I was probably too young to be considered an “intercept” subject, so I never learned what kinds of questions they asked. But I did notice them talking with mothers with young children, and men who seemed to hang around the mall for hours smoking and nursing a cup of coffee. I learned much later that the research gathered from this little mall was considered a representative cross-section of the entire country.

What’s my opinion worth? Maybe a plane ticket. Or perhaps this is just a glimpse into the minds of companies that want to sell me things.

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