Reward Programs Time Management

Review: National Consumer Panel – Pure Awesomeness or Waste of Time?

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About two years I applied to and was accepted into a program by National Consumer Panel lured by the prospect of earning great prizes in exchange for a little bit of my time each week.

Who doesn’t like great prizes?

I would use a scanner supplied by them to record my weekly purchases by scanning the UPC barcode of the things we purchased, and entering the prices.  Our data would be transmitted back to NCP from it’s charging base which was connected to my broadband service. Participant’s shopping data, as well as results from panel surveys completed online would be used to give customer opinion and shopping trend feedback to retailers.

Here’s where the great prizes come in.

Each transmittal of data, and each completed survey would earn points. The accumulated points can be traded for products in their gift catalog.  Although as a new member I didn’t have a feel for how fast I would accumulate points, there were some nice products in their gift catalog, and I was excited to get started.

After a few weeks, my wife and I fell into a routine of scanning the items each time we went grocery shopping. I would place the purchased items on the counter all around our kitchen. My wife would then read the items and their cost from the receipt as I entered each item into the scanner. I also spent about 20 minutes a week participating in online surveys.

For almost two years participating in the NCP program was part of our shopping routine.

Scanning all our groceries added about 10 minutes to the time it took to put groceries away, and even though life is very busy, it didn’t seem like much of a time hit. After all, we were going to earn some of those great prizes, right?  Unfortunately, our points total grew very slowly, and over time that 10 minutes seemed more and more inconvenient. My wife began grumbling that we had to take the time to scan everything and my survey participation began to decrease as well.

We were losing interest in the program.

Last week, as we were scanning our groceries, my wife put down the pen, looked at me and asked, is this really worth it? I figured it was at least worth doing a little investigation to answer the question. I logged into NCP website, and looked at the gift catalog to see what we could get in exchange for our efforts over the last two years.

The best gift I could find for the points we had earned was a $50 iTunes gift card.

Estimating the time we had spent:

2 (years) x 52 (weeks per year) x 30 (minutes per week) = 3120 minutes or 52 hours spent on program activities.

That means we earned less than $1 an hour!!!!

I ordered the gift card, and immediately dug out the box and pre-paid return label to send the scanner back.  We’re not participating anymore. What seemed like a great opportunity at the time, turned out to be a really big waste of time.

Have any of you participated in the NCP program, or anything similar?  What was your experience?

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About the author

Brock Kernin


  • Anyone else have experience scanning as they shop? Any issues with this? I just signed up with NCP, and I’m getting scared after reading all the comments.

    • Some of the other commenters mentioned they scan as they walk through the store… only issue with that is, I have a habit of putting things back – and removing things from the list is error prone. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Kym!

    • the longer you belong the more points you get per week I get almost a thousand points a month without doing surveys i am getting ready to order my ipad for my points in a couple of weeks and i have won gifts cards as well

    • That would have been easier when I still was a member except I too also put LOTS of items back I’m worse than a kid lol, also my cellphone reception doesn’t work at the only stores in town I ever shop at. I live in a rural area where most cellphones can’t call in or out at all, are in roaming or have minimal reception, (I have one of the few providers that’s lucky enough to get 1 or 2 bars around town) and I can’t even call to ask a question when I’m shopping for someone else without leaving my cart and running outside to place a call.

    • I’ve been a member of NCP since 2005. I still love it but think my time with them is finished. Can’t find the base to my scanner. I phoned and was told they don’t send out replacements for the base or the scanner. So if one of those goes mia, you’re out of luck with them. Waiting on them to ship box so I can send back the items I still have. 🙁 It was a good run while it lasted.

  • Brock, thank you for writing this article and sharing your experience. It helped me understand better what I am dealing with. I just signed up to join NCP, but I don’t think it is a great idea participating after reading all the comments. Of course, they probably won’t accept my application right away anyway…… I also feel like I betrayed myself, because during the sign up process they asked a whole lot of information about my family, including birth month and year, and I regret going with it and giving them this valuable data. …. I am a mom of three and I like to coupon, as well, but my husband really thinks I am wasting my time with some of these companies, who promise a lot, and don’t give much. Time is really valuable!

    • I’m glad the article helped you with your decision…’re right, time is valuable. A person only has so much of it – use it wisely!

  • I am a long-time member and the only reason I participate is because you get a 25% discount on your AT&T bill. I have two teenagers and this saves me money every month. After you join NCP you just go to your online AT&T account and sign up for the discount. They verify that you are a member and you will start to see the discount each month on your bill. I have never redeemed any of my points and don’t bother with their surveys, I just scan in order to get the phone discount.

    • That’s a great discount, Anne….and might even be worth the hassle of scanning. I get a slightly larger discount from ATT&T (27%) through my employer, so I’m unable to take advantage of it. But that’s just my own personal situation….

    • That’s a great IDEA! I haven’t even gotten scanner yet, its in mail but hey if it saves me on my phone bill then that’s cool

  • I’ve been a member of the NCP for many years and have only missed maybe one, possibly two, weeks of transmitting my shops. I never redeemed my points because i wanted to save up for a high value prize. Well, about a year ago, I ordered the Kindle Fire I always wanted. Turns out I had lots of points left over and have quickly accumulated enough points to bring by balance back up to where it was before.
    I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time. If I ever have to call because I have a problem with my scanner, the people in the office are as nice as can be.
    And in response to the person who was worried about giving out her personal info, it’s needed to make sure they have the right population sample that their clients are looking for. Sometimes they might need families with small kids and other times they want empty-nesters. I’ve done surveys for several companies and of them all I think this is the most legit and safest of them all.

    • Whether the effort is worth it is up to each individual person…..but in my opinion, if you’ve done this for several years and the only thing you’ve got out of it so far is a Kindle..well… I’d bet there are infinite ways to earn enough money to buy that kindle without having to scan your groceries for literally years. But, as long as you’re OK with it, keep on scanning! Thanks for your input!

    • I only transmitted for a few months and got a speaker box amplifier for my iphone. I like the program a lot. Next I’m saving up for some of the baby toys that my daughter will love.

  • I participated in the National Consumer Panel for many years. I accumulated over 200,000 points and recently decided it was just too time-consuming. Unfortunately, I notified them of my desire to end my participation before I used my points. I was immediately locked out of the site with a notice that until the equipment was returned I could not get back in. I went to my “Welcome” packet, found the return label they had provided and affixed it to the return package as instructed. The label was a USPS label, so I took it to the local post office and sent it off. Over two months later, I still can not redeem my points because they say they have not received the equipment. They are now telling me that was not the correct label and the equipment should have been returned by Fed-Ex. The label I used was the only one provided by NCP. I figure my package is either gathering dust on a shelf somewhere between me and them, or in their warehouse having been overlooked or mishandled. I am out over 200,000 points and am being threatened with collection for equipment I don’t have. There is no way I, or probably anyone else, would choose to keep equipment that is useless to them and forfeit points that should be used to purchase merchandise they could actually use. However, that seems to be the mindset at NCP……that I decided to keep their useless equipment for some unfathomable reason.

    • I sort of wondered if that sort of thing would happen, so I made sure I used my points first. THEN, when I did return the equipment, I opted to add tracking to the package so I could make sure it got there. I hope you get to use your points…200,000 points is HARD to accumulate. I think in the several years I did it, I might have gotten 75,000.

  • I was in the program for three months until I realized that it was too much of a hassle. Never even redeemed my measly 7,000 points. Frankly, the survey sites give me far better of a reward for my time, and for far less effort. One thing out of this is that I discovered Hopster and MyPoints, and they reward you much faster for your receipts!

  • I’m glad I read this. I was picked for the panel today. I don’t want to waste my time with the way many of you were treated.
    Thank you for putting this out there

  • I’ve been a member for a few years, I’m seeing now that it’s just not worth the time and effort for mostly crappy products that require a ridiculous amount of points. They offer low quality products, if you look for reviews on these products on sites like Amazon, you’ll see that they are junk. I have just under 40k points, there are items that are worth under $20 with bad reviews. There are a few decent item, like an ipad air, only 16g..not bad but you need 370,000 points…a lot of work for many years. At the very least they could offer better quality products. You basically have to be a member for years and earn a lot of points before reaching any decent items in the prize catalog, once I hit 40k, I can get a $40 Colemen lantern, a good product, don’t really need one..but what the hell, 3 or 4 yrs of time and effort, surveys etc. for a $40 decent item…then I’m quitting.

    On the up side, I have received a few rewards in the past, visa gift cards etc. that made my efforts worthwhile. There are food surveys where you earn amazon money, often $25 and up, depending on how many family members participate, this is worth the time.

    • Good analysis of the products offered – glad you were able to get some worthwhile rewards through some of the surveys. Thanks for sharing!

  • Not worth time or effort and if you don’t scan, you’ll be treated like a criminal and locked out of your acct.
    I was a member for a couple of years, it’s tedious work for little in return, I have over 20k points, the rewards catalog offers crappy brands with horrible reviews, unless you get up over 50k points, which would take years…so you work for years to get that $20 item?
    I was unable to scan and transmit because life got in the way…I got a couple of reminder calls and an email or 2. Then I get a rude letter in the mail telling me I was warned, my membership has been canceled and to return their equipment immediately!! I go to log into my acct to use up the points I wasted my time earning, only to find I’ve been locked out of my acct! These points will be taken away after a short time, once you are no longer a member you have to spend them or lose them rather quickly!!
    After years of being a loyal member, I am being treated like some kind of criminal! I planned on returning their crappy useless’s been less than 24 hrs since I got their rude letter.
    I just want to cash in my over 20k points for some piece of crap $14 item I spent years earning…

  • I too have been with NCP for 7 years (according to their records). I have been a FAITHFUL scanner and submitter all that time. (Except when my old scanner broke. And waited to get a new one from them.)

    I have never won a darn thing from them!! I not even got a $25.00 gift card! Yes, I have gotten extra points to add to my accumulation of points. But, never a RED CENT! I see a list of people that have won. And so I called their office and asked how would one win a monetary price? I was told your name goes into THEIR lottery. And if your name is pulled out, you will get a gift card for that amount, in that group of the card amount. (Boy, I must have some bad luck after all this time of NOTHING!)

    Well after 7 years, and not winning a darn things, I am just about ready to pack it in. I almost got enough points for what I want on their gift list.

    I feel it is just a waste of time and sometime a little aggravation to be calling & calling and scanning. IS IT REALLY WORTH IT? NO.

    • I was a member for a couple of years and never won anything either. Everytime I come home from grocery shopping I’m thankful I’m out.

  • it appears ncp does not replace their equipment. I guess I will be returning my equipment. I submitted faithfully but changed my buying habits. I use a , buy from a butcher and limit my grocery to 2 trips a week. My machine kept saying last transmission failed every time. Now, they want to use my phone to download an app. no thanks. 2 years to redeem a 25 gift card. Saying I have their equipment.

    • I had some failures too….although it always seemed to eventually work itself out. But I missed several weeks of points because it just failed to send.

  • I have been participating since 2004 and have probably missed scanning a dozen times. I don’t do it for the money, more for the opportunity to have my preferences represented. I would say that if you’re doing it for financial gain, you’d be very disappointed! I probably get $75 in iTunes cards a year and I have NEVER won anything. NEVER! I guess at this point, I am trying to set a record for longest participation.

  • I participated, and came to the same conclusion you did, though it was after half a year for me. I’m sending the scanner back as well.

  • I started with the scanner and switched over to the phone app a few months ago. Love it! I can scan as I shop or record a meal out or complete surveys. No more making sure I have the booklet for the produce and meats. Transmission after each shopping trip and last transmission is listed on the opening screen. Plus no more fighting with the bar code reader or feeding it electricity and tying up an internet port or making sure the cat didn’t throw the whole thing off the table. The points accumulate faster the longer and more active you are, plus the contest points.

    • I’ve heard a couple times now about how much the experience has improved with the phone scanner…..for the sake of those participating, I hope that’s true!

  • Wow, I’m shocked to see all the negative reviews here of NCP. I’ve only been with them for like two years and I’ve already redeemed points for over $150 in Amazon gift cards. It barely takes me 5 minutes to scan my groceries when I get home and I do the surveys when I’m stuck in a waiting room or sitting in traffic. I don’t have to worry about a scanner because I do everything through my iPhone. I recently participated in a two week survey where I simply recorded every time I ate a snack. I earned a $25 GC to Amazon! It took me barely any time or thought and now I have like 5 new kindle books. I’m honestly shocked more people don’t do this. It’s not going to provide money or rewards like a side job but who doesn’t like occasional free gift cards?!

    • If you calculate how much time you spend on it for the money you get out of it, the amount per hour is likely very, very low. But like you said, it’s not a side job, it’s just an activity that gets you a free gift card every now and then. if it works for you, and you don’t mind putting in the effort then more power to you! Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts!

  • Does anyone know if the weekly submissions are based on the amount of things you are purchasing or just doing something each week? I would think they would give you more points for buying more things.

    • You don’t get more points for buying more stuff. In fact, you can get the same amount of points for submitting once each week buying only a handful of things OR every single purchase you make in a week. of course the latter is really the “spirit” of the program, to capture all your purchases.

  • I joined the panel because I used to be in the consumer research industry and know that consumers’ opinions really do matter to the companies that we buy from. I never expected to get much from it, but I have to say, after 13 years (yes, 13 years!!), I have never won anything in any of the contests. Not even free points. I am not implying that they not legit, but at the same time, that is some pretty bad luck!! The only thing I can think of is that maybe I did win points, and they just never notified me – but I can guarantee that I’ve never won a gift card (not even a $5 Amazon card), cash or even a gift from the catalog.

    This is probably my last year of participating. While I like the idea of “making my opinions count,” I feel like after 13 years I deserve more than a 1,000 point bonus for being a member for that long. I know they are trying to make a profit, but if being a member for that long is not worth more than 1,000 points, then it shouldn’t be that important for me either.

  • Yes, I just got it two weeks ago and I am already considering sending it back. The tool is old and the software is older. I should be able to scan my receipt and not every item. I should be able to scan in my store from a list instead of tabbing through all the options. This is way too much work for so little benefit. I do not have the time or patience to be doing this for 10 years in order to get an iPad as someone else commented. I am not seeing the value.

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