About Mystery Shopping
As most people know and you have probably realized long before landing on this page, different companies have mystery shops performed on their own businesses or even on competitor businesses. Since these are infrequent jobs, it makes more sense to contract out to someone to do these rather than hiring their own full-time employees. And rather than locate, hire and vet individual contractors, these companies usually work through middle-men who have the expertise and systems in place to locate, assign and pay these contractors – this is where the mystery shopping companies (or Mystery Shopping Company’s) fit. Companies hire a mystery shopping company who then hires shoppers to perform evaluations.
Mystery Shopping Companies
Mystery shopping companies like to call themselves ‘Customer Experience’ companies but for our purposes, we’ll keep calling them mystery shopping companies.
There are a large number of Mystery Shopping Companies (or Mystery Shopping Companies) out there. Some are very big and others are very small. Some have been around for many years while others are pretty new and many quickly go out of business. Mystery Shopping Companies also often merge together and rebrand themselves with fancy new names. Some just rebrand themselves with new names. This industry is what economists call a very competitive market with lots of players of varying sizes with lots of ‘churn‘ or ‘turnover‘
A Mystery Shopping Company makes money by submitting shop reports to the company that hired them – usually on a per/report basis so a company wants to submit a LOT of reports if they want to make a LOT of money. Since there are so many Mystery Shopping Companies to choose from, companies that want to hire a Mystery Shopping Company have a lot to choose from so the Mystery Shopping Companies have to compete to get business. Lots of competition means the hiring companies can easily switch Mystery Shopping Companies and pay less for shop reports. This puts downward pressure on how much a Mystery Shopping Company can charge for reports. This also puts downward pressure on how much Mystery Shopping Companies can pay shoppers. In order to make money, a Mystery Shopping Company has to charge the hiring company as much as they can without driving them off to another Mystery Shopping Company while at the same time paying contracted shoppers as little as possible without driving off the best shoppers and attracting only the lowest quality shoppers.
Shoppers tend to prefer one-stop-shopping for assignments rather than having to log on to multiple sites to find jobs. A Mystery Shopping Company that has lots of jobs available will attract and retain more shoppers. Conversely, if a Mystery Shopping Company is able to attract a lot of shoppers and does not have trouble getting jobs assigned, they can offer jobs to shoppers at a lower rate but not too low or else the shoppers start to migrate to other Mystery Shopping Companies and only the low-quality shoppers who can’t get jobs elsewhere are left to do jobs.
A major reason that mystery shopping is so competitive is that there are very low barriers to entry. It is relatively easy to get into the business. Each Mystery Shopping Company produces a relatively similar product that is difficult to distinguish from what is produced by other Mystery Shopping Companies. The primary difference is the quality of reports the Mystery Shopping Company produces.
It is important to have quality shoppers who submit quality reports on a timely basis because this affects the Mystery Shopping Company’s reputation with the companies that hire them. Poor quality reports provide little to no insight for the company that requested the mystery shops. Given a choice between two Mystery Shopping Companies, a hiring company prefers getting a quality report that provides great insight versus a low-quality report for the same expenditure. Some companies may be willing to pay more for higher quality reports which means more money for the Mystery Shopping Company (some of which may translate to higher rates offered to shoppers but not always).
To produce quality reports requires the ability to locate and recruit conscientious shoppers who can reliably produce objective and detailed reports on a timely basis. Because the profit margin on shop reports is pretty small, a Mystery Shopping Company makes money if they can produce quality reports in volume. Submitting such a large volume of reports requires software to manage jobs, an efficient scheduling process and a quality assurance process to review reports.
The Mystery Shopping Company Software Platform
Part of a Mystery Shopping Company’s expertise lies in the job scheduling and assignment software they have developed. A Mystery Shopping Company must be able to recruit shoppers, get jobs scheduled and completed and provide an easy to use interface for the shoppers all while keeping the cost of this process down as much as possible.
Shoppers do not like working with clunky software that burps and hiccups and that is difficult to navigate and submit reports. Shoppers will often gravitate towards Mystery Shopping Companies that pay the same but have easier systems to work with. If a Mystery Shopping Company wants to retain quality shoppers, they have to provide a platform that shoppers may not love but at least don’t hate.
There are companies who specialize in the software applications these Mystery Shopping Companies use. There is SASSIE, Prophet, ClientSmart and ShopMetrics, as well as the host of internal systems developed by individual Mystery Shopping Companies. Companies like SASSIE and the others do not do mystery shopping, they just write and maintain the software used by many of the Mystery Shopping Companies. These companies have gotten so good at their product that they are very efficient at developing it and so can keep their costs low. Mystery Shopping Companies can often save money by contracting out this part of their business rather than pay for programmers and databases to develop their own software. However, there are still several companies that prefer to maintain their own software as they feel they have developed something that provides an advantage over what companies like SASSIE can provide.
Another part of the Mystery Shopping Company’s expertise lies in their scheduling of shoppers. The software platform is an important part but the schedulers are the most important part. Schedulers are the most direct contact a shopper will usually have with a mystery shopping company. Schedulers announce jobs and work with shoppers to get shops completed on time. Schedulers usually post jobs on their internal Mystery Shopping Company job board but others will send emails out to shoppers, several will call shoppers, or post on social media such as in Facebook and so on. Schedulers are often paid based on the number of shops that the Mystery Shopping Company is able to submit to the company that hired them. If a job doesn’t get scheduled, the scheduler doesn’t get paid. If a shop cannot be submitted to a client because it is late or of poor quality, the scheduler doesn’t get paid.
There are a few companies out there that just specialize in scheduling shoppers. Other Mystery Shopping Companies sub-contract out the recruitment and scheduling of shoppers to these companies or may turn to them if they are having trouble staffing jobs. Kern Scheduling (or KSS International) is probably the biggest/most known among shoppers (find out more at their LinkedIn page). Shoppers complete the shops and either submit the shop to the scheduling company or directly to the Mystery Shopping Company. A Mystery Shopping Company will sub-contract out the scheduling process if it is cheaper or easier for them rather than going through the process of hiring, training and retaining their own schedulers in-house.
Shoppers will tend to gravitate towards companies that make it easy to find and schedule jobs and have schedulers that are great to work with. Some of the Mystery Shopping Companies have reputations among shoppers as having wonderful schedulers to work with while others have the reputation of having the worst schedulers who are very difficult to work with. There are also cases where a Mystery Shopping Company may have good schedulers but a few bad experiences with a few shoppers and suddenly their reputation among shoppers is ruined.
Since the submitting scheduled jobs is a major part of a scheduler’s income, it is in the interest of the scheduler to get as many jobs assigned to shoppers as possible, preferably to shoppers who are reliable and can submit quality reports. Nothing drives schedulers crazier than shoppers who agree to do shops then submit them late or don’t submit them at all. It ends up being a huge waste of the scheduler’s time to have gotten a job assigned and then not be able to get paid because a shopper dropped the ball. And because shoppers prefer working with friendly and supportive schedulers, they have to keep being positive and pleasant no matter how many flaky shoppers they may encounter. But working as a scheduler can have its perks – several schedulers are able to work from home which isn’t too shabby.
Reviewing and Editing
Once reports are submitted, they must be reviewed for accuracy and adherence to guidelines and possibly edited to correct mistakes. This is a necessary process because if the Mystery Shopping Company submits poor quality reports to the client, the client will not be happy and may decide to hire another Mystery Shopping Company. This is also necessary because there are a large number of shoppers who vary greatly in their ability to provide quality reports. It is possible the vast majority of shoppers submit awesome reports that can be sent directly to the client without changes but Mystery Shopping Companies still have to contend with the remaining shoppers who might make a few errors or a lot of errors.
In some cases, a report may have to be sent back to the shopper or simply rejected because of too many mistakes. Mystery Shopping Company’s don’t like having to review, edit and especially reject shops because that means lost money – editors and reviewers have to be paid and rejected shops means the Mystery Shopping Company won’t get paid since they have nothing to submit to the client that hired them. This also means the scheduler does not get paid. Mystery Shopping Companies love shoppers that can produce objective, detailed reports that are free of grammatical errors since this means less time reviewing and editing which means they can hire fewer reviewers and editors and so keep their costs down. The Mystery Shopping Companies will also know who their good shoppers are and may provide them with preferential treatment.
A common misconception among shoppers is that the scheduler and the reviewer are the same person. In most cases, these are different people. Since the scheduler is the shopper’s most direct contact with the Mystery Shopping Company, when a reviewer dings a report, the shopper doesn’t know the reviewer is a different person and will complain to the scheduler. But the scheduler has no control over the review process.
At times, it may seem like reviewers get paid by the number of mistakes they are able to find or how much they are able to ‘ding’ shoppers. In some cases, shopper pay may be hit with a deduction. Sometimes it seems like this may be the reviewer’s way of proving their value to the Mystery Shopping Company. However, shoppers do not like getting dinged unfairly and may start moving away from Mystery Shopping Companies who they feel are dinging and maybe even deducting unfairly. There was a case not so long ago when a particular Mystery Shopping Company hired a bunch of new reviewers who were possibly a little too zealous in their reviews – discussion boards suddenly lit up with complaints about the large number of reports being rejected or overly criticised when the shoppers had been submitting fundamentally the same report in the same style for months or years. Clearly, someone in the Mystery Shopping Company had a discussion with the new reviewers as the complaints dropped off eventually but the damage was done and several shoppers likely moved on to other Mystery Shopping Companies.
So as a shopper, it is in your best interest to submit a quality report without spelling or grammatical mistakes. If a reviewer runs across these, they either have to spend time fixing them or will return them to you to fix or will reject your shop altogether. This can result in delayed payment, reduced payment or in the case of rejected reports, no payment for a shop you performed. If a Mystery Shopping Company knows they can rely on your reports and spend less time reviewing reports you submit, that frees up money that they may be able to reward you with in future bonuses (who are we kidding?) You will definitely be more likely to be approved for jobs that require approval.
A tool we use here in The Mystery Shoppery is Grammarly. This is a free tool that can be installed as a browser add-on or extension. It helps us spot misspellings and grammar errors as we input our shops. We also use it while maintaining this website – it has caught several issues in this post alone. It is free and does a great job without getting in the way. Go check it out.
Just like with scheduling, there are a couple companies out there that a Mystery Shopping Company can outsource their reviewing to. Wordsmith Pros is one such company – find out more at their website or their LinkedIn page.
Reviewing is also another one of those jobs that has the perk of often being able to work from home.
Everything comes down to reputation – your’s and the Mystery Shopping Company’s. The Mystery Shopping Company is able to work with more companies and charge more if they have a good reputation for providing quality insightful reports. Mystery Shopping Companies also have to maintain their reputation with shoppers to attract and retain quality shoppers who are able to provide accurate, detailed reports without spelling or grammatical errors on a timely basis. Some of the most important drivers of a Mystery Shopping Company’s reputation with shoppers is the software they have available to work with as well as the attitude and professionalism of their schedulers. Editors and reviewers that can quickly review and catch mistakes before they get to the client help the Mystery Shopping Company’s reputation while not being too critical with the shopper helps the Mystery Shopping Company’s reputation with shoppers.
A shopper’s reputation with a Mystery Shopping Company is also important. Flake out on too many jobs or submit poor quality reports and you will be left finding jobs with the bottom-of-the barrel Mystery Shopping Companies who have the worst jobs at the worst pay.
When first getting into mystery shopping, it’s hard to determine who are the best mystery shopping companies, the not so good, the bad and the complete scams. A couple indicators are the Better Business Bureau and membership in MSPA Americas (formerly the Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America). Unfortunately, a BBB rating just means there haven’t been a lot of complaints against a company lodged with the BBB. Being a member of the MSPA does not guarantee a good company – it mostly guarantees they pay their annual membership dues. Still, these are indicators that the company is not a scam and a low BBB score is going to tell you something.
To help shoppers find reputable companies, we here at The Mystery Shoppery have a database of mystery shopping companies. Shoppers are able to see if a company is BBB rated, what the rating is and if the Mystery Shopping Company is a member of the MSPA. Shoppers can also see several other details such as the platform the Mystery Shopping Company uses, how they pay shoppers with links to each Mystery Shopping Companies payment policy and discussion forms. In the future we plan on rolling out more features to help shoppers identify the better Mystery Shopping Companies but for now, check out the mysteryshopforum.com discussion of mystery shopping companies.
Below is an example of what you can find on the database:
|Partial List of Companies|
|Example of a Company Report|
So if you haven’t signed up already, head over to our sign up page and register with the Mystery Shoppery. Access to the Mystery Shopping Company database is standard with all levels of membership including the free plan.
Enjoy and thanks for visiting The Mystery Shoppery!