There are times when a mystery shopping company will send a gift card to be used on a mystery shopper job. Although rare, it’s nice. You don’t have to front the cash for any required purchase and wait for reimbursement. However, there is a new trend in shopper pay that is not quite so nice.
Some clients are choosing to reimburse mystery shoppers with gift cards as a substitute for corporate gift baskets, instead of cash. What this means is that you do the mystery shop and pay out of pocket for any required purchase. After your report has been accepted, you are paid with a gift card from the merchant.
Let’s do the math to see if this is a good deal. Here is how it might work:
You go to a restaurant to do a mystery shop and pay $35 for your meal. Several weeks later, you get a $35 gift card in the mail. So you paid $35 and you got $35. All even, right? Well, not exactly. You have to go back to the restaurant to use the gift card. So now you have spent $70: $35 of your own money and the $35 gift card. Plus, you spent some amount of time preparing for the shop and doing the report.
In this circumstance, your mystery shopper pay is more like a “buy one, get one free” coupon than a true reimbursement. If they had reimbursed you in cash, you could take your $35 and go back to the restaurant again, or you could use the money to buy groceries, pay the light bill or whatever you wanted to do with it. Gift cards take away that choice.
But it could be even worse. Some reimbursement maximums are not sufficient to cover the reasonable cost of a meal for two people. In the example above, let’s say that your bill (including tax and tip) was $45. You didn’t splurge, that is just what it costs to eat there. A few weeks later, you get your gift card for $35, and return to the restaurant to use it. Again, you spend $45. Now you have spent $90 and been reimbursed $35.
There are times when I spend more than the maximum reimbursement amount on a restaurant shop. I know going in that it will happen, and we order as we always do (within the shop guidelines, of course). I view the reimbursement as my compensation for the time doing the report, and figure we would have spent the money on dinner somewhere anyway, so I am fine with the deal. However, I would not be so fine if my compensation required me to go back to the restaurant and spend money again.
Are there ever times when being reimbursed with a gift card is a good thing? Sure. It depends on how the reimbursement is structured and the shopper’s preferences. For example, if there is a client you expect to shop on a regular basis, and you may use the gift cards to pay when you do future shops, your cash flow will be improved. Here is what I mean: You do the shop the first month and pay $35. The next month, you return and pay with the gift card you got for the first mystery shop. Repeat monthly. This may be worthwhile if you like having a monthly dinner at that restaurant, or the client is a retail store that carries merchandise you buy regularly.
Another possibility is when there is a standard reimbursement that is more than you would actually spend. In the restaurant example, let’s say that you dine by yourself (if allowed by the guidelines) and spend $20, while still receiving a $35 gift card. You could then return to the restaurant with your spouse, or take someone out to celebrate, with your $35 card. Or you might give the gift card to someone instead of buying them a gift. If this is money you would have spent anyway, this could be a good deal.
Only you can decide if being reimbursed for your secret shopper purchases via gift card is a good deal or not. You may find that, as in the above examples, you are willing to accept these mystery shopper jobs under some circumstances but not others.
What do you think? Have you ever been reimbursed with a gift card? Would you do it again?