There are some shops that offer a reimbursement that subsidizes the cost of the mystery shopper’s required purchase, but doesn’t cover it in full. That means that you are paying money out of your pocket—money you will not be reimbursed—in order to complete the shop.
Are there ever times when you would find such a shop worthwhile? Perhaps, but you should be aware of the choice you are making when you select such an assignment.
Let me give you an example. I was looking at a fine dining shop that requires purchasing the following:
2 Beverages in the bar
Looking at the restaurant’s online menu, typical costs of these items might be:
$13 – $15 2 Beverages in the bar
$12 – $15 1 Appetizer
$40 – $70 2 Entrees
$8 – $10 1 Dessert
$5 – $15 2 Beverages
Order on the low end for each item and your total (before tax and tip) would be about $80. Figure another $20 for tax and tip and a few dollars for the valet, and that brings your total to more than $100. The reimbursement? $90.
In effect, you are getting a $100 meal for a little over $10, plus your labor. Is that a good deal? Maybe, if you can actually get out of there for $100 or so. That means ordering pretty carefully and choosing the lower priced items in each category.
The numbers in the second column above are not the highest-priced items on the menu, but ordering at that level takes your tab (with tax and tip) to more than $150. Suddenly, your “free” meal is costing you more than $60 over your reimbursement.
In either case, you are getting $90 toward the cost of your meal, so let’s look at this from another angle: What is your hourly compensation for this shop? If you assume about an hour and a half in the restaurant and a similar amount of time doing the report, that is three hours for $90, or about $30 an hour. Not bad, if you enjoy eating in nice restaurants and you view the reimbursement as payment toward something you want and value. Add travel time there and back, and the hourly rate drops a bit.
I will confess that I usually don’t think of my travel time or the time I spend in the restaurant as work time. I am eating, and I have to do that anyway. We like to go out to dinner, usually at least once or twice a week, so I would be eating somewhere. It might as well be a mystery shop. (I know, I can not be as relaxed on a shop as I can be when I am not working, but I have been doing this for a long time and it has gotten easier.)
If you mystery shop for cash to pay your bills, this is not a good shop for you. You are having to spend money out of pocket to do the shop, and you are getting reimbursed for something you might not buy normally. Because my husband and I enjoy eating out, and do so regularly, I might take a shop such as this. It would depend on how much I liked the restaurant.
I will say that over the last couple of years I have become less likely to take some of these shops. I love restaurant shops, but I resent it when the client treats my report as having the value of a coupon. Inadequate reimbursement is especially galling when I am forced to order more than I would have ordered in a normal situation.
The decision to take a shop that offers partial reimbursement is up to you, as you are the only one who can decide if it is worth your effort. However, you should know up front that the reimbursement is not likely to cover the entire cost of your required purchase. (I used the example of a fine dining shop, but this can happen with other types of shops, including casual dining and retail.)
If you are not willing to do a shop for partial reimbursement, check out the client before you accept the shop. Determine what your required purchase may cost. Don’t forget to add tax and tip to menu prices.
I appreciate your no-nonsense approach to helping people not get taken advantage of by mystery shopping companies. There have been times I’ve wondered at the value of the reimbursement, and most times I come up with “well, I get to do the thing of (insert value here) that I otherwise wouldn’t pay for, and I only have to pay (insert smaller value here) to do it.” But then that is often followed by a bit of grumbling throughout the reporting process, where oftentimes the survey is unreasonably long, asks repetitive questions, asks for a lengthy story in addition to all the specific questions, and generally makes you jump through hoops for something that, in the end, wasn’t all that fantastic to begin with. It’s rare you get to do something truly rewarding, such as get a free hair style or colour from a cool salon, go to an amusement park (and if you do, your whole day is scheduled for you in terms of being required to test specific people throughout the whole park),or purchase (and keep) something expensive. Woops, seems I’ve written a novel. It all comes down to a love-hate relationship with mystery shopping.
Cathy Stucker says
I have gotten some great perks through mystery shopping. If they are things that I value, and the amount of effort required appears to be reasonable, I am sometimes OK with the partial reimbursements. But I agree that it can be frustrating, and I understand the love/hate relationship!
Michelle Warren says
I spent five years on the road as a hotel mystery shopper and one thing I didn’t notice in your above assessment is upselling. We would often order just an entree to see if we were prompted to order apps, side, etc. These boost not only check totals, but also gratuity totals. And even if were weren’t prompted we would sill have to order the extras because we could not report on the quality of food if we only ordered a single item
Cathy Stucker says
Thanks for the comment, Michelle. Each client handles the question of upselling differently. Some require that you wait to see if an upsell is offered before ordering. For example, the server is supposed to suggest a specific appetizer, so you have to see if they do before you order. But then you need to order an appetizer, even if they do not suggest one. Others may have different guidelines.
The bottom line is you do not always have to order upsells (it depends on the shop guidelines) but you always have to order at least the required items. In most cases that is a lot of food, and it can get expensive–especially when the client does not reimburse for everything they require you to buy.
Darren E Butler says
I stumbled on to your website in an effort to try and track down information on who regulates mystery shopping companies. I am getting the run around with getting compensated from a company I did work for (I don’t see them listed in your list of approved companies). I have confirmation numbers in emails as well as email correspondence of the shops received. I am past the 60 day window for being compensated for shops completed. Is there a regulatory agency where I can file a complaint??
Cathy Stucker says
Darren, there really isn’t anyone who regulates mystery shopping companies any more than other companies. I would recommend that you start by contacting your scheduler. If you can’t get an answer from him or her, move up the ladder. Find other contacts at the company’s site and start emailing or calling them.
If a company says they take 60 days to pay (wow), it may take even longer than that to actually get the money. If they are sending a check, it has to be cut and mailed. But even if they are doing direct deposit or PayPay, that can take a few days to process and actually reach your account.