Market Force Information, Inc. announced that they have acquired Certified Marketing Services, Inc. (“CMS”), a full-service, national marketing and merchandising services organization. According to the press release from Market Force, this acquisition makes Market Force Information the only company in the industry to offer a truly full-service, integrated suite of mystery shopping, direct customer feedback, on-site merchandising and analytics services from a single provider.
So what does this mean to mystery shoppers?
This is not the first time Market Force has bought a mystery shopping company. They also own Shop’n Chek and Speedmark (which had previously acquired Genesis Group, Green & Associates and SG Marketing). Mergers and acquisitions by other companies have not always been as large, but they go on. Although mergers and acquisitions are not unique to the mystery shopping industry, it is starting to look like a giant game of PacMan out there, as companies gobble each other up.
Does this mean that one day there will be only one mystery shopping company left standing and we will all work for them? Not likely.
The mega companies will be able to provide service to large client companies. Large clients expect low prices from vendors, and the economies of scale that the super-sized mystery shopping companies can achieve will help them to provide services at a price the clients are willing to pay.
However, there are many businesses that do not have a store on every corner but still want mystery shopping services. In many cases, the large mystery shopping companies are only interested in the big clients. If a client has 20 locations, or 50 or 100, many of the largest mystery shopping companies are not interested in them. That leaves a lot of the market for small and mid-sized companies.
Does it mean that shopper fees will decline if there are fewer companies for which we can work? Maybe. Those of us who have been secret shoppers for a while have seen fees decrease over several years. As mystery shopping companies competed for clients, they have looked for ways to cut expenses and become more efficient. Company profits, as well as shopper pay, have taken a hit in this environment. If the companies can reduce expenses by spreading many costs of doing business (e.g., computer and web systems, office space, support staff, etc.) across a larger client base, that may help them to stay in business and provide enough pay to attract the most qualified shoppers.
We will see more consolidation in the mystery shopping industry, just as in other industries. But there will always be competition. And there will always be smaller companies serving specific niches and clients.
What do you think about all of this? How do you think mergers and acquisitions in the industry will affect secret shoppers and the overall business?