I have been involved with the mystery shopper certification program offered by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) since its inception, and I recommend MSPA certification to secret shoppers who are serious about their mystery shopping careers. Although it is not necessary to be certified in order to be a mystery shopper, certification can make a shopper stand out in a competitive field and it can definitely repay the time and money invested.
In addition to MSPA certification, other certifications have sprung up. The sponsors suggest that getting certified through them will help shoppers to get more jobs. Although there may be a few legitimate training programs available in addition to the MSPA certifications, many are not worth the paper the certificate is printed on.
One California man was recently indicted by a federal grand jury for offering worthless training and certifications in mystery shopping and bartending. Although the certifications were worthless to the “students” they were not worthless to the scammer. He is believed to have collected at least $6 million from his victims.
Here are some questions you should ask before handing over any money for a training or certification program.
Who is offering the certification? Find out what you can about the organization promoting the program. How long have they been around? What else do they do? What is the background of the principals–are they involved in the mystery shopping industry?
Who else has taken the program, and what do they think of it? Do not rely on a few posts to an online forum, or talking to someone to whom the sponsor refers you. It is easy enough to fake some good recommendations that way. If someone on a forum is talking about how good the program is, is that their only post or do they actively participate on the forum on other issues? Scammers can make up several personas and post a bunch of rave reviews, but you will not see a lot of other posts from these “happy customers.”
Is the certification recognized in the industry? Are there any companies that ask for the certification? Do they recommend it to their shoppers? Most MSPA member companies recognize MSPA certification, and give preference to certified shoppers (although no one requires MSPA certification in order to shop for them). Even some companies that do not belong to MSPA will ask about shoppers’ MSPA certification status. That is not true of most other secret shopper certifications.
There are also organizations and mystery shopping companies that offer certifications without a fee. However, even these “free” programs come at a cost: your time. Before completing a free certification, ask yourself if it is worth it. There are companies that require you to be certified on the requirements for a specific client before you may apply for that client’s shops. Some of these shops pay only a few dollars. How much time are you willing to spend qualifying for the possibility of maybe getting to do a couple of $5 shops?
The flip side is that companies requiring that you go through their certification before you can be assigned will probably mean fewer shoppers competing for those jobs. If a company has some assignments you want and they require that you complete their client-specific certification, you will probably have a better chance of getting the assignments you want because fewer shoppers will go to the trouble of completing the training and certification.
Only you can decide if mystery shopper certification is right for you. If you do decide to pursue certification, make sure your time and money are invested in a worthwhile program that will reward you for your achievement.