On a typical mystery shopper job, you may be asked to make a purchase and pay for it out of pocket. Your payment for the assignment often includes reimbursement for the purchase, based on what you were offered when you accepted the assignment.
Most of the time, you have options about how you pay for the purchase. Here is what you need to consider when making a purchase during a mystery shopper assignment.
What do the guidelines say? In some cases, the client wants you to use a specific method of payment. They may want you to pay in cash or they may say to use a credit card. When they specify a method of payment, use that method of payment. The client has a reason for requiring it. It may have to do with making sure the transaction is handled properly or it may be so they can more precisely locate the transaction to verify that you were there at the right day and time. Or it may be because you will definitely get a receipt with a charge purchase, while you may not be offered a receipt if you pay with cash. The reason doesn’t matter. What matters is what the guidelines say you should do.
Can I use a debit card if they say to use a credit card? Probably. In most cases credit and debit cards work in much the same way. However, you should be aware that if you are using a debit card for certain types of purchases, the merchant may place a hold for an amount greater than your purchase. For example, if you check in to a hotel and present a debit card, they may put a hold on an amount of money equal to the room rate and taxes, plus an allowance for incidentals (such as room service, in-room movies, gift shop purchases, greens fees and other things that may be charged to your room). If you do not have any additional charges to your room, those funds will be released–eventually. In the mean time, you may have less money available in your checking account than you thought.
May I pay with gift cards? Usually, but it depends on the client. I have seen guidelines where they specifically say that you may use a gift card, and others that are silent on the question. When in doubt, ask your scheduler. Some clients now pay shop reimbursements with gift cards, so they should certainly allow you to use those gift cards on future shops.
What about using coupons? Although some clients may allow the use of coupons, many do not want mystery shoppers using them on shops. There are various reasons for this, but the reasons do not matter. If the client does not want you to use coupons, do not use them. Some guidelines will say whether or not coupons may be used. If you don’t know for sure, ask.
Is there a “best” way to pay if the client does not specify a payment method? I like to pay with a credit card. There is a good record of the purchase, the credit card company provides me with a year-end statement identifying all of my business purchases, I often have my reimbursement before the credit card payment is due, and I get rewards (e.g., cash, miles and gift cards) for using a credit card. Of course, if you do not pay your balance in full each month you will incur finance charges that will cut in to your profits. In that case, you are better off paying in cash.
The bottom line: Follow the guidelines regarding how to pay for reimbursed purchases on a mystery shop. If you may pay however you wish, then choose the method that works best for you.