It is called “secret” shopping for a reason. It is critical to maintain secrecy while doing the shop, but confidentiality requirements demand that shoppers also refrain from sharing confidential and proprietary information of the mystery shopping company and the client. This seems obvious, but lots of shoppers seem to have trouble understanding the need for confidentiality.
I am always stunned when shoppers openly disclose names of clients, fees they were paid, shop requirements and other information. I hear it at events where shoppers gather, and I read these things in public forums and blogs. What part of
“confidential” don’t these shoppers understand?
Almost every mystery shopping company includes a confidentiality clause in the Independent Contractor Agreement (ICA) completed during the application process. Prohibited activities typically include:
- Sharing information about the operations of the mystery shopping company and its clients.
- Discussing compensation and other details of shop assignments with a third party.
- Directly contacting a client, without the specific permission of the mystery shopping company.
- Sharing blank or completed report forms, guidelines and other shop materials with anyone else.
That means you can not talk about:
- How much a shop assignment pays.
- Which mystery shopping company shops a particular client.
- Specific shop requirements (e.g., service standards, purchase requirements, etc.)
- Which companies are mystery shopping clients.
A good rule of thumb is to never say anything about a mystery shopping client to anyone, other than the mystery shopping company. One exception to this is when you are required or allowed to have someone accompany you on a shop (such as a restaurant shop). In that case, you should tell your shopping companion what they need to know to help you with the shop (or at least not to mess it up), but you also need to stress to them the importance of confidentiality. Tell them that they should not discuss any aspect of the mystery shop with anyone else. In fact, the words “mystery shop” should never cross their lips.
Do not make posts to public forums about clients or shops. Although you may comment about mystery shopping companies (i.e., “Mystery Shopping Provider is a great company to work for, although I wish they would pay sooner than 60 days after the shop.”) do not gossip about mystery shopping companies or disclose information about their operations you obtained as a shopper.
When asked on a application about which companies you have worked for, it is acceptable to name them. Do not name any clients you shopped for them.
Giving confidential information to your best friend over coffee, or in a private email, is still a violation of confidentiality. If you have any doubt about whether or not to talk about something, do not talk about it.
You may not see the harm in sharing this information, but the mystery shopping providers and their clients can be harmed by it. You can be deactivated as a shopper if a company discovers that you have violated confidentiality. If you are MSPA Certified, you can lose your certification. In an extreme case, it is even possible that you could be sued.
Keep the mystery in mystery shopping by not sharing confidential information.
Cathy Stucker is the author of The Mystery Shopper’s Manual.
Do you have questions or comments about confidentiality? Post them in the comments below.