Although some mystery shopping providers pay within a week or two, many times you will find yourself waiting longer. Sometimes six or eight weeks, and occasionally even longer. Why don’t mystery shopping companies pay faster, and what can you do about it?
There are several reasons it can take a while to get paid, some of them very reasonable and others less so.
One issue often cited is cash flow. Mystery shopping is a low-margin business. Companies do not have piles of cash laying around the office. They have to wait for money to come in from the client before they can pay us. That may seem reasonable (at least to the mystery shopping company), but other businesses manage to pay their employees and vendors faster. Why can’t they?
The timing of shops and payments makes the wait longer on some assignments than others. For example, let’s say that a company pays for all shops done in a calendar month by the 25th of the following month. If you do a shop on March 30th, your payment will be issued on or around April 25th. That is a bit more than three weeks. Not great, but not really terrible. On the other hand, shoppers who completed assignments on March 1st will also get paid on April 25th. Those shoppers waited almost eight weeks for payment.
It costs money to process checks, direct deposits and PayPal payments. Paying shoppers every week or even twice a month would add a lot of expense to the bottom line in what is, as I mentioned earlier, a business with low margins to begin with. Of course, we can’t tell the electric company that because their bill was received after a certain date we won’t be paying them until next month.
This last reason is the one I believe actually has some merit: It can take some time before reports filter back through the client to the location. When they do, there may be issues raised about the report causing the client to reject the report and refuse to pay. If it turns out that the mystery shopper misrepresented information or flat out made it all up, they will not and should not be paid for the shop. When the shopper has not been paid, it is easy for the mystery shopping company to withhold payment. However, if the money has gone out the door, it is unlikely that the mystery shopping company will get it back.
Companies could specify that a client has only 10 days or some other short time period in which they may dispute a report. However, if it comes to light that a shopper falsified reports, no matter when it does, the mystery shopping company is going to be scrambling to make nice with that client in order to save the relationship. Although completely falsified reports are not common, serious mistakes happen more than we would like to believe. While some of those are caught in the editing process, others are not discovered until they are reviewed at the shopped location. (Do clients ever lie in disputing a report? Sure. But if they have proof of wrongdoing, such as video footage, then there isn’t really a question.)
So does the rare instance of a shopper royally screwing up a shop justify taking weeks to pay all of us? Well, no. But companies are going to pay when they pay. If you are going to be out of pocket a lot of money (say for a fine dining shop or a hotel shop), then how fast you get paid may matter more than if you have only had to front the cost of a fast food hamburger or another small purchase. Pay attention to when companies say they will pay before you accept an assignment.
What can shoppers do about this? My experience has been good in that companies typically pay on or around the date they have promised. But if companies take an excessive amount of time to pay, or often don’t pay when they have promised to, don’t work for them. The definition of “an excessive amount of time” is something each shopper needs to decide for him or herself.