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Saturday, February 1

Feeble Minded Mystery Shoppers Bring Everyone Down (Part 1)

Scale Used by the Pennhurst School in the early 1900's
Question:  Will higher pay deliver higher quality work?  If I offer $20/hour to fill positions at Home Depot, will I attract better employees than if I offered $8/hour?  Of course I will!

Recently I have been frustrated by the decrease in compensation for some mystery shopping projects.  This deflation in the fees offered for work is troubling for several reasons.

Most of the time I am an advocate for supply and demand, even when it doesn't benefit me.  If someone else is willing to accept work for a lower fee than I will, let them have the job.   The caveat to that is that normally, someone accepting a lower fee will provide lower-quality work.  Over time this causes clients to doubt the veracity of the work performed.  Inevitably, the value of mystery shopping declines, leading to even lower fees or in some cases, clients cancel their mystery shopping program altogether.

Last month a major gas station brand moved to a new mystery shopping company.  The brand has a revealed mystery shopping program.  This is where, after covertly evaluating the customer service that was provided, the shopper reveals her identity to the employee and proceeds to evaluate the location and take several photos of infractions.  Having completed over 10,000 gas station audits, I think I am qualified to speak to the level of difficulty these jobs entail and the potential for inaccurate reports.  For an average shopper, a well-run gas station which receives a perfect score might take 15-20 minutes onsite and 10 minutes to report.  A poor-performing location takes much longer, probably twice as long, to properly cite all the infractions.  The greatest downside to underpaying shoppers is the likelihood for positive bias.  In other words, if you pay a shopper $7 to do a $20 job, they will either quit after realizing they are doing a $20 job for $7, or they will adjust their efforts to make it a $7 job (if that's even possible).  The shopper will speed through the evaluation, overlooking those things that they can overlook.  The client misses opportunities to improve its operations.  What happens then?  Eventually, customers migrate to competitors who have cleaner, friendlier establishments.

I don't think most shoppers take these low-paying jobs realizing just how bad the compensation is.  They fail to understand the true cost of their overhead and don't place appropriate value on their time.  My next post will focus on the true cost of doing mystery shopping work.


  1. It is too bad so many shoppers are willing to work for so little. A lot of shops don't even pay the equivalent of minimum wage. I just wait on those shops to see if they get bonused up to a decent pay rate, but it doesn't seem to happen very often now. I think there are more and more shoppers willing to work for almost nothing.

    1. I think you are right. In the case of the gas station routes, the shopper saw the total route pay and it looked impressive. $490! Wow!!! What they overlooked was the amount of work (at least 4 days worth), the mileage and the unreimbursed required purchase... more to come in my next post about that.

  2. I could potentially make the purchases pay for themselves, but that'd still only be $70.

    I generally avoid all low paying shops unless I'm using it as "padding" (free food) or the shop is ridiculously easy--sadly, most of the cheap ones aren't.

    1. Usually the cheap ones also come with an overcritical editor to ensure follow-up several days after you've submitted your assignment.