Independent Contractors (Shoppers/Merchandisers) Information
If you are new to the industry, you are in the right place for trustworthy information regarding legitimate mystery shopping, merchandising and the customer experience business! MSPA Americas has created one of the most comprehensive resources available to help independent contractors learn about the industry and to access legitimate opportunities.
What is the difference between mystery shopping and merchandising?
A mystery shopper is an independent contractor whose assignment is to visit a location and secretly collect data. The location could be a store, restaurant, attraction, hotel, golf course, or any other place that sells products or services. Think of mystery shoppers as “undercover customers” sent in to observe, interact, and accurately and objectively report on their visit to the location and interaction with store employees.
Merchandisers are independent contractors who are given assignments to help with the promotional display of products so as to maximize sales. Depending on the project, that may include performing stockouts, organizing the shelf, setting up displays, or setting up price and promotional signs.
Which qualities are found in a good mystery shopper or merchandiser?
Both industries require a high attention to detail, the ability to follow directions without deviation and total dependability. Additionally, a strong command of the English language with great writing skills is critical to be a successful mystery shopper as you must paint an accurate, vivid and objective picture with your words of what you experienced, such that the executive reading your report feels as though they were in your shoes experiencing what you did during your visit.
Some people say “I love to shop, so I would be a great mystery shopper!” or “I used to be a cook so I would be a great restaurant mystery shopper!” Maybe, but not necessarily. Mystery shopping is about being a market researcher, not so much a shopper or former restaurant employee. Those experiences may make the gig more appealing to you, but you can never let your past experiences bias your current assignment. It is about reporting what happened this time, at this location with these employees. It is not about did they do things the way that you think they should be done; but rather did they do the things that you are supposed to evaluate.
How to do I become a mystery shopper or merchandiser?
You can sign up with any of our members directly, but we recommend becoming a member of MSPA Americas, the industry’s trade association, as well. Understand that as a trade association, we do not offer mystery shop or merchandising assignments ourselves. You’ll need to contact companies directly for that. We strongly encourage you to do so from our directory of members.
MSPA Americas offers a free basic “Subscriber” Independent Contractor membership level to get you started which includes access to the MSPA Opportunity Board to request available projects in your area, as well as your listing in the MSPA IC Database for member companies to reach out to you for projects.
You can remain a free Subscriber member with these limited benefits as long as you like and are active in the industry. Your free membership gets you access to our Facebook community page as well as one or two industry webinars a year.
Those looking for more resources should consider becoming an IC Plus level member. Our Plus level membership has added benefits for greater success and presently only costs $30/year. In addition to what you receive as a Subscriber, additional benefits include:
- Access to a more restricted Facebook group which is frequently visited by company owners and executives to answer your industry questions.
- Free monthly IC Plus Only webinars by industry leadership and guest speakers on timely topics. These webinars are restricted to IC Plus members only.
- Discounts on MSPA Americas certification courses.
- Discounts to the annual ShopperFest 3-day weekend conference.
- Free membership in a savings program for dining, transportation, hotels and entertainment.
What does it cost to become a mystery shopper or merchandiser?
You should never pay to become a mystery shopper or merchandiser for a company. In fact it is against the MSPA Americas rules for its company members to charge a fee to perform assignments for any of our members. MSPA Americas does charge an optional fee to cover enhanced benefits for a membership in the trade association; but you can also join the MSPA basic Subscriber membership for no cost.
What are the Certification Courses?
As the official industry trade association, MSPA Americas offers certification courses to formalize your industry education and certify to member companies that you have studied and pass an exam in each of these programs. Many member companies look for independent contractors who have completed certain certifications for a specific project or even take courses in general to invite those people to join their database for future projects.
Courses can be purchased in the MSPA Americas online store and are administered through KnightOwl, the online learning management system used by the association. There are nearly 20 available courses available.
You must complete the three “core courses” prior to taking most of the remaining specialty courses. The core courses are Intro to Mystery Shopping, Professional Report Writing and Professional Responsibility and Ethics. All Independent Contractor Plus members receive free access to take the Intro to Mystery Shopping course in their first year of membership (a $30 value, so you have already paid for your membership). *This course is undergoing maintenance at this time. All new IC Plus members will receive a link to the course as soon as it’s ready.
These core courses cover the basic fundamentals of how the mystery shopping industry operates, how to write vivid, descriptive reports that will meet the expectations of the companies you offer your services to, and how to operate your small business (yes, you are a small business operator the day you take on your first project!) in a professional and ethical manner.
There are several courses which may be taken at any time. These are MSPA Gold, Video Shopping I and Video Shopping II (which is a practicum course and is therefore only available to be taken at ShopperFest). In addition to Video Shopping II, there are a number of certification review courses and exams offered at ShopperFest each year.
To receive your certification in any course, you must pass the online exam (or in-person exam if taking at ShopperFest) at a level of 80% or higher. You have one year from the date of purchase to complete and pass the course. After the one year expires, you will need to repurchase the course to continue to study the material and pass the exam.
While those who join for free as a Subscriber member are eligible to take courses and become certified shoppers, IC Plus members receive a discount on certification courses.
Certification is an affordable way to increase your chances of being chosen for an available job in your area!
What is ShopperFest?
ShopperFest is the only sanctioned official mystery shopper/merchandiser independent contractor conference in the industry. MSPA Americas hosts this annual 3-day weekend event in a different location around the country each June. Prior locations have been Orlando, Las Vegas, Anaheim, Dallas and Pittsburgh. ShopperFest is a weekend full of great speakers on industry topics, both for new and experienced independent contractors, with specialized breakout sessions, in-person certification course reviews and exams, networking with company executives and schedulers, and plenty of fun and entertainment.
MSPA Americas partially subsidizes the cost of the conference to keep registration fees low. Additionally, IC Plus members received preferred pricing. The next ShopperFest is scheduled for June 2021 at a location to be announced at a later date.
What is the Opportunity Board?
Looking for available opportunities in your area? Check out the postings from our member companies. This is a benefit restricted to members, so be sure to sign up at least for our free membership level first. Keep in mind that Plus members are able to view postings before Subscriber level members!
How do I know which companies are real and are safe to connect with?
We make that easy for you! Only sign up for projects with companies who are members of MSPA Americas and do so from the links on this website!
Every MSPA Americas company member goes through a vetting process and is held to an international Code of Ethics. However, scammers may steal the logos of our members and pretend to be them. So to make sure you are going to the legitimate website when you choose to sign up for projects with a company, only connect with them for the first time through their link on the MSPA Americas’ website.
Can I sign up with multiple companies?
Yes! In fact, that is strongly encouraged. The more assignments that you do, the better you will likely become at your craft, and everyone wins!
How do I get my first assignment?
After you have signed up with one or more companies, you may need to check their opportunity board (if they have one). Some companies send emails or texts to independent contractors signed up in their system, or they may even have schedulers call you. You can also check the MSPA Opportunity board for projects that companies have posted looking for independent contractors.
Don’t fret if you don’t hear from any of the companies that you sign up for at first. There may not be any projects in your area. There may be projects, but other shoppers that have already been in the system are doing them. Be patient and you will start to find projects come your way.
Should I only sign up with companies in my city or state?
Almost every member of MSPA has clients all over the country, so the city and state where an MSPA member is located is not important.
I heard I can’t do shops in Las Vegas; is that true?
You can’t do shops anywhere in the state of Nevada unless you are a licensed private investigator or working underneath one. This is the only state with this type of restriction.
What do assignments pay?
Project pay and/or reimbursements vary from company to company and project to project, but you will always know in advance what the remuneration terms are before you accept a project.
Should I start off with video shops? I hear they generally pay more.
No!!! We do not recommend beginning your mystery shopping career by doing video shops, which are some of the most complex shops in the industry.
In a video mystery shop, you are still doing an underlying mystery shop…but with the added complexity of secretly recording the shop. We strongly recommend that you not attempt video shops until you have been shopping for long enough to feel comfortable adding this layer into the mix. And yes, they general do pay more, due to this complexity.
Do companies provide video equipment for video shops?
If a company were to provide you equipment, they would be placing both you and them into financial jeopardy for tax liabilities. As an independent contractor, the IRS expects you to provide your own work tools. Think of a plumber, who is also an independent contractor. After you call a plumber to fix your leaking sink, you wouldn’t expect him or her to say “OK, will you have my tools for me there to do my job?” You would expect that person to show up with the tools necessary to do the job. Likewise, as independent contractors, video shoppers are expected to buy and use their own video equipment. Check with each company as to which video products they require on their assignments.
Do I have to become a member of MSPA to be a mystery shopper or merchandiser?
Not at all. Our member companies highly recommend it and love to see you demonstrate your seriousness to advancing your craft through the association, but membership in MSPA Americas is not required to except assignments from member companies.
Is this real authentic looking unsolicited check I received a scam?
Would you send a stranger a cashier’s check for $3000?
If you have received a check or communication concerning conducting a mystery shop for which you purchase products and send them to a specified address or wire money from check that was sent to you in the mail, it is a scam.
We don’t need you to contact us about this as we are not an investigatory agency, and the government looks at you as the one having legal standing to file a complaint with the FTC since the package was addressed to you. That said, we do strongly encourage you to file a complaint at www.FTC.gov, and only sign up to take on projects for companies who are MSPA Americas members, from their link on the MSPA Americas website.
I still have a question!
Do you still have a question that hasn’t been answered? We’re happy to help! Someone from our staff will respond within three business days. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.