Is Mystery Shopping Discriminating Against You?

An employer asking an employee about his age or income status is a surefire way for that employer to wind up sitting in court with a discrimination lawsuit. Yet with mystery shopping, we as mystery shoppers are asked very personal information before we can even be approved to work with a provider. We are asked everything from our age, education level, and income level to the kind of car we drive and our physical attributes like weight and height.

Then when we peruse the job boards looking for assignments, we see additional requirements for each job. A common requirement may be that the mystery shopper is under 35 years of age, or has a minimum income level of at least $50,000. This can seem like discrimination, especially for mystery shoppers who regularly fall outside the criteria for the majority of assignments, but in reality it isn’t. Perhaps most importantly, this is legal because we are contractors rather than employees.

What Is Going On? Retailers who request a mystery shop of their location generally want to get feedback on what a “typical” customer who visits the store will experience. Sure, a 65- year old woman can just as easily shop in a children’s clothing store as a 35-year old woman, but the large majority of that store’s clientèle are moms. So the store is requesting a mystery shopper who fits into the mold of their typical customer.

Age Is Deceptive. A person’s numerical age can be incredibly misleading. One can even argue that it’s an arbitrary number that is made even more useless by the proliferation of hair dye, wrinkle cream, plastic surgery, and more. While some women may wear mini skirts into their 40s and not have children until close to menopause, others choose to have children at far younger ages and live the “settled down” life at a much earlier age. So what may be a common store to shop at for one age group does not necessarily mean others that fall outside of that range don’t frequent the store regularly.

Play The Part. If there is an assignment that you want to go after but you don’t fit into the profile guidelines the provider is looking for, contact the scheduler and plead your case. You can try to explain that you are already a frequent customer of that store. Or perhaps you feel that you should have a shot at playing the role of someone purchasing a gift for someone else. In this economy, we all need extra money. So if you think you’ve got a shot at picking up an extra assignment this year, it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask. Just be mindful not to harass your scheduler about working every assignment that you don’t quite match the profile for!

How Old Are You? Some restaurant and even grocery store assignments require the purchase of alcohol. So it is not at all uncommon to see these assignments require a mystery shopper to be of legal drinking age. Just because you’re working doesn’t mean you can break the law in your state! If you are going to ask your scheduler for a break on the profile requirements, be sure you are of legal age first.

These rather personal profile requirements of a mystery shopping assignment, while seemingly pointless and invasive initially, serve as a vital part of ensuring the retailer who ordered the mystery shop gets a report back that best suits their needs. So try to find assignments that match your unique profile, and when you feel you are a good candidate for an assignment that you don’t quite fit the bill for, ask for an exception.