Revealing the Secrets of Mystery Shopping: Know Your Legal Obligations

Some mystery shoppers love to “talk shop.” Mystery shopping is, after all, a unique job and one that makes a great conversation topic at parties and social events. Even mentioning the words “mystery shopping” to anyone within earshot will typically draw an audience right to you. Everyone wants to know if mystery shopping is legit, how to get started, what you actually do, and how much money you can make.

If you failed to read the fine print when you signed on to work with mystery shopping providers, you may not realize that you are contractually obligated not to reveal certain facts about mystery shopping. What’s more, not only can you not speak to other non-mystery shoppers about these items, but you also cannot share some specific information with your fellow mystery shoppers or even your immediate family. Here’s the scoop:

The Basics. The good news is that you can give people basic information about mystery shopping. You can tell folks some places you have performed a mystery shop assignment in the past. You can also share approximate pay for mystery shop assignments in general, and what you are generally required to do on your mystery shops. For instance, it’s OK to say that you usually have to report on the cleanliness of fitting rooms and bathrooms, try on an article of clothing, order certain specific menu items at a restaurant, and so on. You can give people a good idea of what is involved with mystery shopping and dispel many of the theories about mystery shopping just with a broad overview. Many people initially believe mystery shopping involves walking around the mall and having a normal shopping trip – hitting the stores you want without any real requirements, and getting paid big bucks for it. So many people will be satisfied with just a general overview of your job as a mystery shopper.

The Good Details. If someone you are talking to is pretty interested in getting started as a mystery shopper, you can definitely point them in the right direction to help them get started. It is acceptable to give them names and contact information for some of the mystery shop providers you work for. So they aren’t competing head to head for assignments you are up for, it may be better to give them a list of many providers or point them in the direction of the MSPA’s website so they can locate their own companies to work with. The last thing you want is to have that person doing all of the assignments you normally do!

Know When To Keep Quiet. What you cannot share are specific details about a mystery shop assignment or a provider. For instance, if your sister wants to do McDonald’s mystery shops, you cannot tell her that McDonald’s contracts with ABC Provider. Your sister would need to sign up with several providers herself and see if McDonald’s works with those providers. With each provider that you signed up with, you contractually agreed to keep the provider’s clients confidential.

While not a contractual obligation, there are also things you should not share for your own benefit. For instance, if you are doing a mystery shop assignment on Tuesday at noon at the local grocery store, you may want to keep quiet about that. This is particularly true if you are in a small town, but it is a good rule of thumb to follow even in larger areas. Keep in mind that people talk and the adage of “it’s a small world” is true. People love to talk about interesting subjects like mystery shopping. You never know if the person they will talk to about your next assignment knows someone who works in that store or restaurant. So don’t give away any information that could possibly put you in the spotlight on your next assignment.

In general, basic information about mystery shopping are typically OK to share. However, avoid getting into the details of names, places, and times, as you could end up spilling too much and getting yourself in trouble.