Despite the financial and personal rewards of running a mystery-shopping service, experts recommend doing a careful self-assessment before leaping into the business. A love of shopping is not enough: You need organizational abilities, marketing know-how, strong people skills, an understanding of what customers want and plain old common sense.
The greatest challenge, entrepreneurs agree, is hiring and retaining high-quality shoppers. Because shoppers are paid relatively little--often just merchandise or a minimal fee--there's a high turnover among them, and the sheer volume of their numbers makes such a large group difficult to closely manage. Csordos says his company interviews each shopper in person and trains him or her on what to look for and how to fill out a report, but such close supervision is rare. Because mystery-shopping firms usually cover a wide territory, most shoppers are hired over the phone, and the mystery-shopping firm must cross its fingers and hope for the best.
Nor is mystery shopping an easy sell to business owners. Csordos says in some companies, managers would rather not find out bad news; in other cases, they doubt anything can be done to improve the situation. To win over reluctant clients, successful entrepreneurs must be persistent.
Some states require mystery-shopping businesses to be state-licensed private investigation firms, according to Wozniak. To find out your state's requirements, call the general information number for your state government, or the Department of Consumer Affairs for a referral to the proper administrative agency.
Those of you with the right mix of people skills, business savvy and determination can look forward to a long career in the mystery-shopping industry. Says Van Kleeck, "I don't see this trend bottoming out any time soon."