New Membership Category Brings Cohesion to Mystery Shopping Industry

The Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America recently opened its doors to the individuals who make their industry tick—the shoppers themselves—and are seeing early success.

It’s no mystery: A recent change in membership strategy has been a clear win for the Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America.

In March, MSPA-NA introduced a new shopper membership category to foster better communication in the mystery-shopping industry. Since then, over 3,500 mystery shoppers have joined the association, which previously offered membership only to the provider companies.

We looked at this as an opportunity to bring together all of these components and so really develop a more cohesive industry in the association.

“We didn’t really know what to expect when we did this,” said Dan Denston, executive director of MSPA-NA. “Our members have relationships with the mystery shoppers, and they all felt as if it would be a good idea, but we weren’t really sure when we went into it if shoppers were going to see membership to MSPA-NA as important.”

While still relatively young—MSPA-NA recently turned 14 years old—the organization represents an industry that has been around since the 1940s, and like the industry, MSPA-NA is learning to adapt to a changing environment.

“Mystery shoppers are anybody and everybody, ranging from college students all the way up to retired people and senior adults,” said Denston. “We looked at this as an opportunity to bring together all of these components and so really develop a more cohesive industry in the association.”

The new membership will allow easier connections among shoppers, the providers they work for, and clients—generally the retailers, restaurants, and other merchants who use mystery shoppers to monitor in-store operations and customer service quality. MSPA-NA also expects to gain a better understanding of the mystery-shopping workforce, which Denston said is roughly half-a-million strong.

“From an overall percentage, our shopper membership is pretty small,” Denston said. “But, when you talk about a mystery shopper, you may talk about someone who does one mystery-shop a month as a side job, or someone who does 20 to 30 and is much more involved. And as membership grows and we gather information about who the members are and understand them better, we’ll be able to improve the industry.”

Before offering the new membership, MSPA-NA provided mystery shoppers—who essentially work as independent contractors—with a certification program, which has educated and certified roughly 87,000 shoppers. That program is being revamped as well.

“The industry changes, the way shops are done, it all changes, so we needed to change the education,” Denston said. “We’re going to be doing some expanding of the certification to include some industry-specific courses, because if you mystery-shop restaurants, that’s a whole lot different than mystery-shopping a hotel.”

The key to MSPA-NA’s success with the membership?

“You have to know your market,” said Denston. “That was one of the things that was the most difficult for this, because shoppers are a very diverse group of people. So it takes understanding those potential members, having a strategic plan for marketing this to them, and being able to handle the response.”

Has your association expanded membership recently? Share your keys to success in the comments.

(Big Cheese Photo/Thinkstock)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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