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Mystery Shopping Book Reviews
Which is Worth the Read?

Cathy Stucker is the Mystery Shopping Providers Association’s (MSPA)instructor for Gold Certification workshops. Cathy also offers a wide variety of lists on other home-based start up businesses through Amazon. She authors the Idea Lady web page that spans many industries offering major tips to all. The Mystery Shopper’s Manual received the National Center for Professional Mystery SHoppers (NCPMS) 2003 Industry Book of the Year.

The Mystery Shopper’s Manual (6th edition)
by Cathy Stucker
4/5 stars

Beginning with a forward by Lorri Kern, MSPA Shopper Services Committee Chairperson, this book drops names that you might expect an instructor with the MSPA to have access.

Cathy does not invoke a get-rich-quick profession here and notes the possible infrequency of assignments. “Full time mystery shopping is not realistic for the vast majority of mystery shoppers” Cathy tells her readers (p.49)

This book is filled with lists of: shopper traits, equipment required, business card tips, types of shops, Mystery Shopping (MS) company pet peeves, email tips and other opportunities outside shopping. The chapters on shopping specific industries, writing reports, MS technologies are especially interesting and very current. However, the strongest section of this book is the Writing Reports chapter. Especially noteworthy are the example comments/narratives.

The MSPA is the only certification service listed. In fact the book is a good representation of the MSPA Gold Certification workshop. The MSPA Gold Shopper Workbook is more abbreviated, but the course content is very similar to what Cathy outlines in this book. There is no mention of NCPMS certification at all, even though this book received the NCPMS 2003 Book of the Year Award.

The book is well written and does not need to be read in sequential order. This book is more current than Poynter’s or Newhouse’s books. This is probably the result of Cathy being an integral part of the MSPA Gold Certification process.

The Manual includes 254 pages, 37 of which are URLS or company addresses. Appendices include: MS Companies, Internet Resources and FAQs. This book has had several updates as it is currently in its sixth edition.

The Mystery Shopper’s Manual (6th edition) is sold at the MSPA’s website and MSPA Gold Workshops.

As Jim Poynter at the Learning Annex, James Poynter offers online “How to be a Mystery Shopper” classes. Classes can be provided in audio or video formats, $9.99 and $14.99 respectively.

Mystery Shopping Get Paid to Shop (4th Edition)
by James Poynter
4/5 stars

Jim Poynter advances the Dollar per Minute Rule that is very appropriate in this age of high cost of business and a constant influx of newbies. This theory states that when the earnings from a shop are considered they should be paid an average of one dollar for each minute worked. This would include time reporting, driving as well as shopping. He suggests that shoppers not take jobs that provide less than $1/minute.

Poynter has an important suggestion to those wanting to illustrate a serious commitment to continuing education. He recommends listing professional readings in the education section of mystery shopping company applications. This suggestion is applied other industries, such as education, readers should list not only the bibliographical information, but the (approximate) date of the reading.

Mr. Poynter goes into specific details about: negotiating fees without gouging and how to ask for more assignments. He expresses meaningful lessons through interesting vignettes. His writing is easy to read and offers specific details on shopping, reporting and earning the most money possible.

Jim Poynter’s 2002 edition lists some companies that are out of business, or have merged with other providers, like The Genesis Group. Some technology updating could make this book more credible. Tools of the trade include a typewriter? The recommendation of purchasing a typewriter to fill out mystery shopping applications seems nonsensical. If companies are expecting something other than computer generated papers the companies are more than likely open to legible handwriting.

This book makes application online sound like the exception instead of the rule; encouraging readers to still send letters of interest to MSPs even if you apply online seems redundant. Jim quotes Judith Rappold that while she likes the letter of interest, does not like that shoppers follow the “form” provided, it does not illustrate a shopper’s ability to compose and construct a report like a free lanced letter would.

Poynter sells many affiliated products at the end of this book: Start-up MS Company Consulting, a quarterly newsletter, top 77 Mystery SHopping Providers (MSPs) list, audio/video instructional programs, and various combinations of these products in packages.

Jim Poynter’s fourth edition includes 191 pages, 19 of which are URLS or company addresses. Chapter Ten contains The Ten Step Process for Making Top Money and sums up the main points of this easy mystery shopping how-to book.

Mystery Shopping Made Simple
by Dr. Ilisha Newhouse
3/5 stars

Mystery Shopping Made Simple is sold at the NCPMS’s website.

Mystery Shopping Made Simple also includes a forward by Niccole Rogers of the NCPMS. This book refers heavily to the NCPMS and its web-based resources. The MSPA is consistently named behind the NCPMS. Newhouse’s rationale seems to be “The MSPA …is an organization of mystery shopping companies for mystery shopping companies” which she contrasts to “[NCPMS] is an organization of shoppers for shoppers.” Dr. Newhouse further explains “The two organizations sponsor different programs and have different agendas pertaining to their populations.”

Dr. Newhouse offers “I have heard a rumor that the MSPA plans to have all it’s members hire only shoppers who have taken this program” referring to the MSPA Gold certification. “Although this may be the MSPA’s future intention…this organization has only over 100 members … and there are over 750 mystery shopping companies.”

While it does mention Kern Scheduling Service (KSS) at another point in the book, KSS is glaringly omitted under Scheduling Services. Just coincidence since Lori Kern a strong advocate for the MSPA?

Her writing contains numerous testimonials and poses and answers and questions all in letter form. Sometimes the letters are cumbersome, but lend credibility to Newhouse’s information.

Dr. Newhouse provides the NCPMS’s data collection on Independent Contractors including demographics, but does not disclose the sample size or population. The statistics are intriguing, but without the information on the gathering process it is not compelling.

Several things make this book standout:
The book includes a section on the KASST test (NCPMS certification test) and a Study Guide. The certification process is sold in a more convincing way than even the NCPMS website does.
This book makes mention that once $400 is earned an independent contractor needs to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.
Dr. Newhouse does endorse Select A Shopper; the only pay-for-leads company to receive any endorsement in these books.
Dr. Newhouse highlights the ease and cost effectiveness of Internet application, but still advocates sending the LOIS and does in fact list 100 companies that work offline.

The “LOIS” is the Dr. Newhouse equivalent as Mr. Poynter’s “Letter Requesting Employment” she however includes a list of MSPs that will work with you offline.

Dr. Newhouse’s book includes 217 pages, 49 of which are URLS or company addresses.

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