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 Is being MSPA Silver or Gold Certified Worth It?
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MichaelinNH
Star Contributor

New Hampshire
USA
488 Posts

Posted - 12/03/2006 :  4:10:25 PM  Reply  Reply with Quote
I earn a good living in my full-time position. That job requires ongoing training. We have gone thru a buyback, merger and name change in the 14 years I have been with the company. We went through 4 major computer system upgrades and we are on our 3rd set of new computers in that time. Each change required education in order for me to be able to maintain the skills to maintain my job.

I understand your question. I can say now as an adult, that every bit of education I have received was worth it in one way or another. Sometimes it was the content of the course, sometimes it was meeting a new person to network with and sometimes it was looking at a problem I was having from another perspective and attacking it differently.

When I look at the cost of Netflix or whatever for $17.99 a month or cable for $30-100 a month or dining a decent restaurant with a bottle of wine for a $100...I think investing a $100 in myself is a worthwhile risk.


MSPA Gold 8/9/2006 MSPA Silver 6/23/2007
Video Shopper Certified 6/9/2011 NV Workcard R-061144. Shopping 50 States, Puerto Rico & Canada.
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NatalieH
Contributor

USA
8291 Posts

Posted - 12/03/2006 :  4:13:07 PM  Reply  Reply with Quote
quote:
Just a response to 2 points in previous posts:
1. "most businesses understand that the onus is on *them* to devise Some businesses have chosen to do this by requiring or giving first preference to those with gold or silver certification. If it didn't a system of procedures to separate the wheat from the chaff"
work, I would imagine they would abandon the procedure.
The way it works in this case presents a clear conflict of interest, since the creators and promoters of the program are also the ones selecting who gets the jobs. Inventing a program and then telling potential applicants to buy into it in order to be considered for a job is not quite what I was referring to. Employers bear responsiblity for setting up screening and application procedures at their own expense.
quote:
2. " ....argument that asserts that becoming certified brings more jobs and higher-paying jobs. This has also been thrown out the window, for all practical purposes."
I guess my window was closed. Personally, I have definitely received more jobs and am paid at a higher rate now than before certification for some other jobs. Don't ask me to name companies and clients to prove it - we all know that would violate ICAs.
A cursory look at the message boards shows that the majority of certified shoppers have seen no difference in fees at all, or the difference has been negligible. It's also fair to point out that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. One or two or three or four shoppers who say they consistently receive higher pay without being able to demonstrate proof is not compelling enough evidence for those trying to develop an informed opinion.
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PaulL
Member

USA
42 Posts

Posted - 12/03/2006 :  4:22:38 PM  Reply  Reply with Quote
Just wanted to chime in on the prospect of someone devoting a day's time and $100 as a "commitment" to mystery shopping. A few examples from my life that disprove the theory is myself blowing severals days of training and over $200 in seed money to be a CutCo salesman. That lasted 2 weeks. My wife decided she wanted to be a Creative Memories consultant, spending several thou in seed money and devoting a lot of her time. She walked away after a couple months. Finally, one of best friends at college spent four years and over 120K of his parents cash to get an accouting degree. He's using that degree as delivering food when he's not out skiing or snowboarding in Breck. So the arguement of writing a check and spending a day of one's life showing some sort of "commitment" doesn't really hold water in my opinion.
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MichaelinNH
Star Contributor

New Hampshire
USA
488 Posts

Posted - 12/03/2006 :  5:18:00 PM  Reply  Reply with Quote
I am not saying $100 will create a commitment to mystery shopping. I am saying that I can't see it hurting and possibly could be a help. In between the my other jobs I sold chemicals, siding and living trusts, those jobs did not work out. I did do training, mostly company paid, during those adventures. Although I did not keep those positions I did learn things that I continue to use everyday.

When the Gold Training is in New England I will take it.

MSPA Gold 8/9/2006 MSPA Silver 6/23/2007
Video Shopper Certified 6/9/2011 NV Workcard R-061144. Shopping 50 States, Puerto Rico & Canada.
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Sara D
Valued Contributor

South Hadley, MA
USA
163 Posts

Posted - 12/03/2006 :  8:09:23 PM  Reply  Reply with Quote
Paul,

But the statistics (if they are to be believed) suggest you are entirely wrong. Systems like Cutco prey on people who want to believe that the system works, but the system is REALLY hard... whereas Mystery Shopping is Mystery Shopping. It does work, even if not entirely how you want it to be.

In any case, unless the statistics themselves are inherently flawed (and I can't testify to that one way or the other, but have chosen to believe that they are at least someone truthful), the percentage of flakers in the non-certified community vs. the gold certified community is *HUGE*.

Natalie: Eh, I agree that it would be nice if the trainings weren't relatively pointless. When I attended in August '06 (after shopping for about eight years on my own), I found the training stultifying and fairly useless on the 'networking' front, as well as they had *ZERO* reps from companies. However, I've attended just as many useless and stultifying trainings in my social services career and it still seems to mean something to my employers. It's unfortunate, but it is what it is.

I also think your logic about the employers needing to take the responsibility to find a system that weeds out the 'flakes' and/or taking the responsibility for dealing with the flakes just like any other business is seriously flawed for the following reasons:

* First of all, this isn't any other business. What other business requires you to hire on hundreds of employees you've never met - with new ones all the time - to complete jobs that have strict deadlines. I had to hire employees relatively frequently as a Director in the Social Services field, and I can tell you that the process is a hell of a lot different than here and allows for many luxuries in the weeding out process that simply aren't allowed for in the Mystery Shopping world.

* Secondly, lots of businesses expect the employee to take on some level of self-education *both* to demonstrate knowledge *AND* to demonstrate commitment to doing the job and furthering your career.

Every system is flawed. Certainly, the MSPA system is flawed, too, but again, I must return to my continue to have faith in my original argument which is that if it works for companies to weed out flakes by using the system, than I do not blame them.

-Sara

Sara A Davidow,
MSPA Gold Certified shopper #aziwc5
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Quinn
Star Contributor

Atlanta, GA
USA
50247 Posts

Posted - 12/03/2006 :  8:35:23 PM  Reply  Reply with Quote
I don't see any logic in paying $100.00, not to mention the travel and hotel expenses, for a pointless training exercise that helps the MSC's eliminate flakes.

However, if I owned a MSC and was a member of the organization that provides this so called training, I would like the idea very much.
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PamInCa
Star Contributor

CA
USA
6557 Posts

Posted - 12/03/2006 :  8:48:06 PM  Visit PamInCa's Homepage  Reply  Reply with Quote
11/10/2006 $185.88
11/20/2006 $332.45
11/20/2006 $89.00
11/30/2006 $343.19
12/01/2006 $201.36

Someone mentioned proof and I was wondering how I could offer some without giving up too much information. I looked online at my bank statement and took a few of my recent direct deposits from companies that I work for. Some are for the month, some are for the week and some are biweekly.

Now, there are shoppers that know me and know these numbers to be facts as I have shown them before what was possible with certain companies and being Gold. This is only a partial list, is not for a full 30 days and is only for the ones that were direct deposit, not all of the direct deposits are here, just a sample of them. Maybe to some this is not enough money to show that Gold is worth it, we all have our opinions on what is worth what. But, I do know that I was not making this kind of money, prior to being Gold and showing a positive attitude towards companies, schedulers and certfication.

I am definitely showing more that what I feel is necessary, but I am really growing tired of hearing shoppers that are not "Gold" tell me what I and others cannot make.

Facts, just the facts, mam.

PamInCa
Author of: "The Essential Guide to Mystery Shopping"
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JustJoan
Contributor

New York, NY
USA
94 Posts

Posted - 12/03/2006 :  9:20:34 PM  Reply  Reply with Quote
I guess the way I view the MSPA certification is that it's a marketing tool for the MSPA members. And as long as I intend to work for them I'm obligated to support their business efforts, which includes participating in their certification process.

Mystery shopping is a business, like any other. In order to get the contract, companies often need to have an edge. Sometimes the edge is who you know or just being the lowest bidder.

But, there's just so low a mystery shopping company can go on their bid for a contract before cutting into their own profits.

So, how creative of the MSPA to come up with an edge for their members! Every MSPA firm that bids on a contract has the selling point that they use only (or primarily) "certified and trained" shoppers. If an MSPA firm's bid is competitive with non-MSPA firms, it's that extra selling point that might end up getting them the contract. Hence, the MSPA firms get more business and the clients get "certified" shoppers.

How does that benefit the shopper?

Well, offering certified shoppers first choice is the MSPA's covenant with the shopper. We support them in their marketing approach by attending training so they have a pool of certified shoppers and they support us by offering us first choice on assignments.

In 2003 when I went for the gold, I decided it was something I could live with. Have I gotten more assignments because of it? I really couldn't say. But I can say that I see the training as an investment in a relationship that benefits me, and I think it was well worth my time and money.

MSPA Gold Certified
Happily shopping NYC since 2001
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NatalieH
Contributor

USA
8291 Posts

Posted - 12/04/2006 :  03:06:17 AM  Reply  Reply with Quote
quote:
* First of all, this isn't any other business. What other business requires you to hire on hundreds of employees you've never met - with new ones all the time - to complete jobs that have strict deadlines. I had to hire employees relatively frequently as a Director in the Social Services field, and I can tell you that the process is a hell of a lot different than here and allows for many luxuries in the weeding out process that simply aren't allowed for in the Mystery Shopping world.
Sara, I agree that this industry presents special challenges for the companies, due to its nature and structure. What I do not agree on, however, is that it falls on the shopper to provide the solution to these challenges. When a company decides to go into business, it is the company's responsibility to evaluate the risks and challenges and to address them accordingly. If you can't make a viable effort by relying on your own resources, it's best to find another business to get into.

I don't have a perfect answer for these companies, because, well, because I really just don't care that much; but I would suggest that a first step is requiring an application that involves more than name, age, address and social security number. Some companies do ask for writing samples, and some actually do telephone interviews before hiring their shoppers, and I think this is a smart move. Will doing these things consume the company's valuable time and resources? Of course; but once again, that's not my issue to be concerned about.
quote:
* Secondly, lots of businesses expect the employee to take on some level of self-education *both* to demonstrate knowledge *AND* to demonstrate commitment to doing the job and furthering your career.
Agreed. And if we were discussing a certification being offered by a neutral organization, then I might look at this situation a tad differently. However, in regard to mystery shopping, there are little, if any, exclusive skills or knowledge that can, or even need to be, "taught". It also depends on how you personally view mystery shopping, and I happen to be one of those who does not look at it as a "career". In fact, the industry itself cautions shoppers against looking at mystery shopping as a viable, full-time occupation.

*Edit: Pam, your posted monthly figures are impressive and I have no doubt you work hard for that money. Your figures, however, still do nothing to prove the assertion that certified shoppers are routinely paid more per job, simply because of their certification. I have seen no difference at all in the two years since paying to take the silver test.
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JanB27
Star Contributor

OH
USA
4831 Posts

Posted - 12/04/2006 :  03:55:03 AM  Reply  Reply with Quote
I have had an interesting e-mail conversation lately with a MS company owner who saw a post of mine on Volition. She has seen a contract go to another company because they underbid her. Both companies are members of MSPA. She is frustrated and actually told me her costs with this contract and their profit margin. It isn't much. Her company paid the shopper more $, and this other company is now reimbursement only. I think this is what we are up against- they will only pay what they can.

Pam, your income postings were informational and impressive. I wonder how that stacks up with someone who isn't 'Gold'?

Jan
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Quinn
Star Contributor

Atlanta, GA
USA
50247 Posts

Posted - 12/04/2006 :  06:28:43 AM  Reply  Reply with Quote
11/15/2006 $137.28 Restaurant actual income after expenses $25.00
11/17/2206 $315.53 Hotel visit actual income after expenses $15.00
11/21/2006 $200.00 Eyeglass shop and exam..actual income -$123.15
11/30/2006 $180.00 Gas stations actual income after expenses $110.00

Fairly impressive gross numbers....actual income $26.85

I was wondering if anyone who took the silver certification felt cheated after they saw and took the test and then just wrote off the small amount spent and moved on.
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Nora
Star Contributor

PA
USA
6341 Posts

Posted - 12/04/2006 :  06:41:41 AM  Reply  Reply with Quote
quote:
Well, offering certified shoppers first choice is the MSPA's covenant with the shopper.
This "covenant" more than flirts with the IRS' legally defined distinctions between employees and contractor status. For example, these guidelines below are some of those which define an employee status, and some hit far too close to home to ICs...

You or your representative tells the worker where, when, and how to work.
You train the worker.
The business performance depends on the worker.
The worker has a continuing relationship with the company.
The worker’s services must be personally rendered by the him/her.
You furnish tools and materials.
You can fire the worker without violating a contract.
You require the worker to submit oral or written reports.

For those who attend or participate in seminars,certification programs (meaning those which are universally recognized within an industry), or other training or licensing events, bear in mind that an employer can require these of employees, in stark contrast to a situation in which we are assigned status as independent contractors.

As we are aware, there are a few companies who have boldly---one might say "defiantly"---indicated that they will not contract with non-"certified" shoppers, or more subtly ( but with implicit meaning ), that "certified" shoppers will receive priority.

While it can be appreciated for the effort and thought involved, posting one's record of direct deposits with no correlation to pre-certified earnings is simply anecdotal, and discounts a number of factors, such as experience, last-minute bonuses, locale, and time of year. Also, since other qualified and certified shoppers have indicated that there have been little to no perceptible differences in earnings, there is still no firm correlation that can be made across the board.

*Edited to add---
Quinn, in response to your question...yes, I felt cheated, and more precisely, insulted...
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PamInCa
Star Contributor

CA
USA
6557 Posts

Posted - 12/04/2006 :  06:41:46 AM  Visit PamInCa's Homepage  Reply  Reply with Quote
Jan, I don't really know. I do know I wasn't getting this kind of money before going Gold. Maybe someone who is not Gold will share.

Remember, this is only 4 companies, a partial list and only direct deposits. I do this full time, but I work less than 8 hours a day, reporting included. I do not run around like a wild woman and I don't do any cell or ff shops unless they are favors for schedulers.

I have only done one hotel shop and that was on vacation during the summer. I have not done an eyeglass shop in about 3 months, I do not do fine dining shops as I do not enjoy the reports. My gas station shops are what I use to get to the other shops and are not on this list.

Shoppers who are serious and who do care, can make this kind of money and more. I know Gold shoppers in my area that are making more money than I am.

I did not post these numbers from my bank to impress anyone, I just want people who are trying to decide, to know what is available out there and maybe some who have been determined not to go Gold will have more of an insight as to what is there.

Edited: I guess there will always be some who are just determined it is not for them and that is ok. My goal was to be helpful without giving my entire shopping history and break down every shop I have done for the month. I do have ICA's to keep.

Employees and giving preference to shoppers who have taken additional training first, is not something I think the IRS would give a second glance at and I hope they spend our tax dollars more wisely than that. I think they are a little busier than that.

Or else, my SIL is lying to me as she always claims they are so busy in her office......

PamInCa
Author of: "The Essential Guide to Mystery Shopping"
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Nora
Star Contributor

PA
USA
6341 Posts

Posted - 12/04/2006 :  07:49:36 AM  Reply  Reply with Quote
quote:
Employees and giving preference to shoppers who have taken additional training first, is not something I think the IRS would give a second glance at...
Actually, IRS auditors are keenly interested in these situations, since it allows them to collect substantial penalties.
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PamInCa
Star Contributor

CA
USA
6557 Posts

Posted - 12/04/2006 :  08:04:43 AM  Visit PamInCa's Homepage  Reply  Reply with Quote
Well, I don't think any of us could be considered employees. Since the workshops are "workshops" and not something we have to have to work for these companies. All companies have the right to choose whichever independent contractor they wish, just like a temp agency.

So much mental energy being used. Seems like a real waste of time to me.

PamInCa
Author of: "The Essential Guide to Mystery Shopping"
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Nora
Star Contributor

PA
USA
6341 Posts

Posted - 12/04/2006 :  09:12:48 AM  Reply  Reply with Quote
The point that I am conveying is that when a company requires, specifically or implicitly, a "certification" or a workshop or whatever name one chooses to call the concept---issued by an organization with whom they are intimately affiliated and which is not sanctioned to act in any regulatory or overseeing capacity---as a condition for obtaining work with them, there is a clear breach of the boundaries between employee status and independent contractor status. Bluntly put and with little need to expend much in the way of mental energy, it is readily apparent that the existence of such conditions fills the bill for the definition of "shakedown", as it relates to labor laws and IRS statutes.

Since the temptation for companies (and not just in this industry) to obtain the financial and tax benefit of using ICs to perform what should fall under the scope and benefit of employee status is quite alluring, these laws are in place ( at least partially ) for the protection of ICs and reduce the abuse of IC status.

If one feels comfortable with reducing the practice of ignoring or skirting the laws that are intended as a measure of protection for ICs to a "waste of time"...feel free to do so.
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PamInCa
Star Contributor

CA
USA
6557 Posts

Posted - 12/04/2006 :  09:22:24 AM  Visit PamInCa's Homepage  Reply  Reply with Quote
I would never suggest anyone break the laws. The IRS loves me at tax time. I am saying there are definitely better things to focus on, especially this time of year. Life is too short. I could see trying to make some positive changes if you feel they are necessary that would help all shoppers and companies come together a little better.

PamInCa
Author of: "The Essential Guide to Mystery Shopping"
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HeatherN
Valued Contributor

New York
USA
142 Posts

Posted - 12/04/2006 :  11:39:49 AM  Reply  Reply with Quote
There are many certified shoppers who dispute the claim that there are higher fees offered for being certified. There are a few who claim higher fees are a reality. I know of only one company limited to a small NW area of the US that offers $5 more to certified shoppers. However, one regionally limited company does not make it worthwhile for the rest to become certified based solely on the hopes of higher fees. I would hope there are other companies that would follow suit, but know of no others.

So it seems to me that the best determining factor would be for the MSPs themselves to post whether they offer higher fees and what the difference is between the two. This can be done without offering shop specifics and would certainly end the debate on the value of certification...at least in regards to that aspect of it.
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SheilaW
Star Contributor

Fairfield, CA
USA
881 Posts

Posted - 12/04/2006 :  12:48:00 PM  Reply  Reply with Quote
Going back to the subject of this thread.
Being MSPA Gold Certified has definitely been worth it financially to me.
Being Silver Certified made no difference at all, but was a necessary stepping stone to Gold.

Sheila, NoCal
Proudly shopping Solano County including Travis AFB.
Gold Certified.
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HeatherN
Valued Contributor

New York
USA
142 Posts

Posted - 12/04/2006 :  12:58:54 PM  Reply  Reply with Quote
Employers frequently expect their employees to go through training and refresher courses. However, SuperMart would not expect a team lead to take the new employee training if the employee has advanced all the stages from new cashier to team lead. That would be the equivalent of expecting a senior in high school to retake elementary classes. It'd be a waste of SuperMart's time and money. Not to mention it would irritate and insult the employee.

Likewise, since the gold training is basic, it offers an educational advantage to new shoppers only. (It's widely agreed that the silver offers no educational merit.) Because of this, certification can not and does not separate the best from the rest. This is especially true when many shoppers-including some of the best-have no intention of becoming certified. It doesn't mean that there aren't some excellent gold shoppers available (I'm one myself ), but certification does not corner the market on superiority. I don't see how anyone can logically argue against that fact or why they would want to do so. It is neither a negative or a positive opinion in regards to the MSPA or certification. It is simply a factual statement.

It's foolish to hire someone knowing little more about them than their name, address, and email, then complain that the person wasn't qualified. Certification shows the shopper was able to pass a basic test, but does not hint at the quality of a shopper's writing or capability to follow directions. Therefore, the responsibility for hiring quality ICs, regardless of whether certification exists or not, is on the MSP. This can be done with tougher applications and a tougher screening process. Everyone who applies as an IC does not need to be instantly approved. That would help tremendously in cutting out the less desirables. At the same time, I understand the MSPs desire to get a variety of shoppers in the areas they service, but that's a risk the MSP takes being in this business.
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