Secret Shopping and Confidentiality

It is called “secret” shopping for a reason. It is critical to maintain secrecy not only during a mystery shop, but before and after the shop as well. Confidentiality requirements demand that shoppers also refrain from sharing confidential and proprietary information of the mystery shopping company and the client. This seems obvious, but lots of shoppers seem to have trouble understanding the need for confidentiality.

I am always surprised when shoppers openly disclose the names of clients, fees they received, shop requirements and other information. I hear mystery shoppers say these things at shopper meet-ups, and I read inappropriate comments in public forums and blogs. What part of “confidential” don’t these shoppers understand?

Almost every mystery shopping company includes a confidentiality clause in the Independent Contractor Agreement (ICA) completed during the application process. Prohibited activities typically include:

  • Sharing information about the operations of the secret shopping company and its clients.
  • Discussing compensation and other details of shop assignments with a third party.
  • Directly contacting a client, without the specific permission of the mystery shopping company.
  • Sharing blank or completed report forms, guidelines and other shop materials with anyone else.

That means you can not talk about:

  • How much a shop assignment pays.
  • Which mystery shopping company shops a particular client.
  • Specific shop requirements (e.g., service standards, purchase requirements, etc.)
  • Which companies (e.g. stores, restaurants, banks and others) are mystery shopping clients.

A good rule is to never say anything about a secret shopping client to anyone, other than the secret shopping company. One exception to this is when you are required or allowed to have someone accompany you on a shop, such as a restaurant shop. In that case, you should tell your companion what they need to know to help you with the shop (or at least not to mess it up), but you also need to stress to them the importance of confidentiality. Tell them that they should not discuss any aspect of the mystery shop with anyone else. In fact, they should never talk about mystery shopping at all.

Do not make posts to public forums about clients or shops. Although you may comment about shopping companies (i.e., “Mystery Shopping Provider is a great company to work for, although I wish they would pay faster.”) do not gossip about secret shopping companies or disclose information about their operations that you obtained while working for them.

When asked on a application for which companies you have worked, it is acceptable to name them. Do not name any clients you shopped for them.

Giving confidential information to your best friend over coffee, or in a private email, is still a violation of confidentiality. If you are not sure whether you should disclose something, do not talk about it.

You may not see the harm in sharing this information, but it can cause damage to the businesses of the secret shopping providers and their clients. You can be deactivated as a shopper if a company discovers that you have violated confidentiality. In an extreme case, it is even possible that you could be sued.

Keep the secrecy in secret shopping by not sharing confidential information.

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