IntelliShop Owner comments on Shopping Scams

From The Wall Street Journal

Small Talk

Kelly Spors answers questions from readers about entrepreneurship

Q: How can I find legitimate mystery-shopping jobs without fear of being scammed?

A: It's wise to be leery. As mystery shopping becomes an increasingly popular way to earn extra income, online scams and questionable practices have emerged, targeting consumers hungry for such work.

Mystery shoppers are hired by independent "mystery-shop" firms to do undercover evaluations of customer-service-oriented businesses such as stores, restaurants and banks, and sometimes to evaluate Web sites and telephone-customer service. The firms that hire mystery shoppers keep databases of shoppers available nationwide, and when an assignment arises they contact interested shoppers in that region. The enlisted mystery shoppers survey the businesses and fill out detailed questionnaires about everything from the cleanliness of the floor to the helpfulness of the store clerk. Most assignments pay $10 to $30, though some pay more.

Unfortunately, it's gotten harder to scout out legitimate jobs amid the numerous shady practices. Several Web sites and spam emails, for instance, claim to put your name in databases used by mystery-shop firms for a one-time fee, usually ranging between $20 and $100.

In truth, you needn't pay a dime to sign up with mystery-shop firms and it's generally not the lucrative career these services suggest, says Ron Welty, chief executive of IntelliShop, a Perrysburg, Ohio, firm that hires people to mystery shop for 115 clients across the U.S. and Canada. "I've yet to get any kinds of lists from those kinds of companies," Mr. Welty adds.
Some mystery shoppers can earn $25,000 a year or more, though such shoppers usually sign up with several firms and do dozens of assignments a week. "It becomes a matter of submitting good-quality work and being very reliable," Mr. Welty says. Most mystery shoppers make less than a few hundred dollars a week.

Thankfully, there's an easy place to get on legitimate mystery-shopping firms' lists. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association carefully vets its 200 or so member mystery-shop firms. Members cannot charge any fees and must be in business at least two years to join. To find member firms and potential assignments in your area, go to and click on "Search For Assignments Here."

IntelliShop Offers New Phone Service to Clients

Perrysburg, OH IntelliShop announced today that it has enhanced its IntelliCallsTM service by providing clients with the capability of using locally-based evaluators with complete digital recording capabilities for their telephone evaluation programs.

"We want to assure that we're always the industry leader in telephone-based customer experience evaluations and measurement. This new service will allow us to further emulate very real customer experience simulations for our clients", according to Ron Welty, CEO of IntelliShop.  "By using experienced, locally-based evaluators equipped with complete digital recording capabilities, we can now offer clients the ability to capture things like callbacks from our clients' call centers and/or locations to evaluators with local identities and phone numbers; a pre-visit call that's digitally recorded and then coupled with an onsite visit by the same customer who placed the call, and other such customer experiences, from virtually any geographical area."

"Our current telephone evaluation programs will still be executed by our in-house call center teams. The new service is for clients with unique needs that require a local presence and local telephone identification in their programs. And, our clients know that with either service, they can continue to expect exceptional quality and integrity from our partnership with them."

IntelliShop Team Members Donate to Katrina Relief

Perrysburg, OH IntelliShop announced today that its Team Members' Hurricane Katrina Relief fundraising drive had raised $1,500 in donations.  The donations were split equally and sent to The Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity.

Ron Welty, CEO of IntelliShop, stated, We were all deeply affected by Hurricane Katrina, whether it was having friends or family in the disaster area, clients who told us horror stories of their experiences, or just seeing the horrific news footage of the past few days; we wanted to help.  Our Team Members really came through with personal cash donations to help provide both immediate and longer-term assistance to those in the Gulf Coast area. Our Team Members truly embody the best that the human spirit has to offer in times of need.

IntelliShop forms The Benchmark Collaborative With Other Leading Mystery Shopping Companies

Perrysburg, OH IntelliShop and three other well-known mystery shopping companies announced a new era in mystery shopping today, with the formation of The Benchmark Collaborative, LLC.

The Benchmark Collaborative (TBC) is a partnership between four recognized leaders in the mystery shopping industry: IntelliShop, Service Sleuth, Confero, and Service Excellence Group.

Mystery shopping is now widely recognized as a valuable business strategy, used by the vast majority of larger companies, to measure and improve total customer experience outcomes, according to Ron Welty, CEO of IntelliShop.In the past, clients with large-scale or complex needs tried using either a single large provider, or a multi-provider approach, and found they couldn't meet their needs, for a variety of reasons.  TBC was formed because we are the only companies that are friendly competitors, truly coming together to work as one to solve clients' problems.  We offer them a single software solution versus multiple incompatible systems, a single point of contact, a single legal entity to contract with, and the ability to benchmark their performance against their own and many other industries.  We are also the only large-scale organization that can legally provide services to clients in the state of Nevada, without sub-contracting, due to Nevada's highly restrictive mystery shopping laws.  We will save our clients significant time in managing their programs, while also helping them raise the bar on taking exceptional care of their customers.  In a nutshell, we provide coordinated end-to-end solutions for clients with complex needs, and we do so with a high level of service and attention, something that is difficult to achieve when utilizing one large provider or multiple, non-linked providers.

About TBC

With headquarters in Chicago, and regional offices in Las Vegas, Boston, Raleigh, St. Louis, and Toledo, as well as alliances with locally-based mystery shopping companies throughout the world, TBC provides clients with proven mystery shopping and customer experience measurement solutions through its four highly respected partner companies.  Clients receive the highly attentive service and spirit found in entrepreneurial companies, while at the same time saving significant time administering their programs and finding it much easier to access and more accurately analyze their results.  The partner companies in The Benchmark Collaborative serve clients in over 25 industries, including all sectors of business-to-consumer, and many business-to-business clients.  Learn more about TBC at

About the Partners

IntelliShop with headquarters near Toledo, OH, provides mystery shopping and other customer experience improvement solutions onsite, on the phone, and online to over 90 clients in 23 industries throughout the United States and Canada.  Ron Welty, CEO of IntelliShop has over 8 years experience in the mystery shopping industry, and prior to founding IntelliShop had over 15 years experience in both retail and service businesses in senior-level operations, marketing and client retention areas.  IntelliShop has over 100,000 evaluators in six countries and conducts over 70,000 evaluations annually.  IntelliShop is a member of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), and Ron serves the association as a member of the Board of Directors, as well as chairman of its Communications Committee.

Service Sleuth is headquartered near Boston, MA, with a regional office in Las Vegas, NV, and is a charter member of MSPA.  Service Sleuth specializes in mystery shopping and the collection of data related to customers in the retail, restaurant and manufacturing industries. The company is one of only two mystery shopping firms licensed as Private Investigators in the state of Nevada, the only state to require that mystery shopping and mystery shoppers hold such licensing.  In 2000, Service Sleuth's owners and staff created SASSIE, the industry's first entirely web-based software platform designed specifically for mystery shopping. With over 70,000 shoppers in 5 countries, Service Sleuth performs more than 50,000 mystery shops per year. Tom Mills has been on the board of directors of the MSPA since its inception and a member of the MSPA Hall of Fame.

Confero, with headquarters near Raleigh, NC, was established in 1985 and is a charter member of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.  Confero specializes in field evaluation services and customer satisfaction measurement for retail service businesses. Elaine Buxton, M.B.A., President, joined the firm in 1987, after spending three years as Operations Manager for Wedgwood China's European Retail Division based in Frankfurt, Germany.  Confero currently serves 64 national and regional clients and maintains contact with over 40,000 independent field researchers nationwide.  Confero is a 100% woman-owned North Carolina corporation and is certified as such by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council.

Service Excellence Group, Inc. was founded in 1993 is headquartered in St. Louis MO, and is a charter member of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. Service Excellence Group specializes in customized service improvement and development programs.  They have grown to include a dedicated staff and over 40,000 field researchers that fulfill the need for on-site, telephone, and web based mystery shops and consultation for businesses throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.  Marci Bikshorn, CEO of Service Excellence Group, created the business due to her dedication to the retail industry and to fulfill the rising need of quality customer service and training.