Does the IMSC Provide Value for Shoppers? Well, Yes and No

IMO it is possible that the IMSC could be of value for certain shoppers, but let me preface.
1. I began mystery shopping as my sole income source in late 2008 pre-IMSC.
2. I had had previous experiences as a sole proprietor and being my own boss.
3. There was no mystery shopping conference or instruction class available to me when I began.

I learned both written and video mystery shopping and auditing through trial-and-error. Although I was smart, tech-savvy, college educated, and well-organized, I experienced a learning curve. I had completed more than 1000 mystery shops before attending my first mystery shopping conference. I learned very little from that first conference, but I benefited from new contacts with company representatives that I chatted with. I received little to no benefit from the speakers, because I had already learned from experience. I kept thinking how much easier it would have been for me if I had had such a conference to attend when I first began mystery shopping.

I went to another conference in 2010 because it offered certification for video shopping. I had already done more than 100 video shops by that time, so most of the training was review. I did get some benefit in the form of contacts and sources for equipment, but the certification itself was no more than a piece of paper. Again I kept thinking how this might have benefited me if it would have been available when I first started mystery shopping. I attended next year’s conference, because I won it in a drawing. I was again disappointed, because almost no company representatives attended. I did not learn anything I did not already know, and I spent most of my time helping new shoppers during the networking between speakers.

I was a paid member of IMSC for one year, primarily so I could get a discounted price for attending the IMSC conference and l attending John Pryzbyl’s event. I was again disappointed. I concluded that the conferences were just an expensive way for other mystery shoppers to visit Las Vegas and socialize. Taking time off work (mystery shopping) and paying to socialize with fellow shoppers was not cost effective for me, so I saw no need to renew my membership in IMSC. The IMSC groups could serve us better by being consolidated into one group. I became disappointed with the authoritarian way that Pam began censorship. I have met Pam on several occasions, and I have nothing against her as a person, but I the the way she censors her groups and allows product promotion of her handpicked vendors is less than helpful to mystery shoppers. I do think the jobs posts from schedulers looking for shoppers are a big help, but they could be more helpful if posted on only one consolidated IMSC group.

In summary, I feel that the conferences are beneficial and cost-effective ONLY for new mystery shoppers. I stopped going because I got nothing more from the conferences than a social gathering for my money spent. Almost no company reps ever showed up. I don’t mind paying it forward to some new shoppers, but that sort of networking should not be my main activity at the conference. There was never a speaker for experienced shoppers at the conference. The conferences were in Las Vegas, yet almost all of the topics were pertinent mostly to non-NV mystery shopping. There was really nothing in it for me that was worth $150 (less if IMSC member) and taking time off work for. I have never been asked to be a speaker at a conference.

IMO, yes, it can be very beneficial to attend a mystery shopping conference if you are a brand new mystery shopper or seriously considering becoming one. However, many changes need to be made before it would be beneficial and cost effective for an experienced mystery shopper to shell out money for a ticket, or even take time off work, to attend an IMSC conference.

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I hear what you are saying and would frankly raise a couple of questions:

1. Excluding video shopping, do you think there is enough commonality of skills across mystery shopping that a conference session of an hour or two would really benefit new shoppers?

I could see a generic session on 'What it is to run your own business' or 'Accounting for shoppers' or 'Business Ethics' etc., but since with our MSCs there is substantial difference in what they require, how closely they adhere to their requirements, how they pay, when they pay, how they want proof of visit, how adequate their instructions are, how they schedule, etc. etc. How many hours would a comprehensive session for new mystery shoppers need to last? You learned by the 'school of hard knocks', as did I and as did most long term shoppers I am aware of. But we didn't learn alone because even at midnight if we had a problem with a report there was likely to be someone on the forum to help.

2. If you were thinking about trying Mystery Shopping, would you lay out $$ and a week of your time to go see if maybe you would like it?

I was petrified on my first two shops, even though I had extensively done a variant of Mystery Shopping 40 years before when I was in high school. Two shops was what it took to understand what the game is about and after that it was just registering with new companies, finding jobs and that forever wait for the fees to start coming in the mail. My first two shops were a $7 one and a $5 one--hardly the kind of money to inspire a $100 outlay to go to a convention, a $15 certification or even purchase equipment I subsequently have acquired.
Issues like when or how each MSC pays are not covered and there is no reason to at a conference. Generally in this business there are quite a few basics common to most if not all MSCs. There were sessions devoted to taxes, accounting and other general knowledge about running a business plus some devoted to video shopping and route shopping. I agree that overall the sessions focused primarily on the novice.

I always stated the most benefit for me was in meeting other shoppers, particularly video shoppers who I would eventually be working with on various projects.

It is hard to say, but my guess is one day would be sufficient on topics devoted solely to new shoppers. You have asked before what can be learned at a conference that cannot be learned here and the short answer is very little if anything. OTOH, different people have different ways of learning. Some prefer one on one, some a classroom or seminar environment while others like to read and research on their own time.

Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It's not pie.
"I prefer someone who burns the flag and then wraps themselves up in the Constitution over someone who burns the Constitution and then wraps themselves up in the flag." -Molly Ivins
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It's a waste of your time and it really annoys the pig.
1. I learned at my first conference that there were many speakers giving the same pointers that I had already learned on my own. I was not aware of a forum for mystery shoppers at that time. I wished that that conference would have occurred a few months after I began mystery shopping. It would have given me a head start to learn from others' experiences instead of learning from only my own mistakes.

2. When I say "new" mystery shopper, I am referring to any shopper who has been shopping primarily as a source of income for about 3 months or so; long enough to know if they were interested in continuing. If I knew then how much it would have helped me, I would definitely have laid out $100 to attend a conference. The only equipment needed was a car, computer, and a printer. I already had those items. I would say that most of the speakers at my first conference had useful information for the new shopper. Many company reps and some vendors were present. Meet and chat with the reps and other shoppers in person were really the only beneficial things I took away from that conference.

So the real question is, "Is it economically possible to design a conference so that it has value for both new mystery shoppers and seasoned ones, and can it attract enough company reps?" Maybe it is possible; maybe it is not.
The other question, is there much of a need for something to combine both and include vendors and MSC reps? My video certification 10 years ago was conducted by one person in one day. Rather than holding large events in just one or two places in the country, she traveled to different regions. I traveled the farthest of anyone in the class so it required two nights at the hotel. My choice because I didn't want to wait for something closer. I would enjoy the opportunity for more of a social gathering somewhere fun for a couple days. Unfortunately, without the seminar it wouldn't be tax deductible, LOL.

Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It's not pie.
"I prefer someone who burns the flag and then wraps themselves up in the Constitution over someone who burns the Constitution and then wraps themselves up in the flag." -Molly Ivins
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It's a waste of your time and it really annoys the pig.
Fair enough.

Indeed different folks learn in different ways. I certainly remember reading through instructions two or three times before heading out for a shop because the written word is my best learning method. Luckily forums were there for me and made my initial draft of a spreadsheet for accounting available, gave advice on taxes and formed a community around us.
I have never been to a conference. I guess most mystery shoppers never meet other shoppers - so a conference might be the best way for networking.

Even if you are a self-employed hairdresser or mechanic you meet the same people at regular intervals. Full-time mystery shoppers don’t have an opportunity to build relationships with coworkers or clients - it seems a lonely world.

I wouldn’t want to meet local shoppers as they are the ‘competition’ so a nationally organized event has it’s attractions. Also, the attendance fees seem reasonable.
I don't think either the IMSC or the MSPA provide much value. I think both have a $25 membership fee that really doesn't provide much value. You can just follow the Facebook pages and get information there or here on this forum. I've been to conferences for both organizations and did not find much useful information. The MSPA was much more well run the the IMSC and at least the MSPA had some really good food included in the conference fee.

This really isn't a complex business. All you have to do is follow directions and be a self starter and you're good to go.
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