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JM Ridgway

Company Overview: JM Ridgway has been in business since 1924!  While they don’t claim to be the oldest mystery shopping company, if they’re not, they’ve got to be right up there.  According to the company’s “About JM Ridgway,” the “core management team” of CEO Frank Kneisley and President/Sales Manager Scott Ridgway have a combined 80-plus years’ experience in the mystery shopping industry.

The company’s website states that they’re a member of the Mystery Shopping Provider’s Association.  No mention is made of a BBB membership or accreditation; and when I searched the BBB online, I was told that no match could be located.  Oddly, the MSPA website was not searchable to confirm membership of any mystery shopping provider company; not even from the “Member Companies” tab of their website.

The only complaints about JM Ridgway I found via websites such as ripoffreport.com or complaintboard.com, were regarding spammer’s fraudulent use of the JM Ridgway name and not the company itself.

This company uses the SASSIE system to schedule and report shops, and pays via PayPal or check.  According to their “Shopper FAQ”, the stated payment schedule is “no later then the 45th day after the completion of a shop”.  However, it says to allow an additional five to seven business days after that, for the payment to arrive regardless of payment method.  The page advises shoppers of who to contact within the company, with email address provided, if payment is not received by the 52nd day; and what information to include in your payment inquiry.

It also lets shoppers know that shops are paid in two separate payments:  shop fee and reimbursements.  This is a little different than other mystery shop companies, but not a big deal — just an oddity to note.  Interesting is this inclusion:  “Please do not inquire about why your shop doesn’t show as paid in Sassie.  It will be eventually.  There are several reasons why they aren’t marked paid for awhile that we are not going to take the space or time to explain, nor is it necessary.  Again, they will be eventually.  Thank you.”

For a time, this company suffered quite a bit from a reputation among shoppers of poor payment practices.  The stated payment schedule used to be 90 days, and almost without fail, shoppers reported having to email someone at the company to “remind” them that payment was due.  But in the last more-than-a-year, JM Ridgway has made vast improvements in this department:  They’ve not only shortened the stated payment schedule as outlined; but most importantly, they’ve started paying shoppers on time, every time; without being “reminded”.

General types of assignments & geographic regions in which assignments are available:

When I looked through the job board, I found jobs listed for 26 states.  There’s an option to search Canada and Ireland, along with the American Territories and Armed Forces; but I couldn’t find any jobs currently listed for any of those places.

Anyway, the jobs I found right now were:

* furniture stores — one predominantly, but also a second;

* two different mattress stores;

* alcohol compliance and integrity (currently only in Arizona);

* casual dining (currently only in California);

* a party supply store (but only in Maryland);

* storage facilities (currently only Georgia and Michigan, although I’ve seen these in other states as well via shop emails);

* apartments (currently only Louisiana and MInnesota);

* grocery stores.

 

I’ve also received job emails for jewelry/accessory stores, and recently started getting emails for BBQ grill mystery shops.

There’s a page on the company’s website of client case histories which include some other clients, including fitness facilities, jewelry repair, a transportation company (apparently buses), a “Major League Sports Franchise”, and a few clients identified only as “Specialty Retailers”.

One interesting job I found in a few different states, places the shopper undercover, working alongside a “head delivery and installation technician” to deliver and set up bed frames and mattresses in customers’ homes.  This is referred to as a “Mystery Helper”, rather than a “Mystery Shopper”. For this job, you are paid on an hourly basis by the client for your training time and labor, as well as paid by JM Ridgway for a report of your observations while on the job.  Qualifying for these jobs is a multi-step process including a background check and screening by both JM Ridgway and the client.  The client will then keep you on call for future assignments of this nature.

The company’s “Client Services” page relates that aside from “normal” mystery shops, such as those mentioned above; they also provide services in phone shops, video shops, video surveillance, background checks, worker’s comp fraud investigations, “undercover operatives”, and “ALL investigations needed”.  They also provide “Direct Customer Feedback Programs… gain feedback from customer and employees”.  This page also includes examples of the types of reports clients can expect from the SASSIE reporting system.

The company’s “Shopper Resources” page informs us that not all jobs get posted to the job board online.  Shoppers are encouraged to email schedulers with their location, to see if there are any non-posted jobs available in their area.  Besides checking the company’s job board, shoppers are also able to sign up for shop notification emails like with most SASSIE-based companies.

Unlike many mystery shop companies, in my experience at least, reviews of or grades for completed shops/reports are seldom received.  Shoppers will be contacted, of course, if there are questions or if clarifications are needed; but otherwise most of the time there is no post-shop communication.  You are able to save a PDF copy of your completed reports via the SASSIE reporting system.

Shop guidelines are generally well-written and non-redundant, but could be formatted with more white space for easier reading.  Included are all of the steps you’ll need to know to complete your shop, example scenarios, and advice of how shoppers can handle “off-script” occurrences (such as not being able to find an associate in a particular department).  Sample narratives are typically provided, including how to report odd circumstances.  Be sure to check not only the “Guidelines” link, but the printable version of the questionnaire — it often includes additional information.  (It would be nice to have everything all in one place.)

Shops themselves, in my experience at least, are pretty straight-forward.  Nothing too weird is expected, like the way some shops have various requirements that scream “Hey!  Look here!  I’m your mystery shopper today!”  One of the grocery shops I’ve done for them does require two questions of the associate — one for product knowledge and one for product location to see if they escort — but it’s easy enough to pull that off.

Pay is very fair and reasonable for what’s required, both during the shop and for the report.  Bonuses can get pretty decent for shops in difficult-to-fill locations.

All of the reports I’ve done are are well laid-out, in a logical order, with little to nothing in the way of repetitiveness or redundancy like some reports for other companies.  JM Ridgway want a reasonable amount of narrative, but nothing crazy.

 

Per shop guidelines, reports are always due by 9 AM on the day following the shop.  (Although I just found out while putting this review together, that the ICA states 24 hours, so… ???)  However, on a couple of occasions when I’ve needed an extension due to all-day routes, the scheduler has lengthened that 9 AM deadline once I explained the situation.

 

Where to sign up and what the process entails:

To sign up with JM Ridgway, go here:  http://www.jmridgway.com/shopper_resources.htm

The first step takes you to a “Fraud Alert” page, warning potential new shoppers of the standard mystery shopping scam/spam emails, many of which have been stealing JM Ridgway’s name (sometimes also going by “Ridgway Shoppers”) in an attempt at authenticity.  Of course, these crooks steal the names of many legitimate mystery shop companies in that attempt.

Included in the alert is an example of the spammy emails, and an overview of how the spammers generally conduct business.  Shoppers are, of course, advised to not respond to these emails; and most importantly, to NOT deposit any checks that may be received if they do, without having their bank verify their authenticity (which will never happen).

The company also gives the twice-stated request to please NOT forward them your spam– they’re already aware of it, and there’s “absolutely nothing” they can do regarding the fact that you’ve received spam anyway.  (Makes sense.)  They do provide links to several agencies who are able to investigate these spammers, and suggest that you report it to them as soon as possible before the crooks have a chance to change their contact information.

You must click to confirm that you’ve read the warning, and still wish to proceed with the registration process.  This takes you to a “Shopper Application Overview” page.  Information here includes an abbreviated version of some of the most basic stuff new shoppers need to know, including information about communicating with schedulers, assignment of shops, conducting shops and completing reports, and payments.

Once again, in order to proceed, you must click to confirm you’ve read and accept the information on this page.  This takes you to the formal Independent Contractor Agreement (ICA).  This covers the general things most ICA’s do, such as Shopper Risk/Injury, Reading and Submission of Surveys, Shopper Compensation and Advances, Confidentiality Agreement, Receipts/Invoices and Copies, and a “Special Note” to shoppers.

Interesting to note, is that while the guidelines for every shop I’ve ever conducted for this company state that reports must be submitted by 9 AM the day after the shop was conducted; the ICA says reports are to be submitted within 24 hours of the completion of the shop.  Something else I found interesting:  the ICA states that shoppers may request an advance for required shop purchases.  This is something you never see in individual shop guidelines.

To proceed from here, you must click that you agree with and accept all of the terms of the ICA.  This link opens a new tab, from which you to create your SASSIE account for JM Ridgway; and takes you through the standard SASSIE registration process of filling in your basic information:  contact, demographics, payment.  There’s also the place for you to fill in area (phone) codes in which you shop, and the SASSIE Privacy Policy.  Once you’re finished with this, you just click “Sign Me Up!” and then must verify your new account from the email which will be generated.

As I recall, there is no additional information required, such as writing samples or an “Extended Profile”, once you confirm your account.  Obviously, I couldn’t go through the sign-up process again; and I couldn’t find any information on the company’s website about if there are additional requirements such as this.

What others have to say — an overview of JM Ridgway’s reputation on Mystery Shop Forum:

For a while, this company had quite the reputation on forums, including this one, of being a slow — sometimes VERY slow — payer.  Their stated payment schedule used to be 90-days — and shoppers reported almost unfailingly having to send an email to the company on day 91, to “remind” them that payment was owed.  However, once “reminded”, shoppers report that payment was almost always received the next business day.

Starting a little over a year ago, shoppers began reporting improved payment experiences, including that the company shortened their stated payment schedule as described earlier.  Many shoppers were happy to report receiving their payments not only on-time, according to new payment schedule; but unprompted.

The most recent payment complaint was posted in March of this year; however, the poster making the complaint hadn’t even waited the for the full stated payment timeline to elapse.  This may have been an inadvertent miscalculation on the part of the poster.

Another thing some forum members complained about, was this company’s practice of including harshly-worded, emphatically-stated, and heavy-handed warnings, and even threats, to shoppers — often repeated over and over, and always in large multi-colored fonts — prominently featured in the printable shop questionnaires.  Lately, though, the company seems to have toned this down quite a bit; which has been noted and appreciated.  Although annoying and tiresome, I never actually found them offensive as some other shoppers did (but I’m easy that way).

 

Other personal experiences:

Even during the time this company was having payment issues, I enjoyed working for them.  Was it annoying to have to “remind” them to pay me, on the 91st day after the job(s), every single time?  Absolutely.  However, at least when I sent my “reminder”, I had the money in my PayPal account within 24 hours.

Except once, at the end of a year, they mailed me a check for a large number of jobs they’d owed me for.  They did email to let me know the “check was in the mail”, and I was thinking, “Oh, boy — here we go… “ because even when that’s the truth, it sounds, well, you know.

But I was happy when it arrived promptly.  I was mildly concerned when it was a handwritten personal check, with no stub or anything; but JM Ridgway had always made good on all payments; and everything indeed turned out just fine.  That was the only time I wasn’t paid via PayPal, which was puzzling (and PayPal would have been far more convenient); but whatever — I got my money.  🙂

One time the company even paid a little early at Christmas time, which was very appreciated.

Another thing I like about this company:  in my experience, they advocate for their shoppers.

Once I posted a fairly and reasonably stated complaint about a payment issue, right here on MSForum.  I was contacted the same day by someone from JM Ridgway.  Not because they were upset I’d made a public post, no; but instead to start the process of fixing things.  (The “reasonable” and “fair” parts of my post probably helped my case, I’d venture to guess. :))

There was another time when an associate I’d shopped at one of the mattress stores made some ridiculous claims about my behavior during the shop, as an excuse for why he’d missed a couple of key points of the presentation he was expected to provide.  The associate claimed to have figured out who I was, and went on to assert that I’d been jumping around on the beds and other ridiculous things of that nature during the shop.  I was contacted via email by someone at JM Ridgway, along with a forwarded copy of the associate’s email in which he made these allegations.

After recovering from falling out of my chair due to laughing so hard; I explained to the contact person at JM Ridgway that the associate’s allegations were patently impossible, due not only to the fact that I’m not an idiot — but also due to a physical disability.  The JM Ridgway contact said they’d take care of things, and apparently they did — because I was paid for the shop.  (Of course, I would have loved to hear how things went down, too, though.)

Another thing I’ve appreciated is that when I’ve participated in special projects a couple of times, both Frank and Scott, the CEO and the President, have emailed me personally to not only make sure I had all of the information I needed, but to thank me in advance (and once after the fact as well) for my hard work.  They were very pleasant to correspond with, and it was nice to know of their confidence in me before setting out on the shops.

After one set of special projects, the reviewer sent a special note of appreciation for my thorough reports as well as the extensive effort I had to make in order to meet all shop requirements, due to the circumstances of a couple of the locations.

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