Mobilizing A People's Army Of Data Feeds

We already know the promise of the mobile phone for the data it renders passively. Companies like Placed actually have scores of thousands of people opting into apps that track their movements deliberately in order to render unique analytics that profile places, retail traffic flow, and user behaviors. Understanding where and when people move in the physical realm, especially before or after other digital interactions at home, is going to help close the loop on ad exposure impacting purchase behavior. But these devices can also be employed to mobilize a user army of field researchers: anyone with a smartphone looking to pick up  a little extra cash.

The company Rewardable exchanges small cash rewards, usually between $5 and $7, for in-store research tasks on behalf of retailers. For instance, in my area someone has contracted with Rewardable to have people check local grocery stores for the presence of Goya Rice with Black Beans and Yellow Rice with Pink Beans in the frozen food section. I am to answer a few questions about its placement on the shelf and snap a picture of it. The project is worth $5.



The idea is to use smartphone-wielding consumers who are in the process of shopping anyway to do field research for a brand or retailer. According to CEO Peter Komassa, the model addresses a need he discovered among CPGs when he was an investment analyst covering retail. “The recurring theme was the challenge of in-store execution,” he says. Brands simply were having problems getting products on shelves at the right time to benefit from well-synchronized promotions. A cottage industry of third-party audit firms have addressed the problem, but Komassa argues that the cost and timeliness of reporting in these solutions have been too inefficient.

“The solution we envisioned to help reduce this inefficiency was connecting retailer and consumer brands with consumers while they are already shopping in order to gather data,” he says. With product launches, for example,  CPGs need to know that product is actually on shelves for people to respond to the marketing push. The various store checks are reported in real time and accessible to the client from a Web-based dashboard.   

Rewardable has been available as an app for two months. Komassa says that it has recruited 20,000 actively engaged users but is looking to scale up now to several hundred thousand. But that 20,000 already provides good coverage of the top 20 metro areas in the U.S. For example, an auditing project for a large Northeastern grocery store with 800 outlets  turned around a report in 24 hours that covered 25% of the store base.

And ramping up to the next level of reach is connected to a way to use the app as a marketing tool, connecting brands to some of the most influential shoppers in the market. These are consumers physically interacting with products on shelves for minutes at a time. And so Rewardable will let brands incentivize the sharing of the experience through social media and tweets by adding to the project reward. Brands are starting to create scavenger hunts that engage the consumer with the brand.

“We had an initial vision of catering to frugal, coupon-clipping moms, and we did resonate with that demographic,” Komassa says. “But we actually have a slice of America -- retired folks and college kids spending a lot of time on this.” The company was also surprised at the emergence of real power users. In some markets with 30 grocery stores, some app users will visit seven or more in a day to satisfy tasks. “We already have had a few people earn $1,000” by using the app, he says.

Rewardable is also building other rewarded tasks that can be done more passively at home. Users will be able to download games and leave feedback or do surveys for nominal sums. The idea is to keep users engaged and rewarded in between outings, or even if there aren’t many projects nearby.

Perhaps the genius in the model is not just that it leverages mobile technology so wisely, but that it game-ifies an activity that some already regard as America’s national sport: shopping.   

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