Retailers must adapt and change in order to survive. Take Walmart. The company’s new initiative to enhance delivery options through a partnership with Uber and Lyft demonstrates its commitment to improving customer service and to staving off the unrelenting competition from Amazon. It’s also a sign that Walmart (which is not exactly known for thinking on its feet) understands that brick-and-mortar retailers need to embrace technology and innovation in order to adapt to the changing ways that today’s customers shop.
Uber, of course, is a poster child for one of the most controversial aspects of the Gig Economy: crowdsourcing. Retailers, in particular, are known to flinch at the mere mention of this term. Store managers often assume that crowd-sourced or crowd-“vetted” representatives are less reliable than full-time staffers and that trusting these transient workers will lead to problems with quality control. Likewise, some CPG marketers worry about what will happen to their own futures if they entrust the “crowd” (i.e., consumers) with strategic decisions about their brands.
For the most part, marketers have been willing to experiment with crowd-vetted or open-sourced branding methods as a means of driving innovation. They recognize that allowing consumers to “own” a piece of the brand—say, by creating a new ice-cream flavor—is an authentic way to create buzz and excitement around a campaign without ceding control of an entire marketing operation.
Retailers, however, tend to focus too much on the potential pitfalls of crowd-vetting while ignoring the substantial benefits of this approach. When executing a merchandising strategy, for example, a retailer stands to gain in several ways if it possesses a stable of highly trained and well developed, crowd-vetted experts. Here are three of the most important of those benefits:
1. Going local. Crowd-vetted reps have their fingers on the pulse of the local community. They know what customers are looking for on the shelf, and they can help brands connect with their neighbors.
2. An emotional attachment. These reps are working in their neighborhood store—a place where they shop with their families—and not simply passing through on their way to the next account. Thus, they are naturally invested in the success of the store.
3. Expert data collection. They know the best times to grocery shop in order to avoid the crowds, and they recognize changes in displays and new promotions because they are in that store as a customer. This can help the agile retailer become even more flexible and adapt more quickly as product demands evolve and change.
All of these factors help build create a level of familiarity that improves relationships between store managers and brand teams—a key ingredient to success in today’s hyper-competitive store environment. These may be “temporary” reps, but their positive impact on business will be lasting and permanent.