“Trust, but verify” is an expression made famous by Ronald Reagan during the end of the Cold War. It’s also a concept that many CPG (consumer packaged goods), publishing, signage, banking and other industries wish they could implement, too. That time may be upon them.
Let’s take CPG.
Have you ever noticed those huge end-cap or checkout displays at your local grocer or retailer? Some of them approach epic levels of square footage every time a Super Bowl or national holiday is coming up. Manufacturers pay these stores a princely sum to have exclusive access to that floor space. But, manufacturers have a tough time verifying that the retailer actually made that space available. It’s actually quite tempting for a retailer to take a discount regardless of whether they earned it or not.
A new software firm called Gigwalk has a cost-effective way for CPG manufacturers to verify this activity. Gigwalk has over half-million users of its smartphone app. If a CPG firm needs people to walk into local grocery stores to do this verification, Gigwalk sends a quick message to members that are near the stores in question. Gigwalk offers the person, called a Gigwalker, a fee (e.g., $5 or $10) to walk across the street, look for the display, answer up to four quick questions about the display and leave. Gigwalk might want them to attach a picture, too, if it’s warranted.
Gigwalk uses the geo-positional coordinates of the smartphone user to identify whether potential Gigwalkers are in close proximity to a target location. It also has access to critical statistics about the Gigwalker (What dollar amount is of interest to this specific Gigwalker; how often does this gigwalker respond to these requests; which stores this Gigwalker never enters; etc.) Note: the Gigwalk client never knows the identity of the specific Gigwalkers involved on their assignment.
Manufacturers or distributors might want Gigwalkers to call on some stores several times in one day. For example, a drink/beverage firm might want to see how fast merchandise is flying off the shelves in targeted stores during a particular holiday weekend. If the picture shows an approaching stock-out situation, a truck with more merchandise can be dispatched immediately.
CPG firms can, with Gigwalk, determine:
- The effectiveness of specific marketing campaigns
- The level of merchant participation
- Whether displays are properly implemented and in the correct store location
- Which shelves the merchandise is actually displayed upon
The uses of this service are myriad. A sign company may find Gigwalk to be a supremely cost effective way to capture information about the signage present at each one of its customer’s fast food restaurants. Having Gigwalkers take a few quick pictures of stores saves them time and travel costs.
Banks and other firms can enlist Gigwalkers to help them document things like:
- Are properties still being maintained?
- Were loan proceeds actually used to make the capital improvements that the funds were earmarked for?
Publishers can verify if newsstands are properly displaying magazines, especially if the merchant is getting an allowance to display the full cover.
And, the list of possible uses goes on and on.
When I spoke with Gigwalk CEO Bob Bahranipour last week, we discussed key growth statistics for the firm. Currently, Gigwalk has over 100 customers and over 500,000 Gigwalkers. Of more interest to me was that the company has offered up (and completed) over 4 million gigs in the first half of this year.
If you get too many customers before you get enough Gigwalkers, then customer satisfaction can plummet. Or, if you get too many Gigwalkers before you get enough gigs for them, then people will drop out as they never get rewarded for their participation.
We also discussed how a system like this could be (mis)used by firms to collect competitive intelligence. While pricing information is something Gigwalkers may currently collect, Gigwalkers are not given assignments that would violate another firm’s intellectual property. For example, Gigwalkers would not be asked to take pictures of a company’s machinery, plans, etc. Because Gigwalk’s clients do not know the identity of the Gigwalkers, the Gigwalkers who are assigned can only get access to the same public spaces that any normal customer would have access. This is a good thing.
We also discussed how Gigwalk will continue to expand its network of both Gigwalkers and customers. This is always an intriguing conversation, as successful construction of a balanced network has bedeviled other software firms and marketplaces in the past. If you get too many customers before you get enough Gigwalkers, then customer satisfaction can plummet. Or, if you get too many Gigwalkers before you get enough gigs for them, then people will drop out as they never get rewarded for their participation. For now, Bob is focused on getting more customers as the Gigwalker part of the ecosystem is growing just fine on its own.
Gigwalkers are paid via PayPal for their completed assignments.
The system is currently focused on North American markets for now. Global expansion is coming later.
A set of analytic applications runs on the Gigwalk cloud system to help customers see real-time data as it is being collected.
What Gigwalk is doing falls right in with what Fubini’s Law predicts. That law states:
- People initially use technology to do what they do now – but faster.
- Then they gradually begin to use technology to do new things.
- The new things change lifestyles and work-styles.
- The new lifestyles and work-styles change society
- …and eventually change technology.
People have had cell phones, GPS systems and text messaging technologies for years now. They used cell phones to make more convenient calls (step one) just as they used GPS technology to locate where they want to go (also step one) more efficiently than with a paper-based map.
Gigwalk uses the combination of these three technologies (in smartphones) to let people and businesses do new things (step two). What they’re creating is a new way of: Measuring compliance (for CPG firms); determining real-time status of events; creating income for cell phone users; etc. All of these are step 3 items that will change how businesses interact with each other and the public. Will this lead to changes in work-styles? I can't say. But it will lead to a new level of verification within business ecosystems. This transparency will change some manufacturer/customer/supplier relationships for sure. How will Gigwalk change society and technology going forward? I don’t know. But I’ll be watching.
I'll also be watching to see if more traditional software firms will try to copy this technology. I'd be surprised if they do and more surprised if they were successful. This is a cloud/mobile solution that relies on a large network of smartphone users to succeed. Traditional ERP or CPG vendors rarely possess networks of smartphone-using strangers who are willing to do gigs for them or their corporate customers. Moreover, the Gigwalk kind of solution just isn't in the DNA of many enterprise software firms. I'm not saying it can't or won't happen. I am skeptical, though.
In the future, here are some things I would like to learn more about, re: Gigwalk:
- What other use cases are companies coming to them with?
- What types of analytic insights is their solution delivering?
- What's the business case for this solution and what value is being realized currently?