Date published

The power of the crowd in retail merchandising

By Manu Krishna, Director, Content Marketing at Trax

CPG sales teams have long known the benefits of targeting the right stores and the right products and taking a disciplined approach to supporting in-store execution. However, few CPG executives feel that their sales force is operating at full potential.

In our 2018 Trax CPG Shelf Health study, 70 percent of respondents said that gaps in on-shelf availability (OSA) still occur on a regular basis, and 44 per cent think that promotion and display compliance in-store is poor.

In this blog, we explore how crowdsourcing in retail is emerging as an effective way for manufacturers to improve both field labor productivity and merchandising performance.

The last mile challenge for consumer brands

Field forces are deployed to improve in-store execution through some combination of the following: manufacturer’s own merchandising force, brokers/sales agents, direct store delivery drivers, or distributor/wholesaler channel partners. But companies struggle when it comes gathering timely, accurate intelligence on store conditions.

This has many repercussions. In our survey, we found that 49 percent of companies lose sales due to stockouts, while 45 percent lose sales due to fewer displays. A report by the Promotion Optimization Institute (POI) finds that these challenges arise  mainly due to:

  • People issues: Finding, training and retaining the right employees to staff a direct field labor force is difficult. Sales agents and brokers offer limited coverage and frequency, may have intrinsic biases, are expensive to train and are sometimes even guilty of gaming the system.
  • Tools issues: Traditional auditing tools are largely transactional without the analytics required to help sales reps analyze store level data and sell smarter. Many existing tools lack the capabilities to convert what is seen in-store into actionable insights, hampering the ability of office-based users to make informed decisions.
  • Data issues: Some manufacturers try to overcome these gaps by relying on point-of-sale (POS) data. Although useful, this data tends to be too broad to be truly actionable. Besides, when used in isolation, POS data masks gaps and voids at an SKU-level.

According to one estimate, the probability of having the right person with the right tools getting access to a store to gather data for a store that might need some attention is less than 10%.

Why crowdsourcing is an idea whose time has come

Retail crowdsourcing is fast emerging as a way for consumer goods manufacturers to augment and optimize their field force regardless of how they go to market. This model takes advantage of a large force of individual consumer ‘auditors’ often located close to the stores where audits need to take place, competing for the task in a type of marketplace.

While in-store, the crowd answers questions around displays and shelving, and supports their responses with photo evidence. Audit results go through data validation and quality assurance, including checking for corroborating proof of the visit, such as GPS coordinates. Auditors are paid only after each task has been verified, which means that CPGs have access to evidence-backed, reliable data that provides clear visibility into in-store execution, minimizing bias and scope for error.

And, most importantly, while the crowd collects in-store data, your own field force can concentrate on higher priority tasks, such as fixing display and execution issues.

The outcomes: Putting the crowd to work for you

Retail crowdsourcing offers you valuable insights across every shelf in every store exactly when you need them most. And this can be extremely useful in four main scenarios:

Promotions and displays

Objective store-level data gives you clarity on how competitor promotions are executed versus yours, helps you to correct gaps in-cycle, and incentivize field force for better execution. Leading brands have used these quick, episodic views to improve promotion results as well as improve share of display at key outlets.

Product launch

Rapidly deployed audits can give you superior control over new product rollouts. Before the launch, you can audit store conditions to identify potential hurdles and plan better. Then, leverage the crowd to get boots on the ground at scale and ensure rollouts are executed in every store and on time.

Equipment and store configurations

Crowdsourcing is a great way to get visibility into store layout. This is useful in many scenarios. For example, if your planogram prescribes a cooler at every checkout lane, but you don’t know how many checkout lanes each store has. Or if your brand has a preferred shelf flow, and you want to know the flow of sub-categories at the outlet level. This not only helps improve availability of specialty equipment like coolers, but also facilitates intelligent conversations with your key accounts about category locations and adjacencies.

Pre/post range reviews and planogram planning

Because the Crowd is qualified to quickly capture simple inputs like number of facings, shelf height, and direct adjacencies, you can use insights around these key indicators for your products and brands in placement-related conversations with the retailers.

The next step: Finding the right tools for the job

Leading brands are leveraging crowdsourcing to drive more value out of their field labor and optimize display execution.

To find out how to choose a solution that’s right for you and maximize the impact of crowdsourced audits, read our blog “8 ways to maximize the value of crowdsourced audits”.