by Mark Carter
Posted 11/5/2012 12:00 am
The next time you see someone in Kroger taking a picture of the Frosted Flakes display with his smartphone, he may be doing more than simply shopping for groceries.
Crowd-sourced field intelligence in the retail industry isn't a new concept, but an Arkansas startup is the first to pay folks to help gather information with their mobile phones. Field Agent is an Innovate Arkansas client firm launched in 2010 that pays cash to its field, well, agents to gather mobile retail intelligence.
These agents are paid to complete assignments such as checking prices, taking pictures of retail displays or even completing online surveys. Agents usually are paid between $3 and $12 for completing relatively easy tasks and given a couple of hours to complete each one, and the money goes into their bank account as soon as the assignment is completed.
But the variables surrounding each assignment, obviously, change.
"The amount an agent is paid is really dependent on the task," said Donny Epp, vice president for marketing. "In general, it's based on the complexity of the task and the time needed to complete it. Other factors are taken into account as well, such as how far an agent might need to travel to complete a task and how quickly the client needs the data."
Agents submit all data directly to Field Agent so they remain anonymous.
"Once we're able to approve the work, it's then passed on to the client," Epp said. "Clients never pay for data that isn't verified as accurately answering the request. Our clients can view results as they are approved on our online dashboard, or we can provide custom reports and insights on data in various formats."
Epp believes Field Agent distinguishes itself in two important ways: It pays in cash and it launched nationwide immediately.
"While Field Agent was the first app that pays, competitors certainly have trickled into the space in the last two years, and a few have come and are now gone," he said. "We're committed to paying our users in cash. We believe it's the best compensation for real work. We launched nationwide from day one, setting our sights on the entire globe, and are currently the only business in our space that provides international coverage. We have the best domestic coverage as well. We're focused on providing incredible visibility and intelligence to retailers and suppliers because we've been in this industry for decades and see the needs and know how to serve our customers."
Two of the startup's three founders — Rick West and Henry Ho — worked for Procter & Gamble's Wal-Mart operations in northwest Arkansas for 15 years and even launched their own shopper research firm called CORE4 Research in 2007. Third founding partner Kelly Miller of Mill Creek Software brought with him 20-plus years of development experience, and the Field Agent app was launched in 2010.
Field Agent has 18 full-time employees in its Fayetteville headquarters, and is now seeking external funding to fuel future growth after being founder-funded its first two years.
Epp said Field Agent wants to be the "next best thing to teleportation" by providing retail eyes and ears anywhere in the world.
"As we look to the future, we have our sights set pretty high," he said. "We're currently operating in Canada, Australia, the U.K., Norway, Sweden and Denmark. We're focused on providing the best service and technology to the retail industry, but our model has applications in many other channels. We've really only scratched the surface in crowd-sourced field intelligence and are excited about what the future holds."
See also: Field Agent's 5 Tips for Startup Success