Guest Slot – Analysis Insider – Sarah Wilson

One of the greatest attributes of the internet is that it helps bring together groups of people who are willing to contribute to a common cause. The likes of Wikipedia sprang up as a direct result of this phenomenon called crowdsourcing.


Crowdsourcing: let’s hope retailers do.

With this idea of outsourcing work to a crowd of ‘workers’ now clearly proven the opportunity for retailers to utilise its power is obvious and some early examples of its deployment have centred on consumers shaping new products.

Waitrose asked its online community at myWaitrose to help it design a new dessert, with the winner proving to be a mouthful in more ways than one – ‘Seriously Chocolatey Rose-infused Chocolate Ganache’ – that hit the shelves in May. Similarly Tesco created a crowdsourced wine using Facebook, with its fans selecting the grape, label design, and name.

But what if retailers moved on from simply outsourcing product creation to the farming out of the actual task of shopping? Could they use crowdsourcing to effectively create personal shoppers that pick up an individual’s goods from a store and deliver them to their home.

Wal-Mart has arguably been something of a latecomer to the area of connected technologies but even they recognise that there might be some mileage in this one. The reality is that there is a whole network of people who could be personal shoppers – beyond the general public. From samplers, mystery shoppers, and pricing checkers employed by the big brands, there is an army of people who are ideally equipped to take up the task and spend their days in shops!

It’s clear that home delivery has improved significantly of late – with well-defined timed-slots – but there is still a time-lag, typically from 24 hours to a number of days, between the online ordering and the actual delivery of the goods. Wouldn’t it therefore be great if essential groceries, which are needed immediately, could be delivered in one hour via crowdsourcing.

Simply order them from your smart-phone and up pops this order on the screens of potentially available personal shoppers. It is then accepted by one of them local to the shopper/store in a similar way to the new mobile-based taxi ordering systems that are cropping up in major cities around the world.


Delivering products and people to you soon…

The similarity with taxis does not end here because US-based service Uber has been trialling the use taxis to deliver products – rather than people – short distances. It is one of a new breed of operators that provides a digital platform for independent cab owners to tap into. Fundamentally they adhere to the crowdsourced-type concept that brings disparate parties together.

So what is the prospect for such services?  Ask yourself the question – if it were possible to simply pick up your phone and have a guaranteed delivery of distress-purchase goods in a mere 60 minutes – would you be interested?  It is possible there would be a significant number of people willing to pay the premium for such a personalised speedy service and avoid the hassle of the ‘dash’ to the nearest shop.

Because of its premium nature it can be complementary to the more standard delivery options currently available from retailers. It also requires only modest investment as it does not rely on complex logistics. It’s merely about the availability of people.

It’s very early days in the use of crowdsourcing by retailers but in other areas it has proven itself to be very beneficial. Consider how it has morphed into crowdfunding and revitalised the area of low-value fundraising.

This broadening out into other areas will undoubtedly continue and the ramifications for retail will be far-reaching so it seems clear that merchants should at the very least be investigating how this exciting development can complement and enhance their customer proposition.

Sponsored column by Sarah Wilson, retail specialist at consultancy Egremont Group