The Supply Side: App offers real-time answers to retail questions

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 352 views 

Price checks on a product in 2,500 stores could take two to three days to complete. Fayetteville-based Field Agent is pushing its Jicco application with the goal of reducing that time down to 15 minutes.

Rick West, co-founder of Field Agent, said retail and supplier clients would often say they just need to know “this” right now. This, West explained, is more like someone leaving a meeting with Wal-Mart Stores needing to immediately know the price of milk in five Southeast states. He said they don’t have to call Field Agent and set up a project. They simply take out their phone, and in the Jicco app ask, “What is the price of milk at Aldi in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas.”

Jicco will access “Field Agents” in the states mentioned and ask for a photo of the milk price at Aldi. Those photos are evaluated and the subscriber will get an answer in an average of 15 minutes.

“This really happens more than you think,” West said. “Suppliers and retailers want to get quick answers to see if there is a systemic problem or if it’s just a regional issue. Jicco can provide quick answers right from their mobile phone. It’s possible they could ask the question in a meeting and get the answer before they leave that meeting.”

When asked why it took Field Agent seven years to launch Jicco, West said it took almost that long for the company to get the critical mass it needed in field agents dispersed around the U.S. He said that number is now just shy of 1 million field agents willing to take on quick jobs in their geographic areas.

West was clear that Jicco is not a replacement for Field Agent projects, it’s just another tool for retail and supplier professionals to use when the question at hand is smaller in scale and requires a quick answer. West said if the Jicco answer on the milk question showed Walmart’s milk price to be much higher than Aldi’s in the majority of those states, then the client might want to contract with Field Agent for a more comprehensive project that might check 2,500 store locations against Aldi. He said that project might take three days to complete, which is still fast. But if the Jicco answer showed the milk price to be higher at Walmart in just one or two states, a broader test might not be necessary.

Jicco is not a free service. It requires a monthly subscription. West declined to give the cost until it goes live. He did say it’s a nominal cost for professionals who need the service. He also said clients who need to know the answer now will pay a premium over typical Field Agent costs. He said if they can wait three days or so for an answer, it’s better to use Field Agent.

“If you were to ask Google about milk prices at Aldi you might see a story from three months ago or perhaps Aldi’s ad,” West said. “But it’s hard to get the exact price at multiple specific locations this minute. Jicco does that.”

Field Agent launched a beta test of Jicco on March 28 with 10 of its core clients. When asked if there have been any revelations in the beta, West said clients tried hard to trick Jicco by asking the most bizarre questions possible.

“We have been somewhat surprised at how retail-focused the questions have been,” he said. “We thought they might use it for more research-type questions about consumers and what they are doing at home. We haven’t seen it used for research right now. We still think there’s a great opportunity for it to be used in research because of the time restraints in typical research,” West said.

West said a couple of years ago he was in a meeting with a retail buyer and focus groups conducting research about how many first-aid kits people have in their homes. The focus group said three. The buyer didn’t believe it, saying they probably had one they moved from room to room as needed. West called Field Agent and posed an immediate question to check with consumers. Field Agent got one person in each state— 50 participants — to respond quickly. The answer, received in three hours while the meeting was still underway, was 3.5 first aid kits per home.

“The buyer was amazed and stood corrected on a category they thought they knew,” West said. “Field Agent and Jicco can provide answers on many topics in a short period of time at a low cost overall compared to traditional research.”

He said the majority of usage is coming from retail, brand marketing and sales people who ask retail oriented questions to which they need a quick answer — and it can’t be Googled. West said the other learning in the beta test is the same question being asked multiple times.

“We are going to begin building a database of the answers for each client,” West said. “For instance, if someone at Kraft asked a certain price question, everyone on their team at Kraft could see the answer. And the next question could be slightly different so people don’t waste time and money asking the same question.”

He said the databases will be proprietary by client. Other brands can’t see the questions Kraft or any other client asks. West said the hot issues retail and brand clients want quick answers on involve, e-commerce, Aldi and H-E-B. He said fresh and organic are two other topics with frequent questions.

West said one brand client wanted to know what their Walmart, Dollar General and Target teams are asking to give them perspective on what is happening in the market. He said brands that mine their own questions could begin to see trends develop in a business they might otherwise miss.
Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.