IRI Forms New Research Alliance With Gigwalk

'Gigwalkers' Will Audit Stores, Conduct Surveys and Ultimately Track Sales

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IRI Worldwide, a major player in conventional U.S. market research, is forming an alliance with Gigwalk, one of the largest of a growing breed of mobile-enabled independent data collectors.

Gigwalk, with a 95% U.S. and 5% Canadian contingent of 800,000 independent contractors, is joining with IRI, a research shop focused on retail point-of-sale data, shopper-marketing audits and media analytics. IRI ranked 8th in the research industry globally last year with nearly $1 billion in sales, according to RFL Communications.

To date, much of the growing industry of independent mobile data collection industry has focused on creating alternatives to retailer point-of-sales systems to collect sales data, such as those who feed IRI's syndicated scanner data. Some panels also audit how well stores are implementing promotion programs. But Gigwalk is a more generalized "distributed workforce," which also has its contractors conduct syndicated or custom surveys.

Gigwalk has already been doing store audits for packaged-goods players, and the IRI partnership looks to extend such "flash audit" projects that can be turned around 48 hours. With the IRI partnership, Gigwalk will also likely look to have its "Gigwalkers" collect their own retail sales data, Mr. Hale said, which would make it one of the biggest panels for that purpose.

But one of the biggest potential impacts is improving the rate at which stores comply with brand promotion plans, which now averages "around 50% to 60%, and we think we can get it to at least 70% or 80%," he said.

Gigwalk participants are paid as little as $3 to snap a photo of a store display up to $70 or $80 for a more involved assignment, such as conducting surveys or doing sometimes extensive product inventories. Among Gigwalk's clients has been Pfizer, which used it to track in-store promotion compliance for its recent rollout of Nexium, Mr. Hale said.

One reason Gigwalk brought up the idea of a partnership with IRI was repeatedly seeing its data fed into consumer packaged goods brand presentation decks along with IRI analytics, Mr. Hale said. The partnership will help facilitate that flow of Gigwalk retail execution data into IRI's platform for marketing analytics and make it easier to conduct custom surveys of select groups, such as people who've just tried a new product.

Arvind Ramakrishnan, exec-VP of global field operations at IRI, listed "speed of implementation" and the ability to analytically link data on store conditions with point-of-sale data among top benefits from the partnership.

While the IRI-Gigwalk alliance focuses on the U.S. and Canada, another growing research proposition from Findyr is focused more on custom research into hard-to-reach markets globally and well beyond CPG. Findyr bills itself as "an offline search engine" that uses its 50,000 participants to delve into the "small data" that mining "big data" sets alone just can't unearth even with the best analytics tools, said founder and CEO Anthony Vinci.

That work includes store audits, price checking and conducting custom surveys among many other things on a sliding scale similar to that of Gigwalk but with a workforce that's often made up of college students looking to get into marketing or research.

Projects have included having "Findyrs" scour multiple toy stores in eight countries and 30 cities for Lego to determine pricing and brand distribution. For TGIF, Findyrs assessed restaurants of competitors in South Africa and Romania, checking pricing, order sizes and customer counts, then conducted post-meal surveys, as the chain looked to expand to those countries. And for a yet-to-be-named competitor looking to enter China's seaweed-snack business, Findyrs checked prices and store availability and took pictures in Chengdu, China.

Such projects are often on a "double blind" basis, so the researchers don't know who they're working for, and the marketer doesn't know who the researchers are, Mr. Vinci said. But the cost is low enough, that even if marketers have qualms about accuracy, they can conduct multiple projects for cross verification, he said.

"A lot of our work is multinationals looking to expand globally, and trying to understand consumer sentiment locally," Mr. Vinci said. The necessary field work would be difficult or impossible to do in markets where syndicated research is scant or unreliable.

In other cases, Mr. Vinci said brands have begun turning to Findyr beyond research to shoot video that helps give global marketing campaigns some local flavor around the world.

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