As it may deprive me of a rich source of income, I hesitate to relay this story lest my unheralded gravy train becomes exposed to the world. But my enthusiasm for the company that has created such a brilliant confluence of mobile applications, crowdsourcing and reward economy makes me want to shout it out loud for all the digerati to hear. The mobile app is Field Agent (with which I have absolutely no affiliation other than my newfound crush) and in the last half of 2013, this free utility has helped me procure thousands of dollars.
I do this. Ask my friends. I had similar love for the Dyson DC58 Handle Vacuum and further back, of course, The Clapper. But, I’ve got a new more modern love – and it has made my day.
In its simplest terms, Field Agent is the mobilization and crowdsourcing version of secret shopping. Secret shopping in the offline world can be a complex endeavor both in the sourcing of opportunities as well as in the instructions necessary to complete a task. Field Agent simplifies and democratizes the process.
A brand may want to know a variety of things about how their products are being displayed. Is the pricing correct? Is it displayed with similar products? Is it on the promotional end cap? Is the shelf space empty? Or dirty? A store may also want to test the knowledge of its salespeople by having a Field Agent inquire about a product and note the feedback received.
A company could hire regional employees or contractors to spot check area stores ensuring contractual obligations are being met or to make competitive comparisons. It could also reward everyday ‘non-industry’ people to shop on its behalf. For a year, my wife was once asked to go ‘incognito’ into a high-end spa on a monthly basis, spend up to $300 on services for which she was reimbursed, and report her findings to the research company. That was a great gig.
Or you could create an app in which brands ask strangers to complete simple tasks – find a product on a shelf, report a price, answer a few questions about shelf space, take a picture for proof – and pay between $2 and $12 for each task. There is no relationship or contract and it usually is fairly straightforward. It’s a brilliant play for all parties involved. Instead of spending significant money on secret shoppers, brands are getting a much more diverse population giving them real-time feedback for a fraction of the cost. The stores may be getting additional traffic they wouldn’t otherwise be getting. The users get a little extra cash for basically going about their day and maybe making a few extra side trips. For me, it was over $2,300.
When I heard about this last summer, I decided to test its worthiness. As I am in a fantasy football league with an entry fee of $375, I committed to using the app so that I wouldn’t have to put a dime into the league. Everything would come from Field Agent rewards. Could I earn enough from this app to give me a free pass for the football season?
One of the first things is to take ‘screener’ quizzes. These do not pay money but ask a few questions about your purchasing and consumption habits. It allows Field Agent to direct more tasks to your account (Not every ‘Agent’ sees every task. An agent gets more/better tasks the more he or she successfully completes. Answering screening questions helps along those endeavors.) Over the few months I tested this app, I took 45 screening challenges. Each only took a couple of minutes.
There are the general product searches, shelf audits and display inquiries that made up the majority of my tasks. For these, I never had to go much out of my way; the most being part of my normal shopping routine. I completed 22 of these tasks for $94.
The most interesting tasks were ‘store front audits’ in which you go to an address, take a picture of both the store front and, if possible, the interior. The quest was to find out if ABC Electronics or some business was at XYZ address. Almost always it ended up being a residential home nowhere near any business district or a boarded up and emptied store front in a desolate strip mall. It made me feel like I was a private investigator – “Look out, Veronica Mars!” I assume the inquiring electronics company may have been shipping product to a fraudulent address. The greatest part of store front audits is that they paid twice as much as the average task – usually $9 – $12. I made $86 on these alone.
I live about 25 miles outside of New York City. I didn’t know if there would be enough jobs in suburbia. Is a metropolitan area more advantageous in earning greater rewards (more opportunities in a smaller area)? Many of the audits are in national chains. So while New York has a Starbucks, McDonalds and Walgreens on every corner, there is a notable dearth of Home Depots and Walmarts. There is a suburban advantage in that respect. However, last summer, I noticed an ‘NYC bar audit’ in which the Field Agent was to answer a few questions and take a picture of the most visible bottles being displayed. Unlike a CVS or Walgreens audit where there may be 10 suburban options in a 20 mile radius, this bar audit offered over 800 locations to choose from. If I recall, the reward was $6 or $8 each. One could have spent a weekend and likely have hit over 100 venues in New York. That is some serious scratch from a free app.
If you did the math, you would notice that I have listed earnings of $180 from my Field Agent opportunities. So why do I say I earned $2,300? After my fantasy football draft last August, I ended up with a team consisting of, among other all-stars, the #1 QB (Peyton Manning), #1 RB (Jamaal Charles), #2 WR (Demaryius Thomas), #2 TE (Vernon Davis) and the #1 K (Matt Prater). By mid October it became apparent I was going to swipe the majority of the season awards and stopped contributing. By the end of the season, I won over $2,300.
But it all started by downloading a fantastic, fun and free mobile app.
Marc Baskin is the co-founder of inControl Ads, a technology platform that puts consumers in control of their advertising experiences across all devices and screens. He has helped several start-ups go from just a few people, to public companies. Marc frequently writes pieces regarding the industry, as well as culture, history, and science.