The burgeoning craze for posting photos online is having some unexpected consequences. Over two million photos are uploaded every twenty minutes on to Facebook, according to the company’s official figures. The latest move to capitalise on this trend is the ‘shelfie’, a composite word which means snapping a pic with your smartphone – but of a store shelf or other retail display rather than of yourself. Boston-based startup Shelfie has developed a mobile app and negotiated agreements with store chains so that helpful snappers can accumulate points – and end up with rewards – for each missing product they come across while shopping. The way it works is that you can take a photo of an empty space on a shelf, ensuring that the product label/code is clearly visible so that the store can identify the missing product. You then indicate where exactly you are. You receive points for this service which, when added up, will entitle you to claim vouchers and coupons from the stores concerned. When Shelfie founder C.J. Acosta first launched his app he made a deal with leading supermarket chain Walmart to give a $5 voucher for every hundred shelfies sent in and accepted by the store’s logistics platform so that customers who take a moment to help their local store with its stocking and help brands to raise their profile can obtain some recompense.
Micro-management through crowdsourcing
As befits a graduate of the Cincinnati, Ohio incubator ‘The Brandery’, Shelfie’s long-term ambition is basically marketing-oriented. Over time the startup’s service will provide a means for brands to get to know their customers – and their engagement with particular products – better, including such details as the day and time when a product is bought, how long its consumer appeal lasts, and so on. Store management currently lacks this kind of bottom-up micrologistics and massive retail chains such as Walmart have to manage such volumes of stock that it is extremely difficult to maintain perfect equilibrium between customer purchases and available products at every moment of the day. Clearly customers are well-placed to help supermarkets with the necessary bottom-up real-time information that will enable store management to arrange their shelves optimally and avoid any waste of time and resources on monitoring retail flows across the huge store space. This is precisely where Selfie aims to score. In addition, photo-based feedback will enable management to handle damaged goods – which account for a substantial percentage of wastage in supermarkets – in an appropriate way. In the long term, however, Acosta is hoping that this crowdsourcing approach to stock-taking will enable Shelfie to monetise data for use in more marketing-oriented applications.
Channelling users’ motivations
One question is of course how Shelfie can avoid users cheating on the system by dishonestly clearing shelves before snapping the ‘empty’ space and claiming their reward points. The company promises to expel any users found to have been acting maliciously but this might still be a sensitive point. However, in contrast to other similar apps in the retail sphere, such as Gigawalk and GoSpotCheck, Shelfie does not pay users to go out and gather store data. The app is simply an extra link in the traditional purchasing chain, and consumers will simply add shelfie-snapping to the general in-store purchasing experience. The company has identified mothers as its primary target audience. The initial data available indicate that mothers tend to use the Shelfie service to voice their discontent with their local supermarket’s policies rather than to gain a reward. Once users have signed up with the app it is proving much easier than expected to get them involved, probably because in-store frustrations are sufficient to motivate people to use the service regularly. With this in mind, the app offers the option of converting the points accumulated into a donation to a charitable organisation such as DonorsChoose.org.