How one market research firm innovates shopper panel operations with Microblink

August 5, 2022
How one market research firm innovates shopper panel operations with Microblink

Challenge: Accelerating time to insight

As consumer expectations and preferences continue to rapidly evolve, brands and retailers need to stay on their toes, quickly identifying and responding to new business opportunities and potential threats. To do this, the world’s largest companies rely on market research firms, whose first-party data and industry expertise helps to illuminate the who, what, when, where, and why of consumer spending that informs go-to market strategies, product development, and larger corporate initiatives. 

Microblink works with one such market research firm. The firm manages and analyzes millions of transactions every year from more than 100,000 individual shoppers to help clients across brick-and-mortar, e-commerce, and B2B navigate today’s changing retail landscape and unlock strategic growth. 

Back in 2020, the firm’s head of panel operations and data collection came to Microblink looking to upgrade our existing operations. Responsible for everything from member recruitment to data transcription and anti-fraud efforts, this individual and their team ensures that proof of purchase information is captured accurately and efficiently. This is the critical first step toward delivering valuable insights to clients, regarding consumer tastes and spending.

Like nearly every organization during that time, the research firm was facing unprecedented challenges to its operations with the spread of COVID-19. Historically, the company had relied on teams of people to manually review and annotate shopper panel purchases across millions of paper receipts each year. The reliance on manual annotation was inherently slow, time-consuming, and error-prone. As a result, the team was already evaluating ways to digitize its operations to enable a smoother experience for panelists and internal teams, along with a competitive advantage to clients on first-party consumer data.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to shift to remote work seemingly overnight, the firm faced unprecedented disruption to its business operations — at the exact moment its clients were desperate for insights into how consumers were responding to lockdowns and digital-only shopping avenues. 

Solution: Embedding AI-powered data processing

With high stakes and a tight timeline, the research firm team evaluated several vendors, including some of the largest incumbents in computer vision like ABBYY, Google, and Amazon. The data extraction performance of the chosen vendor was first and foremost, as other solutions left a lot to be desired when it came to extracting diverse data formats across inconsistent, often messy paper receipts. As the firm’s Executive Vice President put it:

“You need both technical expertise and understanding of the market to succeed, which is why Microblink is so good. The large players could read a little under half of the receipts we process with decent accuracy, but Microblink can read up to 90% with terrific accuracy. In practice, that gap is like the Grand Canyon.”

Microblink’s ability to work across diverse sets of data – critical when you consider the wide swath of merchants that need to be identified from such a large panel of shoppers  – and unmatched accuracy made the decision a no-brainer. With the ability to deliver over 95% accuracy, the firm could improve overall data quality with less time and resources. The automated approach also meant errors were more consistent and therefore easier to fix, applying logic and business rules to improve performance.

In addition, the firm was able to reduce the costs associated with its manual process, which enabled the company to invest those savings into recruiting – and rewarding – a larger panel. The impact of that investment is ultimately passed onto clients, who benefit from a larger, more representative sample of consumers and greater data insights.

The company’s Operations and Engineering departments moved quickly to incorporate Microblink’s AI-enabled Shopper Intelligence offering. Within weeks, the team was utilizing the receipt scanning mobile SDK within its checkout app, which is used by panel shoppers to track purchases. 

“When the pandemic started, we faced a sudden increase in demand for consumer insights, and the risk that our manual processes would be shut down. We needed to improve our operational efficiency – fast – and Microblink’s technology and partnership allowed us to automate a large portion of our data annotation process in a very short time.”
– Head of Panel Operations and Data Collection

The Future: Moving closer to real-time insights

Today, more than three quarters of the firm’s paper receipts are processed automatically using Microblink’s cutting-edge computer vision and AI. The result is a more seamless, efficient, and resilient process, end to end. The firm’s shoppers benefit from an easier user experience, the firm’s clients benefit from faster delivery of strong market intelligence, and the firm itself benefits from better data and more efficient, innovative data operations.

The market research firm is currently expanding its shopper panel innovations to new markets, while evaluating Microblink’s Shopper Intelligence offering and growing Commerce product suite in those regions.

Interested in learning more? Get in touch to speak with an expert member of our Commerce team.

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