Have you got what it takes to be a secret shopper?

By Kristina Jovanovski
Business reporter, Istanbul

  • Published
Media caption,

The firm transforming market research

Meet 29-year-old Hakan Sevgin. He is helping to improve consumer products and shops around the world.

A Turkish man who lives in Istanbul, Hakan doesn't work for any retail firm. Instead he is a stage lighting manager in a theatre.

Yet he is continuing to help retail companies around the world improve the products they sell, and the shops in which we buy them.

So what does Hakan do? In his spare time he is a secret shopper and product tester for a Turkish market research company called Twentify.

Twentify has just 27 permanent employees, and has only been going for three years, but its global clients now include Coca-Cola, Danone, KFC, Philips, L'Oreal, Samsung, and Unilever.

Image caption,
Hakan Sevgin earns money doing regular jobs via Twentify's Bounty app, such as photographing storefronts

The firm is one of a new breed of market research companies that are transforming a global industry worth $44.3bn (£33.4bn) in 2015.

Instead of needing an army of employees to conduct interviews or tests, Twentify uses a crowdsourcing model to connect directly with tens of thousands of members of the public via its app, which is called Bounty.

So anyone with a smartphone in the countries where Twentify operates can use the Bounty app to do some research for it, and get paid in return.

For example, if a chocolate-maker in the US wants to make sure that its bars are being correctly positioned in the stores of a certain retailer, it can ask Twentify to get a mass of Bounty users to find out.

Each would then be asked to go to a store, and surreptitiously take a photo, and the geo-locator function on their phone would confirm that they did indeed go to the right place.

They simply upload the photo via the app, and get paid $15 for their troubles. Bounty users can be tasked with reviewing whether staff are sufficiently friendly and professional, for instance, or if the store is clean enough.

Meanwhile, they can also get paid for testing products or carrying out surveys from their own home. A growing number of apps have very similar business models, such as Findyr, Eyes On, Gigwalk, and Field Agent.

Image caption,
Twentify and its rivals are using apps to transform the market research industry

Hakan started using Bounty in 2015, and says he has now made a total of $735. He admits to being very nervous the first time he was a secret shopper.

"My first attempt, I was excited and I was shy," he says. "I was thinking it would seem like it would be difficult to do the task. In fact we are doing these things in our daily lives [testing products and stores]. I realised that later on, which made it easier."

Twentify is the brainchild of 27-year-old Turkish entrepreneur and the firm's chief executive, Ilker Inanc.

Previously a software developer for an Instanbul marketing agency, he quit because he wanted to start his own company.

The idea for Twentify was born when Ilker realised that carrying out market research via an app could get results more quickly and cheaply than carrying out more traditional surveys which need a team of staff going out with clipboards, or doing phone interviews.

Image caption,
Ilker Inanc admits that running a business has its stressful moments

To attract business customers from around the world the firm advertises on the internet, while most of the members of the public who use its Bounty app join after being told about it by friends.

Twentify has now worked with more than 150 business clients in Canada, Turkey and the US. More than 330,000 people have downloaded its Bounty app to do market research in those three countries plus Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Thailand, and Ukraine.

The aim is to expand further internationally, but Ilker admits that it has not all been plain sailing since the firm was founded in 2014.

A year and a half ago the company was not meeting the high growth targets he had set, so salaries and budgets had to be adjusted.

Image caption,
People can earn money doing surveys for a number of firms via their mobile phones

"I remember sitting in a meeting room in the office and going through all this stuff that I had to do, and suddenly I realised there were tears coming out of my eyes," he says.

"It was not because I was sad it was just the pressure, stress levels were high."

The firm has also had to wrestle with the different banking systems across the world, to ensure that its users are promptly paid.

  • This is the fourth story in a new series called Connected Commerce, which every week highlights companies around the world that are successfully exporting, and trading beyond their home market.

Twentify has yet to make an annual profit as it instead invests to grow. This year it expects to see revenues reach $1.2m, with a loss of between £500,000-600,000.

Backed by private investors, including Welsh-Canadian billionaire Terry Matthews, Twentify aims to increase its revenues to $10m by 2018.

The company is also planning to relocate its headquarters to Toronto, Canada, but still maintain its existing office in Istanbul.

Image source, Chris McGrath
Image caption,
Turkey does not have a large community of young start-up firms

Ilker admits that being a young company in Turkey can be hard as the country doesn't have a large start-up community, so it can be difficult to gain investment, both in terms of finance and mentoring support.

Can Selcuki, a board member of the Istanbul-based think tank Centre for Economic and Foreign Relations Research, agrees that this is an issue for Turkish start-ups.

Image caption,
The global market research sector is huge

"If you have an investor you don't just need the money, you also need their business knowhow, their connections, their mentorship basically, and I think that is the biggest obstacle in Turkey that tech start-ups face."

Ilker says that moving the head office to Canada is needed in order to expand worldwide.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Twentify will soon be moving its main base to Toronto, but will keep its office in Turkey

"Going global from North America is much easier for a tech start-up, you are closer to the capital, you are closer to big brands, big clients," he says.

"We have to make sure we are positioning ourselves not as a Turkish company, but as a global company."

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