Regular readers will know I love living in Spain. However, there are occasionally things I miss about the UK, and this includes the fact that the UK market is of much earlier adopter of a number of online services.
Pure online services of course are location-independent, but there are a great many excellent ideas which operate via a combination of the online and real-world space, bringing the best of both worlds to users. And these require an infrastructure to support them offline of course.
Doddle is a good example. I am lucky enough to work from home and have done so for many years, but if you don’t work from home it must be so difficult to arrange for delivery of items from online retailers – never mind if you have to return something. Rather than waiting in for a courier or post- person, Doddle enables you to drop off and collect packages on your way to or from work.
I first saw them at their new depot in Waterloo station, which they were leafleting and promoting heavily this summer. Of course if you’d made an error of judgement in expensive catalogue shopping, you would have to lug your parcel into London on the train – but then you would simply leave it at Doddle for the courier to collect. And your replacement goods or other deliveries would be delivered to Doddle, who would then text or email you to let you know you could collect them on your way back to the station.
Clearly designed for the lifestyles of busy commuters, obviously this one is not going to catch on in a small Spanish town – but I like the way they have solved a problem which was created by the Internet and online shopping really, using communications technology and leveraging the value of people’s time in relation to where they are only to be. And I could definitely envisage an adapted use for it here, in a country where lots of people don’t receive mail or deliveries easily to their door anyway…
Being able to eat at one’s desk is both a blessing and a curse for the average home-based worker. When the fridge is just a few steps away, this can create all sorts of problems – but access to food is not one of them. if you work in an office in the city however, you’ve either got to make time to prepare and bring filled in from home or pay crazy amounts in local Sandwich bars or coffee shops. The compromise between health, affordability and taste is not an easy one to get right. And perhaps post-recession the idea of a lunch break is very much a thing of the past anyway – what you need is food you can eat at your desk.
Graze.com started out delivering fresh fruit snacks to offices in a small delivery area, but now send their Graze boxes by post across the UK – and are increasingly penetrating the US and other markets. Still not Spain, although I will be their first and best customer once they do. It works on a subscription basis, you can choose from a huge range of little snack packs arranged in boxes of four, which get delivered daily to your workplace. Depending on your tastes, you can go sweet, savoury, or a combination – and you also have a wide degree of discretion between the healthier end of the market and the yummier or more self-indulgent choices. Bring it to me!
Finally Uber.com, which as we have seen is causing major disruption to the licenced cab industries in many European cities, provoking responses from legal challenges to violence and sabotage against drivers and their vehicles – no one in an entrenched industry likes to be undercut.
But whenever I go to London I love using Uber. You request on the app, get told how far away your car is – and see the driver’s name, image and feedback score, as he makes his way towards you on the map. A clean modern car (usually a Prius, on the basic non-luxury service which is all I use) takes you to your destination, without subjecting you to their political views and racist banter, and you are not allowed to tip him (even if he gets your cases out of the car boot and carries them over to the ticket barrier for you for the Gatwick Express – thanks Samir, you got a well-deserved 5 stars from me).
Instead you get a crystal-clear receipt emailed to you within about 10 minutes showing the route and timings taken and the charge off your credit card. You can easily manage multiple payment sources within the app too, handy if you quickly find yourself wanting to use it for business as well as pleasure. And less than £9 from Paddington to Victoria, well that is far closer to minicab prices than black cab, no question.
Some minor drawbacks are the fact that the price goes up at busy times – ‘surge pricing’, which Uber describes as intended to tempt more drivers out to work when the demand is there (all drivers are self-employed free agents who are not tied to shifts. All those I have spoken to found they earned more than in previous roles with private hire, and felt safer not carrying cash and having their movements tracked at all times by the app). They also cannot use cab and bus lanes in London which can slow things up.
All things considered though I would love to have these three services here in Spain, so please hurry up and get over here. We love it, you will too!
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Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, September 5th 2014
Casslar Consulting SL