7 years ago Alexander Gale and his Swedish wife, who had married in London, returned to her hometown of Gothenburg with a view to settling down and starting a family. At first he found it almost impossible to find work, so eventually he decided to take matters into his own hands: “All I had were my body and my bicycle”, he recalls, “So I decided to become a delivery rider”.
The winters in Sweden are notoriously harsh, and after making a name for himself as a reliable and enterprising courier, Alex was able to replace his bike with a van. “I was driving for a small firm”, he remembers, “with just a few employees and I spent an awful lot of time just sitting in the van waiting for the next job. I decided I’d be better off driving for myself. That’s when I had the idea for Bringson.”
“Uber for Couriers”, is a pretty accurate way of describing Alex’s idea. Bringson is a platform and app that you either subscribe to as a customer, or as a courier firm or driver. Once registered, a courier driver will be notified whenever a job appears in their area. The benefit for the customer is that they save on delivery cost. Bringson same-day deliveries are typically at least 20% less than the normal market rate.
Currently the service works on a first come first served basis, and there is nothing stopping a driver completing multiple deliveries at once. “It’s a no brainer, really”, says Alex, “now that we have the technology, a service like Bringson becomes almost an inevitability.”
Alex has developed the app with 4 Swedish friends; a marketing expert who works for a multi-national in Gothenburg, his brother, who happens to be a superlative coder, a young project manager and a branding specialist. Together, they are keen to exploit their first mover advantage, and although Gothenburg represents the perfect place to incubate and trial the product, it is in London where the team see the business really taking off.
“At this stage it’s all about widening the user base” Alex believes. “The last time I was in London I spent 5 days out on the streets, talking to any drivers I could find. We targeted specific areas where we thought there would be a high concentration of couriers working; we even found out which pubs they liked to drink at and went there in the evenings. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive”.
And why wouldn’t it be? Although Alex is careful to steer clear of calling Bringson a “disruptive” business, emphasising the quality of the service he is providing, which will proactively request feedback from customers and operate a “2 or 3 strikes and you’re out” policy (“I haven’t decided which one yet”), there is no doubt he is right on the money when foreseeing change in the way that courier services are run in the light of new technology.
“Traditionally a London based business, let’s say a City Law firm, will appoint a particular courier provider, but obviously there will be times when that provider will not have any couriers available and the firm will have to wait for their parcels or goods to be delivered, which is not ideal for them. Bringson solves that problem without compromising quality because it will be able to call on a large database of currently idle drivers and riders.”
According to research agency Mintel the UK will send more than 2 billion packages in 2014, at a total cost of around £7.1bn. Around 40% of all deliveries will be for retail and consumer goods, and, perhaps most intriguingly for Companies like Bringson, the online retail market is maturing fast, growing around 86% between 2009 and 2013. Small ecommerce sites are unlikely to have formalised courier arrangements in place, making the Bringson app a perfect fit for their smaller scale requirements.
A concept like Bringson certainly throws up all sorts of questions about the future of the delivery industry. What kind of pricing structure is most appropriate? Are jobs put out to tender or is the price of the job decided before it is made public? What cut do companies like Bringson take (for purposes of comparison, Just Eat takes a 12% cut of delivery orders made via its platform)? Can anybody re-invent themselves as a delivery driver if they happen to find themselves with a couple of hours to spare?
“We’ve been developing an algorithm with the help of Chalmers University in Gothenburg that we hope will be able to group jobs together and stay on top of orders, so we can optimise the process and get the best price we can for consumers, whilst making it worthwhile for the drivers, too”, says Alex, it’s hard to find the right balance in the early stages. It will take time, but at the end of the day couriers will have the opportunity to earn something where previously they were earning nothing, and consumers will find it cheaper and easier to get their packages delivered. That’s the goal. We are looking at a figure of around 10% of the job as our service fee.”
“There is going to be change in the industry, we can be sure of that. Technology also lets us introduce other concepts, like gamification, customer reviews, and introducing related services and products. The data we collect will also be valuable to market research agencies who use data mining and analytics to provide industry research and insight. That is a huge market, one day it could possibly be as large a source of income as the deliveries themselves”.
And what about the much talked about Amazon drones that experts seem to think are months, rather than years away? “The last I heard”, says Alex, “A drone cannot ring your doorbell, wait for you to answer and greet you with a smile and a “good morning”. If your package is fragile or perishable, you’d better make sure you’re in because a drone is not going take proper care of it for you.”
Sometimes science can get ahead of itself, when all it really takes is a bit of programming, a smart phone, some good old fashioned British common sense, and service with a smile. If Alex can deliver that, he might find himself streets ahead of the competition.