Not being home during business hours is normal, but it can be terribly inconvenient for certain errands. At a time when technology is burgeoning and a large chunk of commerce is done online, it seems like the convenience of online services is wasted once you have to deal with offline nuisances, such as needing to pick up your order from a package facility or rushing to the dry cleaners on your lunch break.
Check out three companies trying to tackle the problem of running errands with city-focused, high-tech solutions.
1. Picking Up Packages With Amazon Lockers
If you worry about a package sitting at your doorstep all day, if you live in an apartment building without a package room or if your service redirects packages to a facility when you aren’t home, ordering items can be more trouble than it’s worth.
You may have found ways around this, such as getting packages delivered to work, etc., but Amazon‘s locker option is a surefire way to know exactly where your package is delivered, and it allows you to easily pick it up whenever you want to.
“Amazon Lockers are self-service pick-up stations located in local neighborhoods,” an Amazon spokesperson told Mashable. “When customers ship Amazon orders to an Amazon Locker, they can pick up their packages at a time and place that’s convenient for them.”
When you reach checkout on your Amazon order, you can choose to have your package delivered directly to a locker at a participating location: supermarkets, convenience stores, 7-Elevens and more. The Amazon Lockers system doesn’t work for very large packages, but you’ll know if your order is eligible for the service before you check out.
Once your package is delivered, you receive an email notification with a special six-digit code and the hours of the business where the lockers are located. When you go to pick up your package, you can type in your code on the touchscreen, and the locker containing your package will open.
Don’t worry if you can’t get to your locker right away. Your package will be kept there for five days, and if you can’t pick it up by then, it will be returned for a full refund.
This shipping feature is currently available for residents of Seattle, New York City, Washington, D.C., and London, but other sets of Amazon Lockers have been popping up in other locations, so keep your eyes open for one in your area.
2. Dry Cleaning With DashLocker
Dry cleaning is a useful service for your expensive or delicate clothes, which would be ruined if washed with regular soap and water. But as necessary as this service may be for certain fabrics, the dry cleaning process is unnecessarily inconvenient, whether you’re picking up, dropping off or waiting for home delivery.
For that reason, certain companies have assimilated a locker system into their business models, allowing customers to pick up and drop off their dry cleaning when it’s convenient for them. New York City-based company DashLocker, however, has built its business model around this locker system, and it has a deeper commitment to using technology.
“Dry cleaning still operates on the hours and terms of the dry cleaner, not the customer,” says Bob Hennessy, founder and CEO of DashLocker. “No business can survive in the age of Yelp or TaskRabbit with that kind of service. What DashLocker does with ease is provide customers around-the-clock access to their items — including Sundays and late overnight. By enabling easy access to a secure facility, and backing the service up with highly functional technology, we believe we’re able to make dry cleaning as seamless a chore as withdrawing $40 from the ATM.”
Hennessy says most of DashLocker’s competitors try to use lockers as a way to increase volume in facilities they currently own and operate, which means it’s more of a convenience for existing customers than for potential customers. DashLocker’s dedication to technology sets it apart from the competition.
“We bar-code and photograph each item of dry cleaning we receive. This makes the identification of garments much easier in busy, crowded plants that often have thousands of items circulating at any given time. These photographs are automatically uploaded to customer accounts, and can be viewed instantaneously, since the software we run is web-based,” he explains.
DashLocker’s use of technology will be further amplified by the introduction of the company’s mobile app sometime within the next few months.
So how does the service actually work? Once customers register online, they can drop off their clothes at a DashLocker location, securing them with a special PIN code. Their clothes are returned between 24 and 36 hours in a bar-coded bag that allows for direct billing to customers’ credit cards. Customers are notified via text when their dry cleaning is ready.
It’s also part of DashLocker’s mission to employ green, earth-friendly technology. The company’s dry cleaning partner, Ken Kinzer of Bridgestone Cleaners, operates GreenEarth dry cleaning machines, which use liquid silicone, just like many shampoos, conditioners and lotions. Hennessy described liquid silicone as “basically liquefied sand, and when broken down it deteriorates into sand, water and carbon dioxide — natural elements whose exposure doesn’t put anyone at risk.” For wash and fold services, DashLocker uses Vaska brand products, a green detergent certified as “natural” by the EPA. In fact, Vaska product is safe to drink, although it’s not exactly delicious. These products replace typical perchloroethylene (or “perc”), which is a harmful chemical that’s banned in California.
In between drop-off and pick-up, DashLocker ships the clothes via truck to Bridgestone in DUMBO, Brooklyn, which is an issue of sustainability that the DashLocker team struggles with at this stage in the company’s development.
“Right now our volumes don’t justify building a dedicated plant for ourselves,” Hennessy explains. “They justify focusing on sales, tightening our operational processes and ensuring the mid- to long-term health of the company. This requires the use of wholesale vendors who can do our cleaning for us. Since our commitment is to use GreenEarth, as we believe it to be the best green solution on the market, we are in a bit of bind from a geography standpoint.”
Hennessy added, “We feel strongly that by moving away from perc, we’ve answered the most critical green question, and that in time (hopefully very quickly), we will have the ability to move all of our processes in-house to further shrink our carbon footprint.”
Amid fast-paced city living, DashLocker allows customers to easily integrate dry cleaning into their daily routines. “We’re focused on a few key initiatives, all three of which are, unfortunately, somewhat foreign to the dry cleaning industry: customer service, accountability and round-the-clock convenience,” Hennessy says.
The DashLocker team is trying to take a methodical approach to its expansion, and Hennessy hopes the company serves every neighborhood in Manhattan by the end of 2013.
3. Personal Assistance With Zaarly
It might take a lot to admit that you can’t do everything on your to-do list, but the truth is, everyone needs a little help once in a while.
When you can’t find a service that caters to your specific needs, Zaarly can help you fill in the gaps. Using the site, you can post and ask for just about anything. All you need to do is type in the items or services you’re looking for and wait to receive offers from people in your area.
Need someone to organize a party? Zaarly can help you hire a temporary event planner. Want someone to handle tedious tasks on a busier-than-normal workday? Find a one-time personal assistant. Zaarly users looking for work in your community will offer their services, and you can choose the best offer. You’re not obligated to accept any offers if you don’t like them; if you’re not willing to pay a certain amount, you can move on.
The best thing about Zaarly is that there’s no task too small to ask for, as long as someone’s willing to do it. So, if you’re swamped at work but need to get some toiletries before the store closes, go ahead and use Zaarly to hire someone to run to the drugstore to make your day a little easier.
Which errands do you take care of through technology? Let us know in the comments.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, iPandastudio
Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/05/tech-city-errands/