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Zero Star Rating from TFL: What’s Next for Uber?

At The Value Engineers we like to think about Shockwaves; imaginary, yet plausible future scenarios that would have dramatic implications for businesses. This challenges brands to think critically about their current strategy and direction. The most destructive Shockwaves tend to be the ones that prevent a brand from doing business at all. But of course that rarely happens in real life.
It seems though, that sometimes life can throw up shockwaves of its own…

A few weeks ago Uber’s application for a new licence to operate in London has been rejected on the basis that the company is not “a fit and proper” operator. This means that, after a 21 day period, Uber could in theory not be allowed to operate in London at all. Specific details on this are currently unclear, although it seems their supposedly relaxed approach to passenger safety and driver vetting may be driving the decision by TFL.

It will be interesting to see how this story will evolve:

Will consumers revolt, and urge Uber to challenge the ruling as they shudder at the prospect of travelling only via the Night Tube, buses and regular black cabs?
Will new competitors sense the opportunity to move in and disrupt the world’s biggest disruptor with a better (and regulatory sound) product? Could Lyft seize this opportunity to enter the UK market with a more ethical approach?

What impact will this have on the Uber brand, already on the ropes following several internal crises?

Regardless, with Uber integrated into the lives of so many Londoners, the question on everyone’s mind must surely be this: what on earth are we all going to do that first Saturday night without Uber?

Answer: probably get the bus.

Originally posted on The Value Engineers’ blog.

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Imagining the Restaurant of the Future

A day spent musing on leading edge thinking at the Food and Drink Trends & Innovations Conference 2017 sparked many a thought about the future direction of this exciting and dynamic industry. One topic in particular (aside from of course the great presentation on innovation shared by Paul Gaskell and Steve Reeves) really got me thinking.

Listening to a discussion on restaurant trends, led by Anna Fenten from Levy Restaurants UK, I reflected on the following:

How different would a restaurant started in five years’ time look compared to now?

A focus on reducing food waste: Young Danish upstart Too Good To Go have recently launched in the UK. Their app connects restaurants who have surplus food at the end of service with customers wanting great food at a discount. It’s an excellent example of a business delivering a triple win; it gives restaurants a boost to their bottom line, it reduces food wastage, and is good for the end consumer who get a cheaper meal.

Further embracing of the takeaway customer: Deliveroo, Ubereats and JustEat have redefined the takeaway and enable consumers to enjoy restaurant quality food at home. Innovation in this industry is just getting started. Deliveroo have recently launched Deliveroo Editions last month, a series of “dark” kitchens for casual dining brands to rent and use solely for their takeaway customers. This allows restaurants to optimising their food for takeaway and take pressure off their own kitchens.

Greater use of technology to attract customers: Smart Home services like Google’s Echo and Amazon’s Alexa may soon be able to respond sensitively to the question “where shall we go for dinner?” by overlaying customer cuisine preferences, propensity to travel for food, and cross-reference with table availability (or takeaway delivery wait times). Surely this is more intuitive than panic Googling? The development of Facebook Messenger bot apps also enable restaurants to engage customers through new channels at just the right moment to entice them in.

A slicker in-restaurant experience: Eating out will mostly likely always need a human element, but soon many elements of service could become automated. Apps like CAKE and Qkr make paying the bill less of a pain, and brands like McDonald’s and Applebee’s are embracing self-service kiosks and iPads for great efficiency when ordering. Who knows, maybe your food will be delivered to your table by drone?

More flexible restaurant spaces: The rise of the pop-up restaurant allows for restaurateurs to trial new concepts more flexibly and at lower upfront cost. In fact, why shell out for a restaurant at all when you could host your restaurant in an inspiring space for a few months at a time before packing up and moving on? It helps make the high street more vibrant, allows for chefs to test more experimental ideas, as well as give established restaurant brands the opportunity to test their vision in new areas without investing too much first.

One thing is for sure. Disruption in the restaurant business is just getting started.

Originally published on The Value Engineers’ blog.

Ode to Uber: More than just a Taxi

So, I’m a bit of an Uber fan. Although admittedly a bit late to the party, the ease, flexibility and convenience of being able to summon a taxi at a moment’s notice has turned me into a complete Uber-phile. Let’s face it, I’m always going to be a fan of a service that is faster, cheaper and more convenient than the norm (a typical Millennial trait I’m sure you’ll agree).

The controversy of their ascent, aside, Uber has transformed the way we interact with taxis. From syncing your credit card to the app so you don’t have to worry about carrying cash, to seeing in real time how far your taxi is away, to developing a two-way feedback loop so that both driver and passenger know they’re in for a smooth journey, Uber has completely re-invented the industry. The question is, which industry will Uber re-invent next?

Because I really doubt Uber will be satisfied with just being a taxi company. Let’s think for a moment about what Uber has created. In one sense, Uber had created a network of taxis, allowing for a rapid response taxi service that transports people more responsively and more cheaply than existing taxi companies can. Yet in another sense, Uber has created a rapid response logistics network that has the capability to transport anything faster, cheaper and more conveniently than existing players.

 

If you start talking about Uber as a logistics company rather than a taxi company, you can begin to uncover the opportunities Uber has created for itself. What’s to stop Uber becoming…

…a rapid response food logistics operator, coming to the aid of the disorganised chef who’s run out of fish for tonight’s busy service at his restaurant?

…a mobile corner-shop, for the busy working mum who doesn’t have time to pop to the shops on her way home but still needs a pint of milk?

…a parcel delivery service, for the avid eBay seller who needs a parcel delivered quickly but doesn’t have the time to visit the Post Office? (I may be talking from personal frustration here)

 

The scary thing is, Uber is already doing some of these things. UberEats is a fantastic example of Uber’s potential. Currently in only a small number of cities, UberEats is (in Uber’s words):

…an on-demand meal delivery service powered by Uber. We partner with the best local restaurants to bring you a meal in 10 minutes or less. It’s the same cashless payment as an Uber ride. So all you need to do is tap a button and wait for the goodness to arrive.

In a shrewd tie-up from Unilever, Uber recently ran an activation with Wall’s ice-cream, enabling users to request ice-cream on demand. Not only did it generate a great buzz for both Uber and Wall’s, but it also uncovered an interesting thought: why bother letting your customers go to the shops and see competitor products alongside your own if your product, alone, can come to them?

With this and I’m sure, other partnerships in the pipeline, it seems that setting up the logistics network was only phase one for Uber. Phase two, the utilisation of that network, is just round the corner. The question is, will your business be a future partner or competitor to Uber?

 

Disruptive times lay ahead, and not just if you’re a cabbie.

WHY FOR ME, THE STARBUCKS CUP WILL ALWAYS BE HALF FULL

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“Why do I love Starbucks so much?” I mused, wistfully staring into the middle distance on a cloudy day, large cappuccino in hand, open copy of The Economist on the table in front.

Okay, so that didn’t happen.

And it’s not the most ground-breaking admission anyway. And yes, I know in recent times Starbucks have come under fire for their dubious tax policy. And no, I don’t like Starbucks just because they write my name on a cup.

But what is it about Starbucks that means I’d rather schlep there than face Costa, Caffe Nero, and a whole host of other independents?

When Howard Schultz came up with the idea for Starbucks whilst visiting coffee bars in Milan, he believed a coffee shop should be so much more than a place that served coffee. He envisioned Starbucks as being “the third space”- a safe space, away from the office and home, where customers could come and pick up their coffee, but more importantly somewhere they could stay too: a place to engage or rewind, to be active to work but passive to everyone else. It was this conception of the third space that was truly revolutionary; when the majority of Starbucks’ target audience split their time between work or home, Starbucks’ positioning as somewhere else you could go and socialise was powerful. Traditionally the British pub was (and still is) a comparable place: a safe space where you can meet friends and be yourself.

For me, that’s why Starbucks works. It means that no one will rush me out the door once I’ve drunk my coffee; it means that I can work and not be disturbed, or meet a friend and not be hushed. Because that’s the point- everything about Starbucks encourage you to stay for longer: its comfy chairs, funky jazz background music and muted colour scheme all encourage you to pause. And one could be cynical and say that this is so that per person Starbucks can squeeze an extra few pounds out of you, since one person is more likely to make multiple purchases over a prolonged period of time. Yet I don’t think that this would necessarily be the most cost-effective way to boost sales. Adopting a fast-service policy to get more customers through the door would surely be more effective, rather than waste space and money housing a multitude of languishing, bespectacled, Apple Mac-tapping hipsters.

So a coffee addict becomes a tech addict-Starbucks has arguably been at the technological forefront in the coffee industry (and high street at large) too. They offered free wifi, the lifeblood of the 21st century consumer, to customers before the rest of the market did, which was such a simple way to encourage you to stay and loll about.  I’m mad about the Starbucks app too, the epitome of London convenience, a battering ram for the anti-cash brigade. For the uninitiated, you download the Starbucks app to your smartphone, pre-load it with cash and pay with it, seamlessly enabling you to collect loyalty stars for free coffee, as well as build up your Starbucks Rewards status for extra freebies.

But I think at its core Starbucks is all about connections- which is why their latest campaign resonates so strongly. Because let’s be honest- coffee is coffee. Despite initially being a bastion of good coffee, the likes of Costa, Caffe Nero and others offer very good (and some better) coffee than Starbucks. And I do frequent them, WHEN I NEED A COFFEE. But if I want a place to go, and stay, then Starbucks it is. Starbucks has seen them all- high octane panicked revision sessions, low octane super-casual non-date coffee dates, no-octane pre-caffeine pit-stops. Starbucks services my need for coffee but delivers so much more.

Plus my name is almost impossible to mis-spell on a coffee cup.

 

SAY IT SLOWLY: CHI-POAT-LAY

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Don’t you hate it when someone pronounces your name wrong? (Especially for me, because if someone pronounces Tom wrong, I’m pretty sure we aren’t going to get on).

US burrito chain Chipotle, who have recently opened outlets in London, have come up with a novel print and radio campaign to raise awareness:

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So now you know.

(Originally posted on The Value Engineers blog on March 26 2014)