Disrupting everyday life in a good way

  • TECH
  • Monday, 08 Dec 2014

LIVING ONLINE: The rise of disruptive technology has broadened the scope and reach of the Internet.

Technology has completely revolutionised the way we do things, for better or worse.

SHOW of hands: how many of us ­remember — or will admit to remembering — a time before the Internet?

The Internet gave birth to a whole slew of online services, with businesses and ­consumers alike benefitting from the ease and simplicity of conducting transactions — we quickly became used to booking hotels, buying plane tickets, paying bills and so forth with a few mouse clicks.

However, the rise of disruptive technology — defined by the Business Dictionary as “new ways of doing things that disrupt or overturn the traditional business methods and practices” — has broadened the scope and reach of the Internet.

Online shopping

A few years ago, netizens in the United States challenged themselves by trying to live exclusively online for a certain period of time, making every purchase for essentials and other items online and having them delivered to their houses, with the end result being that it was entirely possible.

In this country, however, things have moved a little slower with regards to online shopping, and it’s only in the last couple of years that “living exclusively online” has become possible, especially with the ­introduction of online grocery shopping and food delivery services.

AT YOUR FINGERTIPS: Although only about 28% of Malaysians shop online, there are already a variety of websites to cater to their needs. — AFP

Despite the fact a recent Google survey found that only about 28% of Malaysians (compared with 77% in Britain) actually shopped online, numerous websites have sprung up today that cater to almost every consumer need.

Does online shopping save you time and money? Well certainly in terms of time, there’s a definite advantage — you can pick and choose your groceries in minutes flat and have them delivered as soon as the next day, saving you both travel time stuck in traffic and the cost of petrol and parking. The ­downside, of course, especially with ­groceries, is you’re never sure that you’re getting ­exactly what you paid for.

Grocery shopping is a relatively recent development in this country and as such, there isn’t a great deal of choice when it comes to online grocery shopping.

epa04194986 A shopper pushes her trolley through a Sainsburys supermarket in London, Britain, 07 May, 2014. Sainsburys has reported its annual results which showed the slowest profits growth for ten years. Although profits reached nearly 900 million pounds, like for like sales were were flat at 0.2 per cent.  EPA/ANDY RAIN
HASSLE-FREE: Online grocery shopping means you no longer have to get in the car, battle traffic to a supermarket, look for parking, and physically shop for greens — instead you can opt to have them delivered to you. — EPA

However, food delivery (usually by fast food outlets) is nothing new — what’s more interesting (and potentially disruptive) is that there are now services that provide delivery for F&B outlets that don’t have their own inhouse delivery service, and that cater to consumers who want something other than fast food.

To that end, there’s Room Service and FoodPanda, which offer food from restaurants as varied as mamak joints to Italian, Spanish, and Chinese restaurants to traditional British pub grub, with delivery charges that vary depending on delivery zones, number of ­restaurants ordered from, and so on.

Both services offer the traditional phone hotline as well as websites and apps for users to browse menus and place orders with.

What makes this even more interesting is that these services aren’t just available in the Klang Valley — businesses are waking up to the fact that the rest of Malaysia would also love to have more choices and are taking steps to accommodate (and tap) a larger ­market.

Travel needs

There was a time when a holiday involved the arduous process of combing through thick travel guides and making innumerable calls to travel agencies/airlines/hotels to book your holiday.

However, the easy availability of information on the Internet has revolutionised the way people go on vacation, with plenty of travellers opting to chart their own travels.

LIBERATING: Technology has made it possible to look for alternative accommodations and flights right up till the moment of departure. — AFP

The biggest advantages to this DIY approach to travel is the opportunity to maximise on cost savings and personalise the trip every step of the way to suit your needs and preferences. No longer will you have to put up with rushed itineraries, terrible food, cramped accommodations, and lengthy bus rides to multiple sights with only half an hour at each, or worse, waste precious time at the requisite tourist trap shopping outlet that the tour guide shepherds hapless tourists to.

But perhaps the most disruptive ­technology in the travel industry has been the ­proliferation of consumer reviews sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, where users can quickly verify whether a particular hotel, restaurant or service (like car rentals) really lives up to the standards promised. (After all, it’s difficult for hotels to gloss over their shortcomings when previous guests leave negative reviews as to the cleanliness, level of service and even the location of the hotel.)

Needless to say, this has necessitated a change in the way the hospitality and travel industry do business — they now need to put in greater effort in connecting with customers on a more personal level via social media, as well as find new and ever more ­innovative ways of customising their products and ­services.

In addition, they also need to pay greater attention to the demographics of their customer base in order to be more effective in their marketing efforts. Hence, more and more companies are delving into things like data analytics in order to identify trends and study customer profiles.

The most influential of these consumer review sites is arguably TripAdvisor, which has an enormous and constantly updated repository of reviews on everything from accommodation to restaurants and even local attractions.

GOING TO THE GROUND: Disruptive technology has revolutionised the way the hospitality industry does business, with even large hotel chains having to take the trouble to respond to feedback on review sites such as TripAdvisor as well as taking to social media to engage customers on a more personal level. — AFP/Relaxnews 2014

Such is the impact of TripAdvisor that many business owners, including large hotel chains, take the trouble to personally respond to feedbacks from TripAdvisor reviewers. Quite a few also proudly display stickers or logos of the brand’s Travellers’ Choice awards to win consumers’ confidence.

Many other travel booking sites have since adopted a style that’s similar to TripAdvisor, featuring traveller reviews and ratings ­alongside their listings. Some examples are Agoda and HostelWorld.

Another website that has had a profound impact on the hospitality industry is — you guessed it — Airbnb. Originally a couch-­surfing service, Airbnb has since evolved into a site providing alternative (and often quirky) accommodation in the form of private ­properties owned by locals.

The main attraction is the promise of a more personal stay as the locals often live on the same premises as the rooms available for short term rental, and are usually on hand to provide advice and sometimes even meals depending on your agreement — often at a fraction of the cost of typical hotels.

Similar to TripAdvisor, users of Airbnb can also write reviews of their stay at properties that are listed on the site.

However, Airbnb’s raging popularity has had some unintended ripple effects. In the city of San Francisco, for example, there has been a furore over landlords allegedly evicting tenants to turn their properties into more profitable full time Airbnb hostels in which the hosts are not present. This has given rise to questionable hygiene and health practices, prompting authorities to investigate Airbnb for potentially violating the strict tenancy laws of the state, with a similar scenario ­playing out in New York.

Money money money

It’s not often that a new form of currency comes into being but that’s just what Bitcoin is — a completely digital currency spawned by a digital world.

And while Bitcoin still has a long way to go before it becomes a form of widely ­adopted currency, there are already thousands of ­merchants around the world that already accept Bitcoin as a form of payment for goods or services.

BItcoins may not be widely adopted as currency in Malaysia just yet, but there are already a few merchants willing to accept it as a form of payment. — AFP
SLOWLY BUT SURELY: Bitcoins may not be widely adopted as currency in Malaysia just yet, but there are already a few merchants willing to accept it as a form of payment. — AFP

The number of merchants in this ­country is more modest, however — according to coinmap.org, there are currently seven ­merchants in Malaysia that accept Bitcoin as a form of payment, ranging from a petrol station in Jalan Raja Chulan to a nasi dagang restaurant in Damansara Utama. (If you want to find out more about Bitcoin, check out Bitcoin.org or our own story on Bitcoin.)

In yet another disruptive development, social media sites have announced ambitious forays into the world of online payments — in the last few months, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Google have all jumped on the bandwagon, mostly via peer-to-peer money transfer apps.

In October, Twitter rolled out money ­transfers via tweets in a working partnership with France’s Groupe BPCE, in which the French bank’s customers can tweet money to friends — even to those without BPCE accounts. It works by leveraging the bank’s S-Money service, which uses text messages that conform to the credit card industry’s data security standards.

More recently, Snapchat partnered with mobile payment company Square (headed by Twitter’s own co-founder Jack Dorsey) to let people send their friends money via Snapcash messages. (However, those wanting to use the service must have first signed up and stored their debit card numbers with Square.)

While Facebook’s money transfer service hasn’t actually been officially announced, in early October various news media — among them TechCrunch and UK’s The Telegraph — ran stories on a computer science student’s discovery of the hidden feature in Facebook Messenger’s source code. This was construed to mean that the social networking behemoth is planning to roll out a service very similar to Snapchat’s, in which users could ostensibly send money to friends in much the same way one would attach a photo.

Last but not least, there’s the familiar but slightly more convoluted Google Wallet service, in which one can send money to friends via e-mail as long as the recipient also has a Wallet account to accept the money. However, most of these services may not be available here.

While these services are not likely to ­disrupt traditional banks’ hold on online finance, they may spell the doom for ­remittance services.

Think about it — how attractive a prospect is it to be able to send money abroad without having to pay exorbitant transfer fees?

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