Sunday, 7 November 2010

Bringing it home

"Marketplace" type websites have been a phenomenal success in the last few years. Look at Amazon, price comparison websites, expedia,, to name a few. Although they are all different, they all essentially bring services or products to you in your own home via your computer. Apart from the very young and very old, there are very few people who don't use a service or who don't buy something online. By the way, I'm talking about the developed countries here, so don't be a smarty pants and say "but what about the people in Outer Mongolia"? (I could have picked a bad example, they probably all have ipads and iphones out there).

Why is this? Is it because we are all so lazy we are uncapable of doing anything other than tapping and clicking motions with our fingers (like in the Disney cartoon Wall-E)? Have we all moved to places where it is impossible to go to any shops? Shall I make some more stupid suggestions? No, I'll get on with it.

Thinking about the way we live now, everything happens a lot more quickly and we expect things to. I remember in the old days, booking a holiday meant finding the time to go down to the local travel agents, where they discussed my preferences and needs. Then the holiday would be booked and I had to wait ages for the tickets to be sent to me. Or I would walk into five different shops in my local shopping centre or high street to make sure I  got the best price for a toaster. Actually, I still do that, but I also check online for the best deals and book my holidays online where I get the tickets emailed to me virtually instantly. I also use online banking as I find it difficult to get to a bank during opening hours. I also pay my bills online so I don't have to pay at a bank/post office/paypoint or even walk to the post box to send a cheque. Ha, I don't even write cheques now. I type my credit card details in so much that I can recall from memory the 16-digit number, start and expiry date and the security code.

It's great, I get about 10 things done in an hour, when I used to have to ear-mark a day just to perform one task. At the same time, we are expected to do things much quicker. For example, if bills are paid on time I am offered a prompt payment discount from British Gas and if they are paid late we are speedily sent reminders. I recently paid my British Gas bill late by a few days and I received a reminder in the post that said I my bill was "really overdue" - their idea of really overdue differs significantly from mine, but if I was owed money I might feel the same way too I suppose.

One of the main reasons why doing things on the internet is so much quicker, aside from removing the bottleneck of not finding the time to actually do it, is the fact that it doesn't require the time to walk down the street and physically go through the process of whatever it is one needs to do. Going back to my first example, if I wanted to book a holiday and I had to go to the travel agents, I wouldn't even get as far as walking out of my home because I wouldn't have the free time in the first place - which is annoying because I would book annual leave at work but not have the time to book a holiday abroad for this leave. Yes, I am that busy.

Doing things on the internet also takes away the tedious task of repeating the same process several times over just to check for the best price. For example using price comparison websites rather than making lots of calls to various companies.

So can everything be done online? That depends, obviously there are some things that can never be replaced. Can this apply to letting a property out? Yes and no. There are already online lettings agents that find tenants for you through the property portals but they cannot replace the traditional high street agents as they do not conduct viewings (which is a real deal-breaker for me as I cannot do my own viewings). There are online estate agent directories so you don't have to physically turn the pages of your Yellow Pages. A happy medium would be using Property Leaders UK to find you lettings agents who will then call you up (there is no obligation on your part) to market your property. This would combine the best of both worlds, offering you a very personalised service to meet your needs. It also means another task can be done without leaving your home like all the other things we do now from our homes quite routinely.

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