Mobile Commerce

Uber Co-Founder Adds Personal “Operator” To eCommerce

When Uber launched, the goal was simple: to bring users a simpler, quicker way to snag a cab. Now, one of Uber’s founders has taken his talents to his next big project that looks to take on the online shopping market.

The online shopping concierge app, called Operator, was created by Garrett Camp and CEO Robin Chan. While Operator is still in beta mode, it’s got a set of lofty goals and unique features that may help it take on Amazon and eBay. The difference between this online shopping app and others? Operator wants to do things a little different by being the app that helps consumers do their shopping for them — and with an actual person helping.

Operator, which refers to itself as a “request network,” uses actual people to fulfill customer requests. Operator uses technology to harness algorithms to match customer demands, but it goes beyond that by giving the app a human touch by allowing consumers to interact with them.

Need a new pair of shoes but don’t want to spend the time looking? That’s where Operator comes in to help. A consumer can simply take a photo of an item and provide the person assisting with a price range and what else they are looking for. What the app has done has bridged the gap that exists for many eCommerce shoppers when they don’t have the time or the will to find what they are looking for. The app also allows the customer to purchase the finds, and arrange for shipment. And afterward, they can provide reviews about their experience (just like with Uber). The customer can also send requests for specific goods and directly interact with merchants who choose to participate on the app.

“Our goal is to help people find the right product within the right store and to do it interactively,” Camp told Bloomberg. “It’s like Siri, but with a person on the other end.”

In terms of the payment experience, that’s where the Uber-like characteristics come into play. When a consumer wants to purchase a product, they simply click a “buy it now” button that allows them to make that purchase while still using the app. While it’s not clear how Operator will make money, as Camp wouldn’t reveal details in his interview with Bloomberg, it could be the next app to finally reduce the friction that comes with online shoppers who are frustrated they can’t find what they are looking for.

“We wondered, Why can’t you press an app and there’s a network of human beings that help you?” Chan told Bloomberg.

While there aren’t specific merchants publicly named yet, the founders said they’ll likely head to New York City and San Francisco as their first test sites.

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