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Is the Operator App a Media Game Changer?

Have you heard of the Oper­a­tor App?

In the old days, we con­sumers would go through the ardu­ous and time con­sum­ing process of get­ting dressed, get­ting in our vehi­cles, and actu­al­ly phys­i­cal­ly dri­ving to a store — or sev­er­al stores — to buy some­thing. Then we had to park, walk in, find the right depart­ment, and then find the right prod­uct. And if the store we were in did­n’t have the option we want­ed, it was back out to he car and on to the next store to find it. Sounds exhaust­ing, right?

Then came the con­sumer’s sav­ior — the inter­net, along with Ama­zon and oth­er online retail­ers. Now we can stay in our PJs, save our gas mon­ey, and browse through mul­ti­ple online stores in less time than it used to take us to get to the first store. But there’s a sac­ri­fice involved, name­ly get­ting help. Sure, there are chat box­es, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence chat­bots,  and reviews, but the first is lit­tle more than a call cen­ter employ­ee with lit­tle prod­uct knowl­edge, chat­bots are just as lim­it­ed with even less per­son­al­i­ty, and the lat­ter prob­a­bly involves many peo­ple paid to post pos­i­tive reviews and oth­er hired to den­i­grate a com­pa­ny or product.

Robin Chan describes the Oper­a­tor app as the “third wave of com­merce”. Oper­a­tor was devel­oped by Chan, a for­mer Zyn­ga exec­u­tive, and Uber co-founder Gar­rett Camp, to bridge the gap between the bland but effi­cient online shop­ping expe­ri­ence and the in-store, knowl­edge­able-expert-on-hand expe­ri­ence. The app was launched in the first half of 2015 and had a wait­ing list of over 80,000 upon its beta release. Today it’s still try­ing to gain trac­tion, but objec­tive­ly looks to have a very promis­ing future — whether that’s as a stand alone app or becom­ing part of a larg­er plat­form after being bought by a com­pa­ny like Face­book, Google, or the like.

Oper­a­tor is essen­tial­ly a concierge ser­vice, designed to help con­sumers with larg­er pur­chas­es where they might be unsure about pulling the trig­ger with­out some per­son­al guid­ance. So if you were look­ing for a leather reclin­er that will com­fort­ably fit a 6′5″ man, has drink hold­ers,  and is light enough to eas­i­ly move around (details you prob­a­bly won’t find on Ama­zon), you can put these cri­te­ria into Oper­a­tor and you’ll be con­nect­ed to an expert on home fur­nish­ings who can then help you find exact­ly what you’re look­ing for. It’s like the fad­ing option of press­ing 0 on the phone for a live per­son when the auto­mat­ed options don’t quite cov­er what you’re call­ing about.

Ver­sion 2.0 was just released, which pro­vides a Dis­cov­ery tab where items are curat­ed by the Oper­a­tor helpers. These ‘oper­a­tors’ are paid com­mis­sions for sales, but it only works out to about $15 per hour. Con­sid­er­ing they have no over­head and don’t have to sit at a retail counter or wan­der the store look­ing for shop­pers to help, that isn’t so bad. Con­sid­er­ing the peo­ple involved and the con­cept dri­ving the app, it’s prob­a­bly a safe bet to say that Oper­a­tor will stick around in some form, even if it gets bought out and absorbed into some plat­form. That actu­al­ly might be the best route for the ser­vice. Regard­less, it’s a com­pa­ny that is worth con­sid­er­ing if you’re search­ing for a job in devel­op­ment or commerce.

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