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.