As CoViD-19 has forced countries around the world into lockdown this has had a significant impact on consumers and small businesses alike. With 33% of British people alone eating out at least twice a weak, and restaurants & cafes employing 10% of British workers, finding a solution that allows customers safe, easy and enjoyable access to the establishments they love in this difficult time is key from a mental health and economic perspective.
As I looked into how to support small businesses like Cafes, Restaurants, Bars and Independent Stores, I found that many existing solutions were not satisfactory. Since lockdowns have been introduced many online food delivery apps have seen a serge in orders and this has meant that delivery often isn't possible due to lack of delivery drivers to meet demand.
Businesses have therefore been playing around with collection, and this too has been unsatisfactory. I heard reports from friends in the US saying where kerb side collection had been trialled, often servers were having to take orders from car-to-car to find their intended recipients, potentially spreading the disease further. Closer to home, in the UK a number of cafes I found offering collection were taking orders over the phone and handling credit-card data in this way, which made me feel uneasy from a security perspective.
So the question arose: "How might we create a safe and enjoyable collection experience to connect consumers and the establishments they love?"
What it does
The answer is surprisingly simple, we love local small businesses because of the interactions they foster and the high level of customer service they provide. For this reason we don't need to create an online menu for every establishment, instead we opted to create a chat app which connects you to local businesses offering food collection. This reduces the barrier to entry for restaurants and creates a great personal experience for the consumer.
In the conversation both parties can send messages and, crucially, restaurants can send customers collection cards - a card of a random colour containing a random shape. The customer can then show this card from their card window on collection making them easily recognisable. "Can you take this order to Blue Square?" is much easier than asking a member of staff to take an order to a car whose number-plate might be obscured.
In future iterations we'll also build payment into the app meaning that physical contact between customers and establishment staff will be reduced further.
Ultimately, the app delivers on its aim to create a meaningful relationship between consumer and establishment whilst maintaining a safe physical distance.
How I built it
The first version of the app was built over a weekend using the Ionic Framework and Cordova, and leverages Google Firebase to safely secure user information such as authentication details, messages and orders.
Challenges I ran into
I ran into several challenges using Firebase which was a fairly new technology for me, this kind of asynchronous programming and querying of databases proved difficult at times, especially when data from multiple sources needed to be combined seamlessly for the user.
I also learnt how leverage local device APIs such as geolocation, and how to build asking for these permissions into the user experience.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
I'm particularly proud of the speed at which this app came together whilst driving increased quality. On previous applications, I have developed my own Database platforms (along with their APIs), which has resulted in slow builds and solutions which may not be comparable to industry standards such as Firebase. This app showed me that if I am able to flex my methodologies and learn on the fly, I can create better products faster.
What I learned
You've probably seen above that throughout the creation of this app I have obsessed over user-experience, and that has forced me to think differently about what is essentially a simple idea, assigning customers a unique identifier in the form of a colour and a shape. Taking this simple idea and turning it into a fully functioning app without over complicating it was the biggest challenge and I learned that to constantly ask "Will my users like this?", whether they are customers or, in this case, restaurants, is key to creating a great app.
What's next for KerbCard: A Safe and Easy App for Food Collection
With prototype one complete, there's an opportunity to share it with local business owners to collect feedback. During this period I'll make it available as a webapp for any early adopters that want to try it. After this feedback has been accounted for, it will be time to put KerbCard on the Appstore!
Further ahead, it will be possible to add more features such as paying for orders through the app which again will make the collection process safer more enjoyable.