27 May 2013

Will Pay to Not Talk to You: How Physical Services are Becoming Digital Commodities

0 Comment


Going to the supermarket to replenish my toilet paper was never a big deal. A typical trip included a short, relatively painless drive and interactions with at least two people (the cashier and bag boy) if I was lucky.

Not a bad errand to run, right? Especially if you successfully avoid having someone ding your car door in the parking lot at the supermarket and avoid seeing that Facebook friend from high school you kinda-sorta-don’t-know-but-you-locked-eyes-and-oh-god-here-they-come.

The less people are in between me and my goddamn toilet paper, the better.

This type of scenario is precisely why I get all of my “OH, CRAP I RAN OUT” items through Amazon’s Subscribe & Save service, and why I’m constantly seeking out other types of services that help relieve the small bouts of unnecessary social anxiety.

Removing the social transaction

I recently had the chance to try some fairly new services that do a fantastic job at filling an unusual and unexpected need: avoiding interaction with other people.

Because of these guys, I feel a little more comfortable doing everyday things that typically give me a little social anxiety.

Digital service logos

Ordering Food

Long gone are the days are calling a restaurant, shouting your order over their background noise, and repeating your credit card number through a completely unsecure channel.

I came across Grubhub, a company that allows you to order local delivery or take-out online for free without having to peruse a vomit-inducing flash menu created by the restaurant’s overzealous 16 year old nephew.

A big bonus from this type of service is the fact that you can be totally weird and high-maintenance about what you order.

There’s no one on the phone taking your order and judging you, so go ahead, order all the sauces on the side and triple the bacon, please.


No one on the internet knows you're a dog

GrubHub is also particularly helpful in the lazy department by accepting payment through PayPal so you don’t have to get up to grab your wallet. It’d be nice if they also allowed multiple payment methods so my friends and I can stop arguing about whose turn it is to pay for the pizzas.


Taking a cab sucks. Anytime I travel to cities like New York or Chicago, I struggle with being confident in hailing a cab, or knowing how to do that horrible walk-in-front cab stealing trick. Living in Miami, you just don’t get that kind of practice.



I was able to use Uber when I traveled to Chicago and it was one of the most magical taxi experiences I’ve ever had. I was on a street without much taxi traffic, so I opened my Uber app and requested a cab.

After I put in my request, the app displayed a car icon headed in my direction with an estimated arrival time of four minutes. A man in a white hat named Taoheed appeared on screen with a glowing 4.5-star review. I stared at my screen excitedly watching his little car come my direction.

Uber Taxi on it's way!

Exactly four minutes later, Mr. Taoheed pulled up in front of me. Wearing his white hat, of course. I opened the car door and jumped inside. “Whoa, whoa, one sec – are you Elly?” asked the driver.

I responded with a pleased and knowing nod.

At the end of our short ride together, I pulled out my wallet to pay for the fare when Mr. Taoheed stopped me and said, “Don’t worry about it, it’s all taken care of.”

Uber. Making everyone feel like a princess.

Buying Underwear

While I might be anxious about silly things, like hailing a cab, or order food – going to Victoria’s Secret to purchase a bra has to top the list on top-nerve wracking things you’d like to avoid if possible.

According to NewBalance, 70% of women don’t know their true bra size, resulting in discomfort and awkward-looking boobs. Well, I’d rather wear a shitty bra 100% of the time than go into a Victoria’s Secret for a bra fitting done by a woman who reminds me way too much of Delores Umbridge.

Bra Fitting by Delores Umbridge

I heard about True & Co. and didn’t think twice about trying out their digital bra fitting service. I took a short quiz about my boobs and was given a ton of bra recommendations. From there, I paid a $49.95 deposit and received three bras I picked out, and two “expert” picks they chose.

My True&Co box – Dream Angel & Delores Umbridge-free.

At home, I tried them out one by one, to the delight of my husband. I didn’t have to inhale copious amounts of Dream Angel Fragrance and my relationship received a couple of bonus points at the same time. Wonderful.

I chose to keep one of the expert picks and simply shipped back (for free) the ones I didn’t like.

Trying on Sunglasses

There’s nothing as uniquely uncomfortable as trying on a pair of sunglasses at the local Sunglass Hut, looking into the mirror, and having to accept that a complete stranger is eagerly staring at you, hoping you’ll make a purchase.

I want to make my sunglasses face, damnit. Can someone else please walk into this store and get this guy off my back so I can sneak in a quick duckface?

Creepsters at Sunglass Hut

Oh, god. Should I just buy these? I’m just going to run away.


The existence of Warby Parker means I never have to feel this way ever again. Similar to True & Co., I can get five styles shipped to me (with a small deposit), wear the demo pairs for a couple of days and send them back for free.

Added Bonus: Shipping is already paid for; all you have to do is drop your box off at your local USPS, FedEx, or UPS box. No waiting in line at the store to interact with disgruntled post office employees.

House Cleaning

I like to give my apartment a good, deep scrub on the regular. Nothing feels better than walking through my front door nearly choking on the bleach fumes.

Problem is, I don’t trust myself to clean it well. So, I typically get a referral from a friend of a friend about a woman who they know through their mom’s friend who can be trusted to at least wipe down your counters and not steal your stuff – as long as you can pay in cash.

This is not okay.

Introducing Homejoy. They link you up with professional cleaners in the area that are interviewed and background checked (which is significantly better than trusting your friend’s friend’s mom’s friend), allow you to schedule a service in just a few clicks, and charge your credit card through their website.


photo courtesy of Homejoy


The process was incredibly easy, and any unique details about what I wanted (wash my bathroom rugs, but don’t touch my towels) and about my apartment (the door locks itself, the garbage chute it right outside) were already communicated online when I scheduled the service.

The only human interaction needed was a welcoming nod, and wishing the uniformed cleaner the best of luck with my filth.

The result? No anxiety and probably the best cleaning my apartment has seen.

The Solution to a Bigger Problem

While it’s true that many of these new startups enable and promote our social anxiety, they’re also helping reduce the consumer’s purchase risk and allowing us to more comfortably buy a larger range of products we might’ve stayed away from before. Thanks to True&Co., my freaking bras fit. And thanks to Warby Parker, my husband isn’t going to squint in the sun anymore with his new prescription sunglasses.

Leave a Reply