Accessibility or Morals?
The call to boycott large (tech) companies that put profit over its people, is getting louder by the day. Amazon, Uber and in the Netherlands, Bol.com. Are a few of the companies on the “black list”. Here in the Netherlands Uber isn’t liked very much for how it treats its worker and supposedly for damaging the market for taxi’s. UberEats pays its delivery people very little while charging restaurants a lot. Bol.com is usurping small business. Especially bookstores.
I tend to stay quiet when people in my social bubble start critiquing these companies. Not that I don’t agree that these companies can do much better socially, but for me it’s not all black and white.
I have used Bol.com plenty of times and still use it. Before I turn to Bol I always check first if I can buy what I need in a brick store in my city. Then I check the webshops of local bookstores by using a search engine and lastly I’ll check Bol. I mostly end up buying things there that otherwise I would have to wait very long and it can’t wait. I’m also honest and must say,I don’t mind paying a bit more in smaller shops, but if the difference is a lot ( and I mean a lot), I’ll go with Bol. I’m chronic ill and can only work part time. That’s my reality.
I always buy my books from the local bookstore in my city. I usually go a couple of times a month to my local bookstore. If they don’t have the book I want I’ll check another bookstore in another city. But sometimes none of them have a book and Bol does have it. Real case. I recently found out about a cookbook published one time only in 2013. None of the local bookstores have it and neither does their supplier. Bol has it and could ship it the next day. But I went with my morals and remembered an online platform to buy books from local bookstores. I found the book there and bought it. Unlike Bol.com the online system does not work smoothly. The automated zip code to address does not work correctly and after paying and confirming my order it saved a wrong address. I contacted them through email and Twitter to change the address before they ship it to the wrong address. It took more than a day to get a reply.
Every other person could have just called them and fix it. But I’m deaf. I finally got a reply that they changed it. But I still don’t see it reflected in my account. I mailed them back to confirm the delivery date they send with the invoice. At the time of publishing this blog, it has been a week ago since I bought the book, it should have been delivered today. They haven’t mailed me back. I got another automated reply that customer service is closed for the holidays. My trusty local bookstore is more reliable than this. If it goes wrong and the book gets shipped to the wrong address, I can’t call and will have to keep dealing with slow customer service email. That’s just added stress I don’t need.
I have used Uber exactly 3 times. Once during a bad storm when public transport wasn’t running and I had a hospital appointment I couldn’t skip. In London when I needed to get to the train station to catch the Eurostar and my baggage was too heavy to walk to a bus-stop to take the bus. And when I left the hospital after major surgery and needed to go back home. The sole reason I used Uber was that I could order it through the app and had no need to use a phone. The other reason to use it after surgery even tho my family could have called a taxi is, the price. I was discharged from the hospital with a bag full of meds of which a lot I had to pay for myself. A taxi from one city to the other would have cost way much more than an Uber.
Years ago before Uber, when I was very sick, I used taxi’s a lot to go to the hospital and back home. It was thanks to one taxi company with a subscription service that I could afford it until insurance could pay me back. But I depended on people to call the taxi for me.
When you are chronic ill and stressed out, you don’t have the brain bandwidth to deal with more. You just want to get things done and to be as independent as possible.
It took a lockdown for me to use UberEats. I already wrote why I use Thuisbezorgd and not Deliveroo. But now that many restaurants and cafes that didn’t even do delivery before switched to delivery and pickup, they chose to use UberEats. So I installed the app to order from them. Now people say to skip UberEats and order directly. But guess what? To do that you have to call the restaurants. Some restaurants chose to not use any of the food services and just tell you to call them to order. I can understand that because all these services charge a lot of money. But the fact is that they lose me (and others) as a client because I can’t call them to order.
Now that I installed UberEats I am pleasantly surprised how much better than Thuisbezorgd they are. Delivery is expensive depending on how far from home the place is. But I tend to buy from a place close by. The two things that sold me on UberEats app is the fact that the tracker works very well. I can see how long my food takes in realtime. I can see the delivery person biking to my home in realtime. When they can’t find my building which happens all the time I can just message the delivery person on the app. It is so awesome to be able to do that.
Thuisbezorgd on the other hand just has a countdown to delivery and it’s not accurate at all. I can’t see where the delivery person is. I have no way at all to contact the delivery person. The restaurant is only available through telephone. One time recently the delivery person couldn’t find my building and didn’t text me per instructions I provided when I ordered. I got a mail from Thuisbezorgd telling me the person was standing outside. I had to text someone and ask them to call and get it sorted. I was fuming mad. According to Thuisbezorgd or the restaurant (it wasn’t clear) they are not allowed to call due to privacy law. A lousy excuse. Blame everything on privacy law. Even so if a restaurant is also on Thuisbezorgd I’ll choose to order there. Because I know the restaurant makes more profit there than on UberEats.
The phone only option is out-dated
The thing that still boggles my mind is that in 2020 when everything can be bought online and delivered home. Food online services/restaurants only offer phone as a way of contact when something goes wrong with ordering. That is just backward. You need to have an email or mobile phone for texting as a way of contact.
I don’t want to depend on UberEats or Thuisbezorgd only. I would love to order directly from restaurants if they prefer that. But they make it impossible. If a restaurant is available through email or text, I won’t need an UberEats app. Because I know if there is an issue I can just text the restaurant to get it resolved. Or I can order my food by email or text.
Right now I have reduced my online food ordering because twice already my order was incomplete and I can’t contact the restaurant. That’s money thrown away and a grumpy breakfast/lunch/dinner experience because my food is not complete.
People being excluded by phone only option
- Deaf and Hard of Hearing
- People with speech issues
- People with autism
- People with anxiety
- People with hearing sensitivity
- People who just hate using the phone
Just in time for the lockdown, there is a new Dutch online food ordering platform, Hoale. They are still adding new features. It’s exciting to see how they’ll stand apart from the big players. You can setup an online ordering within an hour, with delivery or pick-up option. Delivering is done by the restaurant themselves. Hoale focuses on accessibility and usability. They encourage restaurants to be available through email. Their prices are also much better than other services and the money goes straight to the restaurants. A win-win situation for restaurants and clients.
Alternatively, a restaurant can add its own online ordering on its website. A nice simple example is Bartine a cafe in The Hague where you can order online and pick up your food. Bartine has a very active presence on Instagram which makes sure they have a high reach with clients.
With the amounts being paid to services like UberEats, you might as well invest in having an online system on your own website and own delivery people. In the long run it’s cheaper. But I understand the pros of using online services. Not every restaurant wants or can invest in maintaining its own system, delivery people, and online marketing. Thuisbezorgd and UberEats provide solutions, albeit at high costs.
My ideal food ordering service features
- Option to leave comments/instructions, e.g. ‘I’m deaf, don’t call but text me.’ Make sure this is very visible to the restaurant and delivery person.
- Email or text options to contact the restaurant
- An accurate tracker of food being prepared and follow delivering person
- In-app messaging with delivery person or restaurant while the order is active
- And for every none food online shop: be timely available through email during office times
- Be clear about when to expect delivery.
If you reached the end of this long blog post you hopefully understand now that it’s not all black and white. That when you have a disability you just want to be able to participate like everyone else. I rather use UberEats and be able to enjoy a nice dinner, relax, and support my local restaurant in some way. Then spend another evening in the kitchen making dinner for me and my morals. That when I’m excited about a book I found out about, I don’t want to spend hours trying to order it and hoping I’ll actually get it, just because calling is the only way to get things sorted at a timely manner. That when leaving the hospital tired and in pain with an expensive meds bill. I rather just pull my phone order an Uber. Then look for someone to call a taxi for me and spend a lot more money.
So it’s not a question of not wanting to do good, but it’s a matter of not being able to. I’ll always choose the most accessible way for me. I prefer to give my money to small businesses but don’t make it harder (or even impossible) than it has to be.