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Urb-it: Using human interaction to foster community and save high streets

A talk with Urb-it's UK managing director, Neville James, unveils the importance of human interaction, be it in terms of customer service or, indeed, as a potential method for saving London's high streets.
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Numerous Brits lament the decline of high streets, attributing its fall from fame to malls and online shopping. But app Urb-it hopes its intriguing combination of sustainability, technology and human interaction, will give smaller companies a bigger customer base.

A well-known study of factors impacting on business growth unveiled how those looking beyond reputation alone had more success – that companies of choice preferred to think of how, not if, to manage activities.

Since its advent, in 2011, the notion has become more profound. Saving energy, retaining and motivating employees, as well as being transparent, the McKinsey report’s researchers remind us, are now seen as expectations. Because a plethora of scandals have instilled in consumers distrust and fostered a perpetual need to see corporations behave ethically.

They want to know more about the products they buy and where they come from. And as we all know, it’s important consumers are put at the heart of the business and that you do everything possible to continue improving their experience in order to create a long-lasting relationship.

It’s a concept Urb-it takes seriously – the relationship of things is what it’s based on. That includes facilitating alliances between shops and staff, not to mention furthering the connection between consumer and what the company calls “Urbers”.

Let’s explain: Urb-it is a free-to-download app usable within London. It allows people to do their shopping from anywhere and to get their purchases brought to them at a time and place of their choice by Urbers – those under Urb-it’s employ – in less than an hour. And according to its UK managing director, Neville James, an Urber’s key experiences can be broken into A, B and C.

Neville James

UK managing director Neville James helped tweak the experience to better suite British shoppers

The beginning of their journey starts, James stresses, when they want. They could work every day or once a month, the choice is theirs, and if they’re in the vicinity of a purchase that needs pick-up, they will do so.

“It’s a click and get, not click and collect service,” he explained, which brings us to “A” – the collection of said product.

Items listed on the Urb-it app will come from a shop on the high street – an area that has been said to be loosing its spark for quite some time.

“We always wanted to include the high street, to help it get back on its proverbial feet through an alternative sales channel,” James explained. “Being active on the app, staff will know someone is on their way to collect an item. So when an Urber comes into the shop they’ll have the order ready, will hand it over and more importantly, it goes from their till.”

It’s noted that Urbers will deliver items that can be picked up in areas they work, study or live. They’ll grow to know those within the shops, striking up a relationship. Pleasing those on the app are just as important as those using the app – and the idea is to facilitate a “friendly neighbourhood face” type of vibe.

Point “B” is the commute. It’s where its touted eco-friendly title comes in. Urbers walk, take the underground, buses or trains. No taxis, no motorbikes and no cars in general – there’s zero environmental impact from the collection and handover process.

While there’s evidence aplenty linking corporate awareness of sustainability to consumer loyalty, James admits the business had always been interested in “moving items” this way. Let’s call it a competition changer and personalisation factor.

“What you got at the end of the day – point “C” – is a student, actor, whatever their employ, sitting in a café, notice that a customer has purchased something close by. They’ll pick it up and bring it to the intended owner, no helmets or uniforms, just them as they are taking a casual stroll through London. Simply from one person enjoying their day to another.

“It’s what broadens the ‘community’ from just staff and shops, to customers as well. Just as companies will grow to know certain Urbers, so too will those making the purchases.”

Indeed, while social media has created waves in terms of online communities, Urb-it reminds us that human interaction, that face-to-face communication, is needed to foster a long-lasting relationship.

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

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