Milkman’s mini-guide to Crowdshipping

Milkman's Mini-Guide to Crowdshipping

Silicon valley isn’t the only startup incubator in the World: many nations are trying their luck in the race to the future of home deliveries. That’s especially true in the crowdshipping sub-sector: being built upon the need of common people to be part of a wider network (and gain something on the side), it can grow roots pretty much everywhere and at very competitive costs.

One interesting startup that is making his way to the italian market is YouBox. Still not operational but fresh from his debut at Dublin’s Web Summit, YouBox is a Person to Person (abbreviated P2P, the same as Point to Point) delivery service, in the form of a free App, that promises to send parcels using spare space on peoples’ trunks and luggage. Nothing new there. What’s new is its ambition: YouBox aims to be a worldwide service.

This is just the second P2P delivery startup to be born in Italy. iCarry is trying to enter the same business right now but on a National scale.

YouBox and iCarry aspire to do pretty much what Piggybee, and Shipzy already do in France, togheter with other initiatives for the international delivery of items. It can be about personal objects but also about shopping, thus avoiding high shipping costs and custom taxes.

BackPack (based in the USA) and Entrusters (based in Argentina) deal in facilitating the flow of international e-commerce. Friendshippr (USA) is an app that uses Facebook friends to ship objects all over the world.

In Piggybee’s blog you can find 52 startups of national and international crowdshipping archived all over the Globe. That’s a lot, but if you live outside the main plane routes (and Italy is) it remains very difficult to find a traveler that’ll bring you the goods, even in big cities like Milan and Rome.

Moving objects is easy, moving merchandise, if you don’t have a license, depending on where you live, may be illegal. Many of these startups circle around the issue: the item is either bought directly by the courier (who’s then refunded with an extra) or shipped to the courier’s house (who’s then paid by the startup), unpackaged and transported cross-border.

You pay 48$ to have a 198$ jacket delivered from USA to Italy (Ebay price for a USPS, 2 kilos shipping) then you add up to 50 Euro (sometimes more, depending on the declared value of the parcel) of custom taxes. That almost doubles the price. With Backpack it takes about 7$. You have to be patient, find a way to meet your traveler-courier and have faith in a smooth delivery: but the saving is enormous.

It’s easier, of course, to organize a P2P that doesn’t cross borders: Roadie does that inside the Unites States, Nimber in Norway, while Chronobee, in France, uses train-commuters (that’s pretty genial!).

The big players, for now, are all in the B2C business: Postmates, Shutl, Roadrunnr (India) and many others who operate mainly in the food delivery sector (actually so many that they deserve a post apart).

Crowdshipping is a solid reality, with only 3 limits:

1) laws concerning the status of workers and their need of a transport license (least not forget the proceedings against Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Shyp and others)

2) possible holes in the “background check” that is made before hiring a wannabe courier

3) a very low conversion rate: you need to move thousand of items to actually gain something

“The sharing economy is empowering millions of people to unlock the value of their time, skills and talents to make money in ways and on a scale never possible before. It is providing good jobs, but not in the way ‘good jobs’ are traditionally defined ”: says Rachel Botsman, guru of the sharing economy, on The Wall Street Journal. Andrew Keen, executive director of the innovation salon FutureCast and author of The Internet is Not the Answer, disagrees: “This gig economy is compounding the increasingly precarious nature of labor and creating a new class of networked workers: the ‘precariat’. To create good jobs is to provide workers with the minimal benefits that guarantee a decent standard of living. The sharing economy is caught in a historical cycle of technological innovation outpacing employment law”.

Do we have yet to see the true “crowdshipping revolution”?

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