Zomato and their way forward

Been wanting to write about this for a while. Today seems to be the blogging day. Not feeling sleepy, and feeling an awesome urge to write, and write, and …

As you probably are aware, as of now, Zomato is a restaurant discovery service. And a damn good one at that. They have taken this and scaled it like no one else’s business internationally. Buying UrbanSpoon in the US completed this strategy. They have the US market covered too.

So, now that, people can figure out where to go eat, or order delivery from, what are two things that they could move forward on.

Home Delivery for food. When you can show them where to order delivery from, why not deliver the food itself. This is what Zomato has been experimenting on, for a while (or so I read somewhere). There are already quite a few players in this industry, like the tiny TinyOwl which got some not-so-tiny-amount of funding, and others too (such as delyvery, swiggy, grofers etc). The modus operandi in most of these services is:to display the menu of the restaurant on their website

  1. Display the menu of the restaurant on their website
  2. Take the order from the customer (app or website or phone)
  3. Call the restaurant and create the order
  4. Send the delivery person to the restaurant to pick up the order
  5. Delivery person delivers the food.

The one hiccup that could happen (and happens a lot) in this strategy is the fact that restaurants can say that they cannot make a certain order item, because of chef-absent, raw-material-over, whatever-nonsensical-yet-plausible-reason. In this case, the middle delivery guy is hosed. He needs to call the delivery company, who then calls up the customer, and asks for an alternative order, and pass it back to delivery guy, to the restaurant, etc, and so on and so forth. You get the drift.

Zomato, from what I read, is planning to solve this problem in a pretty nifty way, by using technology. They are planning to give all participating restaurants a Point of Sale (POS) device – most likely an android tablet-like device. When an order comes into the system from a customer (app/web), it goes directly to the restaurant, which has the control to accept or reject order-items immediately. The one inefficiency, that was the delivery-call-center is gone. Once the order is accepted by the restaurant, the delivery guy is dispatched to the restaurant, who picks up the food and delivers. To me, this sounds like an awesome use of technology – well worth the cost of a cheap tablet – many many times over.

Now, let us step back. There are several more side-advantages of this approach. Zomato now has a foot (well, a technological foot) in the restaurant’s door.

  • Zomato and the restaurant can capture analytics on which food is most ordered.
    • Zomato could potentially even crunch the numbers and figure out how long a certain delivery might take, based on distance of customer from restaurant, timing of the order etc.
  • Zomato can run online specials in collaboration with the restaurant.
  • Zomato can feedback ratings from customers back to restaurants directly.
  • Zomato ratings for restaurants and the ‘price for two’ numbers can become accurate.

Table Booking: Now lets talk about the second direction in which Zomato could potentially expand. If you are a restaurant discovery service, and you have suggested a restaurant to a customer, who has narrowed into this choice, based on a variety of choices, the next easy thing to capture is to help the customer to book a table.

Sure, there are players in this market too – bookyourtable.com, mytable.com etc.

What does Zomato have (or can do) that gives it an edge?

Well, let us go back to the first direction (home delivery) that we discussed in length earlier. We remember that Zomato was giving the restaurants a POS (point of sale) terminal – an android device, which was going to help in getting an order into the restaurant. This same device could very well be used to book a table in the restaurant. In fact, this booking would be so much more reliable and real-time. This would replace the register that the Maitre’D has on his podium at the entrance. So, when half the restaurant has been booked by a large party online,  someone showing up at the door, would know immediately ; and vice versa.

With such a real time interaction between the restaurant and Zomato, one could do several more things as well:

  • Accurately enter the number of regular chair seats vs sofa seating and track the reservations based on this. (Personal problem that I have faced often).
  • Crunch analytics on when a restaurant is most crowded, how long (on an average) a table is occupied, and hence when a next slot can be opened up.

And ofcourse, let us throw in some capitalism for the fun of it:

  • Zomato could have ‘promoted’ hotels –
  • Restaurants could do dip pricing (my invented term – opposite of surge pricing ) for irregular hours
  • When a customer tries booking a table, and is unsuccessful, Zomato could suggest something else nearby. (This could also be the case, when you have booked a table, but the restaurant is so busy, that they cannot guarantee you, and make you wait).

Summary: I have been a big fan of Zomato and what they have been doing. And I see these two directions as promising directions that they are heading (could head towards).

Well, I have to say this. I do have one thing I did not like that Zomato did. This was when they moved from Bangalore to Gurgaon. They tried trash talking Bangalore to lure devs to Gurgaon. While it got them a lot of publicity, I kind-of felt that was in bad taste. Well, to each, their opinion.

IoE and Retail

I read an article by Mala Anand (@malaAnandCisco) of Cisco on how Internet of Everything (IoE) can be harnessed for retail, and that got me thinking. This is another of those dream product posts that I occasionally write (dream-write?). There may be overlaps in some of the things that Mala had used, but this here post is my interpretation :)

My definition of IoE or IoT is the system where multiple devices capable of collecting, transmitting, and/or processing data, are interconnected towards achieving a specific result.

Let us take retail as an example, for the case of this blog post.

As you walk into the door, apps from your mobile phone could communicate to the store about the list of things that you are looking for. Perhaps at a high level, you walk into a super-store such as Star Bazaar in India, or Walmart in the US, and your intention is to buy some groceries and perhaps a dress for your nephew. One of these things could be done:

  • Your to-buy list could be transmitted to a central unit, which could dispatch a human personnel to you to guide you through buying your dress.
  • The store central unit sends the directions to your app indicating where the items you intending purchasing are stocked. It is worth mentioning here, that stores tend to keep changing their locations. So without the latest directions, you could be searching for a while.
  • If you have a long list of grocery items, the central system could guide the phone in your app to an optimized route.
  • If you have taken a shopping cart/trolley, the central system could now talk to a display on the trolley and guide you.
  • And ofcourse, let us toss in a bit of capitalism in here, judging you by your past behaviors, the system could ‘surreptitiously’ guide you to some items that you did not have on our list, but you crave/wish for. And ofcourse give you some deals while at it, to persuade you to buy it.
  • The system could also help you keep you within a budget – money-wise and time-wise.

And hey, while you were still at home, creating your to-buy list, your refrigerator could have let you know the status of milk and other staples at home, and if you need to purchase any.

While at the store, let us shift away from the customer experience, and move towards how it could potentially help the store itself.

  • Based on the sensors that could detect weather (current and predictions), the store manager could get data on if he should be stocking up on related items such as umbrellas, suntan lotion etc, and if he should be putting them up in the center aisles.
  • The temperature sensors could also optimally adjust the thermostats and lighting (this is already done by NEST kind of devices)
  • Stock inventory (weight sensors on the shelves) and Resource deployment could also be updated based on connected devices in the store.
  • Billing lines could be avoided – the connected devices would have calculated the bill, gotten the buyers approval and charged the credit card or deducted from an online wallet.
  • Connected cleaning agents such as robotized roombas could help clean the stores in co-ordination with the other systems in the store.
  • Connected cameras could potentially infer demographics of the customers visiting the stores. Example – Retired folks in a Target at St.Petersburg, Tampa would probably not be needing baseball bats and specialized soccer equipment. Golf clubs might be a better idea to stock.

These are some of the ideas that came up, off the top of my mind. But the Internet of Things is a very interesting subject and even though, much of it is made of dreams, there are promising directions that companies are headed towards, which makes all of these dreams potentially feasible in the not so distant future.

 

Facebook New stories : Mobile to Web

As I have said earlier, I notice UI/UX changes. Some earlier picks herehere and here. I just noticed something new today in Facebook. I have seen this in their mobile app, but one of the first times, I am seeing a company move a good UI feature from an app to the web.

fb-new-stories

 

I have not seen the “New Stories” button in the webpage before. New posts would either auto-load, or I would need to go click on the f button to load new pages. This brings in a new cognitive feature to show that there are new stories.

Good stuff, Facebook. I love the way you are moving features seamlessly between web pages to app and vice versa.

Ponniyin Selvan Book 1 Vol 2 is out!

Book1Vol1Vol2

The second volume was released early today morning. Follow along with the adventures of our hero warrior – Vandhiyathevan and his encounters with the veera vaishnavite – Alwarkadiyaan Nambi, Nandhini, the seductress, and the beautiful Princess Kundavai.

Buy the two books here -> Book 1 -> Vol 1 and Vol 2.

 

Kumbakonam – Summer of 2015 – Temple Trip 2

This is part 2 of my Summer of 2015 series. Part 1 is here.

I had a list of 5 temples to cover this weekend, and was able to succesfully cover them. I do not intend to hurry on this at all. While I am attempting to cover the 276 thevara paadal petra sthalams, 276 is after all a number. My intention is to savour the Thanjavur jilla, the different forms of Lord Shiva, the beautiful Chozha architecture etc. So yeah, no hurry.

Saturday morning, I set off on the trusty wagon-R of my brother-in-law. First stop was Konerirajapuram. Take the Kumbakonam Karaikal road. In about 19 km, you will reach a town named S.Pudur. Take a right here and you will see a signage for vadamattam. Take the road for another 2km, you will hit the temple tank and you will see the Shivan temple.

Konerirajapuram - Shivan temple
Konerirajapuram – Shivan temple

Legend: The Raja wanted the sculptors to make the largest Nataraja possible. He had said, atleast 6-7 ft. Typically Nataraja is made using a 5 metal alloy called Panchaloham. The sculptors kept trying, but they could reach 2.5ft, 3.5ft, but never more than that. Lord Shiva appears as a thirsty brahmin in front of these frustrated sculptors and asks for water. The irritated sculptors give Lord Shiva a glass of Panchaloham. Shiva drinks this and becomes the 7 foot Nataraja that we see today in the temple. The sculptor gets very psyched and goes and tells the Raja, who refuses to believe this story. He comes and hits the idol using a chisel, and blood starts oozing out. The Raja then begs forgiveness to the Lord and asks how to cure the wound that he has created. Lord Muruga comes in the form of Vaidhyanathar and cures the cut. On the right side of the moolavar sannidhi, there is a Vaidyanathar sannidhi and facing him is Muthukumaraswamy (Muruga).

Very quaint little temple. The temple was getting ready for Kumbhabishekam. Another highlight of the visit to this temple was the temple dog, which kept playing with me the entire time I was there.

There is also a famous Perumal temple here. I tried going them, but the temple was locked. I could only peek from the doors. I could get a faint glimpse of the Lord only.

Konerirajapuram - Agraharam
Konerirajapuram – Agraharam

Next on the list was Vaikal Maadakovil. Maadakovil is a class of temples built mostly by Kochengat Chozhan where he built the main temple on a platform which was about 4-5 above the ground (some of them even higher). This is because of a legend that he was a spider that reborn; and in the legend there is an elephant which kept destroying the spider web. [Read legend here]. So even in the next birth, he is supposed to have hated (or afraid of) elephants, and built most of his temples on a raised platform so that elephants cannot reach the sanctum sanctorum. Anyway, back to Vaikal. The road to here is a bit on the narrow and wild side. The road twists and winds through paddy fields and thick bamboo thickets. I used Google Maps to reach there. You will not find too many people to ask directions to here either. Temples was open. No priest. Apparently the priest comes in the morning, performs puja and leaves. Beautifully peaceful temple. Nice temple pond also.

DSC_0052
Vaikal Maadakovil
Road to Vaikal - through lush fields and thick bamboo thickets
Road to Vaikal – through lush fields and thick bamboo thickets

Next on the list for Saturday was Thirukozhambam (earlier called Thirukozhambiyam). Head back to the Kumbakonam-Karaikal Road. There is a new bridge that connects Vaikal with the highway, which Google maps does not know about. I found it by accident. Head back towards S.Pudur. You will pass the right turn that we had earlier taken (to Vadamattam). Right after that, you will see an arch on the left. The arch will say “Sanathkumareswarar”. Head into the arch and head down for about 3-4 km, and you will reach Thirukozhambam. Again, no priest. Temple was open. Went in, had darshan and came out. It has a become a popular joke with my father-in-law. Every time I head back home, he asks me, if there were any other people other than me, in any of the temples I had gone to, and the answer usually is no.

Thirukozhambam
Thirukozhambam
Thirukozhambam
Thirukozhambam
Temple tank - Thirukozhambam
Temple tank – Thirukozhambam

On the way back, I saw the Sanathkumareswarar temple. Seemed to be well maintained, and I also remembered the arch. So I went in. We, Indians have a penchant for wealth, Gods, and Gods who help us create wealth. This temple proof. The legend is that Kubera (the God of wealth) had been cursed by a sage, and had lost everything. He came here and prayed to the Shivan here (Sanathkumareswarar) and he regained back his wealth. This makes the temple ‘famous’. There is also an interesting story about the Guru (Dakshinamoorthy) sannidhi at the back. He has 6 raashis on his left thigh and 6 on his right (you can see the engravings). Apparently, if you come here for 12 thursdays in a row, God will grant whatever you were praying for. The priest here told me that this shrine is famous even among Christians and Muslims. After that I headed home. Total time ~ 3 hours.

Sunday morning – I had two nearby temples. Started around 930AM. First temple was Kottaiyur. Shivan is called Kodeeswaran. Simple small temple. The priest was there in the Ambal sannidhi only. To reach here, cross the kaveri, using the new bridge (the old bridge is closed for construction now). Once you cross the river, you will hit SH66. Head towards Swami malai. You will cross Melakaveri first and then you will hit Kottaiyur.

Kodeeswarar kovil, Kottaiyur
Kodeeswarar kovil, Kottaiyur
Carving of the story of Manu Needhi Chozhan (Equal Justice to all) - Kottaiyur
Carving of the story of Manu Needhi Chozhan (Equal Justice to all) – Kottaiyur

Next on my list was Innambur. To reach here, continue for about 3 km on SH 66 towards Swamimalai. You will see signage for Innambur. You can either take the right towards Thiruppurambiyam and then left into Innambur, or head a little forward for signage directly to Innambur. Very nice Shiva temple. Two devis – one with a very traditional tamizh name (Sugandha Kundalaambal) and one with a very trendy modern name (Nitya Kalyani). Both these temples took around one hour only.

Innambur
Innambur

To see the full beauty of the Thanjavur jilla, you need to hit the back roads. The scenery on the side of the highways do not depict the true reality. For instance SH66 scenery is drab. Once you take the road towards Innambur or Thiruppurambiyam, it will blow your mind. Lush green fields. Lone palm trees. Small temples in the middle of the field. Canals. The works.

DSC_0042
Enroute to Innambur
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Enroute to Innambur
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Enroute to Innambur
DSC_0062
Enroute to Innambur
DSC_0067
Enroute to Innambur
DSC_0068
Irrigation canal

 

Web Icons and Cognitive Dissonance

According to wikipedia,

Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

In simpler terms, it means, a visualization that is used to mean something is used to trick your mind into agreeing to something which is exactly the opposite. I found a perfect example today morning, and hence this post.

2015-04-24 06_39_27-airtel

See the battery icon on the far left. What does that signify? Does that not trick your mind into believing that your battery is running low? Whatever you are being measured and told, it means you are running out of that quantity. In this case, it is the amount of high speed bandwidth that I have remaining in this month (before I slip into FUP hell).

But look at the numbers. I actually have enough. Well, more than enough. I have 64 GB out of my 80 GB quota. This is the airtel smartbytes page where airtel wants you to buy bandwidth packs to replenish your diminishing high speed bandwidth.

This, my friends, is cognitive dissonance.

Kumbakonam – Summer of 2015 – Temple Trip 1

Reached Kumbakonam on Saturday morning (Bangalore-Mayiladuthurai Express).

Saturday evening started around 5PM. Original idea was to do Thiruppurambiyam, Eenambur, and Kottaiyur – all within a few km from each other. Kottaiyur is closest to Kumbakonam. Then comes Eenambur and then Thiruppurambiyam. Two temples on my stretch list was Thiruvaikaavoor and Thiruvijayamangai.

I did Thiruppurambiyam first and then for some reason decided to do Thiruvaikkavoor and Thiruvijayamangai on that day. One thought I had in mind was Kottaiyur and Eenambur are relatively closer to Kumbakonam and can be done yet another day.

IMAG0131
                                                                          Thiruppurambiyam

 

IMAG0133
                                                                         Thiruppurambiyam

 

Thiruvaikavoor
                                                                               Thiruvaikavoor
Thiruvijayamangai
                                                                Thiruvijayamangai

Sunday morning decided to Thirupanandaal with my brother in law. He had gone to college here. Nice large temple. Well maintained. It has its own aadheenam – so not very surprising.

Thirupanandaal
                                                                Thirupanandaal
Thirupanandaal
                                                                            Thirupanandaal

On the way back from Thirupanandaal, my brother in law was mentioning about a temple which had been recently built dedicated only to the 63 nayanmaars. Interesting small temple with just utsavars for the 63 saints.

63 Nayanmaar temple
                                                                   63 Nayanmaar temple

So that ended my first weekend trip in the Summer of 2015. More coming up in the weekend of April 25.

 

Twitter Trends – UI Change?

A little while ago, I wrote a post on the awesome new feature in twitter web UI, the quote-and-RT. I am loving it But before the euphoria died down, I just noticed that, twitter has made yet another UI (or maybe trying out on a subset population). When I log in to twitter today morning, I see a dense trends column on the left side of my screen.

2015-04-23 10_17_24-(8) Twitter

To be honest, I do not remember where the trends column used to be before – I rarely look at what is trending. But today seemed to be different. I noticed it because it is crowded and ugly. It is crowded because of the extra text below the actual hashtag. It distracts me from my timeline.

The fact that I never used to look at the trends (and hence did not let it affect/influence) my conversations on the timeline, makes it even harder for me now.

There is definitely a cognitive distraction that is happening here and I am not liking it. Are any of my readers seeing this as well? Are you OK with this?

And deep inside me, there is one more fear in me. Was this a means to drive people towards trending phrases – which could potentially be sponsored. If so, this is nothing short of discrete native advertising. Not that I am saying it is wrong to do advertising (twitter is a publicly listed company after all, and it has to make money), but hopefully not at the cost of distracted users. The last time something like that happened to me was when there used to be these blinking bling pop-up ads on webpages.

Now, has someone written an extension to hide the trends column?

Update: Ok, I found a way to get it back to normal. Click on the ‘Change’  next to the trends. It will ask you for which city you want trends for. Type in your location. There is a button called “Tailored Trends”. Do not click on that button, and just click Done. It will go back to a shorter trends column with just hashtags. Phew.

Ecommerce kiosks

I had toyed with this idea earlier when I wrote the “Ideas for Bigbasket” post. The idea then was to have these internet enabled kiosks where folks could order stuff from big basket and perhaps even collect stuff from these kiosks/counters. Fundamental premise at that time was this was still for the yuppie crowd, but for those who do not want to sit on a computer and order, and most definitely do not want to wait at home for an order to arrive.

More recently, on reading this article about Flipkart going fully the app way (and most likely closing the flipkart.com route), this idea popped back into my mind. Kiosks as I mention above are probably best served using an android interface, and what better news than an ecommerce provider going fully the app route. (Sure you could do this even if it was not fully the app-route, but this was what caught my attention!).

So, let me try and use my static brain a little here, this fine tuesday morning, to see if I can come with a feature set for a kiosk like this.

1. Kiosks – An ATM like machine with only the ecommerce app loaded on to the screen, where customers can order. There could be one or many depending on the traffic the place sees. This would have to be a secure room such as those found for ATMs. Solid power backup and reliable internet connection would have to be a must. The kiosk must have the capability to be open 24 hours. This gives access for someone to pickup their order even late at night.

2. Positioning of kiosk My thinking has changed since my Bigbasket post. I think this kiosk can be anywhere and everywhere. It just needs to be high traffic. In a place like Bangalore, it could be in the BDA complexes. It could be in the MTC bus depots (like the T.Nagar Depot) in Chennai. It could be in the minimarkets (like Brahmaputra market – Sec 29) in Noida. It could be the megamarkets (such as Sarojini nagar Market) in Delhi. Well, these are the places I have lived for significant periods of time, but you get my drift. This is no longer for the yuppie crowd.

3. Manned vs unmanned kiosks: There could be manned kiosks where registrations can be facilitated by a personnel. These manned kiosks could potentially also take cash payments. Unmanned kiosks would have no personnel and could only be used order and take delivery of items using debit/credit cards. Unmanned kiosks could be 24 hours but manner kiosks could be open for a limited time. No special training for personnel would be required, since a current delivery logistics person could very well be reused to man this job- since the job function is exactly the same – except he does not go door to door, but deliver at a single point.

4. Access and payments would have to be through a card facilitated through the ecommerce company and potentially a bank. These cards could be applied for either online or through a help person sitting in the kiosks. These cards could be either preloaded debit cards or credit cards. Bank faciliated cards would take off a liability from the ecommerce company and help greatly on processing payments. Top up on cards can potentially be made easier with top-up cards similar to the pre-paid phone cards that are very popular now.

5. Pickup The access card could be used to unlock a locker, where orders can be picked up. Perishables have a timeline before which one needs to pick the order up. SMS alerts could be set up for locker opening and closing and when the order is available in the locker for pickup. This locker concept has already been tried out in the US by Amazon and is technically feasible. I do not know how successful the experiment was, but cultural significance matter and we cannot rule out it not working here.

6. Ordering would be easy. The card would authenticate them. They browse and choose the product they want to order. If the pickup location is a manned kiosk, COD would be a possibility, else, it would have to be credit/debit card payments.  The existing UX for the app could very well be reused. The delivery location however could have a default location, which is the kiosk location itself. The customer can choose to order here and deliver elsewhere as well.

Advantages to the ecommerce company:

1. Logistics is simplified to a great extent. It can be potentially much faster, since there just needs to be one trip from the motherhub of a city to the kiosk location. Cost reduces because of this simplification as well.

2. Reach is significantly expanded. People who do not have a stable internet connection at home, or a smart phone with an internet connection can easily order stuff off the web now.

Disadvantages to the ecommerce company:

1. There is one more entity that needs to be managed now – the kiosks.

2. There is always a risk of vandalism and pilferage. This needs to be managed carefully.

Advantages to consumer:

1. Biggest advantage to the user would be in the delivery segment. He does not need to be at home to receive the package. He can go to the kiosk on his way home and pick it up on the go. The yuppie consumer would probably still be using this phone or web to order, but would probably use this delivery mechanism for ease of pickup.

2. For a not-so-yuppie consumer, this could mean, he could order something off the web without using up his bandwidth on his phone or broadband. He could also do this at a location which he frequents daily (such as a bus stop).

3. For the masses, the reach would be huge. Now a much larger section of society would have universal access to anything they want to buy. Until now, the restriction for a large section of our society is to buy whatever is available in the store that is closest to where they live. If it is not available there, then it is not available at all. This could change all that.

Disadvantages to consumer:

1. The only disadvantages that I could probably think off here is adding yet another card for access to this kiosk, and potentially a long line that is waiting for pickup. But these could be easily worked around by introducing swift and efficient workflows.