I had a really great first delivery experience in Spain, when I carried running shoes ordered from Amazon.com in my luggage and delivered them to a stranger in Granada who was saving a lot of money by using peer-to-peer delivery. So for my upcoming trip to Southeast Asia I posted on several crowdsourced delivery sites offering to carry stuff for folks living in Malaysia (and a few other destinations). This time I ran into some problems that I think are part of the growing pains of this new area of sharing economy travel services.
I love the concept: use the extra space in your luggage to earn some money, or just get connections and tips and make friends with locals. I travel super light so I will always have space in my luggage for extra stuff.
There’s a site that focuses on Southeast Asia (primarily Indonesia I believe) for deliveries: Bistip. So I figured I had a good chance of connecting with folks who wanted to buy things from the United States. I did get four inquiries within a few days of posting my trip. Unfortunately all were in a language I could not even recognize, much less speak. I’m assuming it was Malaysian but a few of the inquiries seemed to be asking me to bring things to Indonesia (according to google translate) so maybe there were multiple languages involved. I responded to all (in English) asking if they could send me their request in English. One person responded in English asking me to bring stuff to Indonesia. My trip very clearly listed my destinations (Indonesia was not one of them) so I don’t know why there was this confusion.
The one person who did write back in English and who really wanted things at my destination in Malaysia sent me links to some products he wanted me to buy. He asked for my number on whatsapp so we could coordinate purchases. After some back and forth (his English is excellent), we negotiated a 10% fee for me, and agreed on a delivery plan that worked for both of us. He really had his heart set on a particular shoes that were selling for $600 (special limited edition sneakers). Eventually he found a pair for $245 on ebay and wanted to move forward with the purchase. At which point he asked me to buy them.
The Bistip website is set up so that people who want to buy things can pay Bistip and the money is held by the company. This way the person making the delivery can purchase items with no risk. When the delivery is made Bistip pays the deliverer. At the same time the purchaser does not have any risk because their money is only released when a delivery is made.
I told my expensive sneaker friend that I would not front the money for the purchase and he needed to pay me through Bistip. He said he had the cash in his hands but didn’t have any way of paying Bistip (they require paypal or a direct bank transfer). I’m not sure what made him think I would be friendly to the idea of fronting money. I think the site is quite clear about how things work, but I do understand that making money transfers is a lot easier and more common in countries like the United States than in Malaysia. This guy seemed confused about what he needed to do to pay through Bistip and even offered to make a paypal transfer to me directly (which is risky for him). I refused and insisted on using the Bistip system for security for both of us. While it’s possible this was a scam, the extent and content of my interactions with this person makes me think it was just confusion about how to work the system.
After insisting he pay through Bistip, I didn’t hear back from this guy. I sent him a message a few days later asking about the status of his purchase and got back this message: “I give up. It’s sold.”
On the Bistip website they have a ticker of transactions that are active or recently concluded (lots of them) and claim a total of almost $250k in transactions conducted so far.
While writing about this experience I reached out to Rohit Kanwar, the managing director of Bistip in Jakarta, to talk about what happened and how to improve peer to peer delivery. While apologizing for the failure of my transaction he noted that “…our success rate is more than 90% on the transactions” and Bistip “usually gets 50 safe-pays per week and [this is] increasing with the online payment penetration in the Asian Market. ” Bistip is working to minimize transaction failures with some new features they will roll out in a few months including “Instant prices on Ebay, Amazon etc, Instant messaging, Travelers rating, Customer Service, and Insurance.” As Kanwar pointed out: “Online Peer to Peer shared economies are new and continuously innovating therefore they are learning from the customer insights and feedback and quickly fixing in their Business Models. In few years with technology advancement it will become part and parcel of our daily life.”
I think it’s going to take some work to educate people about using peer to peer delivery services, and to set things up so that all transactions go smoothly, but clearly this form of delivery is quickly growing in popularity.