Creating an On-Demand Home Moving Service

An Executive Summary on how we created a Instant Booking Moving Service


Dubai is largely a transit populace with many incoming and outgoing expats transiting to and out of the country. With far more renters than Homeowners the business for Movers & Packers is close to $500 Million per year. While many prominent Moving companies like EasyTruck, Crown Movers, Allied Movers, etc all present in the market, none of them have an e-commerce interface for customers to pre-book the service at a fixed price. Thus creating an opportunity for Online Marketplaces like MrUsta, Service Market & Helpbit to provide this service. But what's stopping the incumbent players from launching such an online service?

The Challenges

The First Challenge: No Upfront Price.

The challenge that present is the nature of the service requires a Team from the moving company to assess the volume of luggage being moved before arriving at a price. The assessment includes:

  1. The total number of Beds: As they take up most of the space in a Truck
  2. The total number of Fragile items that need packing: This will determine the amount of packing material needed.
  3. The total amount of Luggage that needs to be packed: This would determine the manpower needed.
  4. The total volume of the luggage that needs transportation: This will determine the number of trucks needed to be deployed for the move.
  5. The total number of white goods (i.e. Home Appliances) that would need to be installed: This would require skilled manpower i.e. Plumbers, Electricians, etc.

Thus creating 5 variables that affect the final quotation cannot be determined upfront without a site visit.

The Second Challenge: Multiple Vendors with Variable Pricing

As a marketplace with multiple Moving companies onboard, a variance in pricing is expected as the quality and quantity of services being offered vary depending on the company doing the job.

The Third Challenge: Adjusting Pricing for Seasonality

The UAE's weather creates strong shifts in purchasing dynamics especially in Home Services. For example, services like AC Cleaning, and Pest Control Electricians are in High demand during the summers just driving the overall labor costs during the Hot months of April to October thereby driving up prices in other services as well namely Moving. While prices for overall labor drop in the cold months as demand for Home services especially in Maintenance drop for multiple reasons. Thus adjusting prices as per the variances in demand is another challenge.

The Fourth Challenge: The Tech Architecture

When creating a super app of this magnitude the backend tech infrastructure is not always malleable enough to accommodate flexible pricing. Moreover, unlike regular e-commerce retail platforms that simply calculate the final price by an arithmetic of fixed price components, an app like MrUsta receives input based on demand.  For Example in Home Cleaning: The Customer chooses the number of Cleaners and The Number of Hours. However, this same Algorithm in the backend is not applicable to other services like Home Painting or Home Moving etc. Thus creating a need for multiple algorithms with a tech backend that is malleable enough to accommodate it.

The Problems

The biggest problems with not providing a price upfront:

  1. Large Drop-Off Rate: Drop-Off Rates would exceed 50% when customers didn't get a price upfront, choosing to proceed with a Mover who would commit to base price over the phone.
  2. Business Leakage: A site visit by the mover would allow the customer and mover to negotiate a price independent of the Online Marketplace taking the business off the platform, resulting in a loss of commission for the Marketplace.
  3. Service Quality: Site visits require a high level of service quality and etiquette. 1) Arriving on time 2) Arriving groomed well 3) Etiquette to inform the customer to walk around the house with permission.
  4. Closing the Deal: Customers would often schedule multiple site visits around the same time, thus creating a bidding situation wherein the prices would often be driven out or outbid to other another mover. From a partner vendor standpoint, this would be an avoidable situation.

The Solution: How we fixed the Service & the Product

To fix this problem and launch On-demand Home Moving Service, I had to fix 3 things:

Solution 1: Create an algorithm for On-demand Moving by introducing a system to reduce the number of pricing variables and focusing on an algorithm with can be adjusted based on the demand.

Solution 2: Create the User Experience on the Mobile & Web App: The backend algorithm requires input from the customer.

Solution 3: Homogenize the Service: With the Price upfront the customer's good user experience on the Mobile & Web App needed to be matched with the actual service he/she got during the move.


Variations in the UI/UX of the Two Services

User Experience of Get Quotes Moving Service

  1. The customer receives 3 Quotations from Movers after a Site Visit
  2. The customer negotiations & bargains a price with the customer
  3. The customer pays cash directly to the mover.
  4. The Customer has to vett the Mover by himself
  5. The Customer receives no Customer Support

User Experience of Instant Booking Moving Service

  1. Customers get a price upfront.
  2. Customers choose the quality of service. Eg: Budget, Standard, Premium
  3. Customers can pay via Cash/Card directly on the platform.
  4. Customers receive a Mr. Usta vetted exclusive partner
  5. Customers receive Customer Support.

Creating the Algorithm on Ms Excel

The Sprint: Project Execution

Solution 1: Creating an Algorithm

First I needed to understand how moving companies actually price these services themselves. After interviewing over 10 moving companies across the pricing spectrum from Ultra premium to extremely budget, I understood that most companies didn't actually own the trucks nor the labor they used in their services, and thus the rates for Truck and Labor rentals were fixed, what varied was the premium these moving companies would add on top of it. Thus an algorithm could be written by considering just 3 variables 1) The Number of Labor 2) The Number of Trucks 3) The distance travelled.

Solution 2: Creating A User Experience on the Mobile & Web App:

As our Tech backend was hardbound and could not be flexible we had to mend the algorithm to fit into the exisiting system and also ensure as little input from the customer as possible. Thus getting the customer from 1st click to checkout in as few steps as possible.

Solution 3: Homogenizing Service Experience

I created On-demand Home Moving into an exclusive service by selecting 3 Movers one Premium one Standard and one Budget mover thus channeling all business to just these three companies rather than making jobs available to the entire pool of 10 movers on our platform. In exchange for exclusivity, the movers would agree to wear MrUsta printed uniforms and Brand their moving trucks with MrUsta branding. By training just 3 movers in a standardized service we were able to maintain service quality and promote the MrUsta Brand.


Review: What we got right

Ultimately the New On-demand service solved many problems for the company and MrUsta:

What On-demand Moving got right:

  1. Upfront Payment: On-demand Moving resulted in customers paying the platform MrUsta the amount upfront via Credit/debit card upfront rather than dealing with cash and the mover at the end of the move. This also significantly reduced cancellations.
  2. A Happier Customer: A new streamlined service meant the relationship between the platform and the customer was always in control and we would always keep strong communication with the customer.
  3. On-Ground Promotion: MrUsta branded services became allowed us to make the brand more visible to customers and bringing us more jobs and boosting our credibility in the market.


Retrospective: My Learnings

Through this process, we ultimately learned a lot and these are the nuggets of Gold that I'd take forward in my future experience:

  1. A Good Service is not enough: The change in user experience and streamlining of the service no matter how good did not ultimately lead the company to more jobs. Ultimately while we did receive additional jobs from word of mouth we were unable to spend big to market the service nationwide.
  2. Didn't create Barriers to Entry: It's extremely difficult to distinguish yourself when it comes to a service like Home Moving given the competition and ridiculous prices in the market in an unorganized sector like Home Moving. And so without many barriers to entry, most competitors were able to replicate and launch On-Demand Moving services of their own, which ultimately ate into our market share.
  3. Lower Price does not lead to higher Job Volumes: In the Home services sector, the industry incumbents between 2016 to 2020 kept driving prices down in order to gain market share. But this ultimately does not lead to an increased job volume for a few reasons:

a. Doubts on Service Quality: Customers often equated lower prices with lower service quality.

b. Reduces Brand Value: A concession of sorts to lower prices indirectly signals a sign of desperation and so also reduces job value.

4. Get the Launch Right: Years of offering the open marketplace model had created a reputation with the brand which was very hard to overcome no matter how well the new service was.