What with Magic in the US, and the launch of Messenger.SG in Singapore last month, it looks like messaging concierge services are really catching on. If you haven’t heard, messaging concierges are services to which you can send a message for something you need done — just ask, and you shall supposedly receive. And just today, nihao concierge launched the second service in Singapore that claims to be able to get you anything you can think of, on demand.
Naturally, the fact that this makes two concierge services in the local market invites comparison. For one, it’s clear that the site interface of nihao concierge bears a distinct resemblance to Messenger.SG’s:
With the exception of a few listed services (their butlers can fulfil the rather strange request of handwriting and sending letters for only 50 cents), and the fact that Telegram is used in place of Whatsapp, nihao concierge appears to be similar to Messenger. The question is, can nihao concierge get us the things we want faster, or at a cheaper rate?
Previously, Vulcan Post tried out the Messenger service by ordering a 24-piece box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. The Messenger team took three hours to reply and less than an hour to send the box over, with the total cost of the purchase being quoted as $34.70.
To put nihao concierge to the test, we did the same thing.
While the butler attending to me — yes, they insist on calling their operators butlers — replied in less than 20 minutes, it wasn’t a confirmation. It would be interesting to see if nihao concierge can beat Messenger’s timing, although considering that they launched three hours ago, they’re probably still working out some kinks.
An hour later, the butler got back to us — it looks like we’ll only be seeing our chocolates the next morning. All in all, that’s about the same speed as a letter sent by snail mail.
We also got in touch with Bob and Jon, the co-founders of nihao concierge, to ask them a few questions about their startup. Interestingly, the nihao brand began as an online shop for tee-shirts with Singaporean-inspired slogans — if you visit their Facebook page, you’ll notice pictures of shirts with slogans such as ‘bojio’ and ‘my grandmother can run faster than you’. We asked them about their dramatic pivot.
“We’re pivoting because we realised that the t-shirt market is highly saturated. This means that it is very difficult to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Furthermore, a personal texting service is a new concept, especially in Singapore and the SEA region.
To stay competitive against Messenger, the nihao concierge team says:
“We are keeping our response times short and our service personalised versus the other messaging service that has launched. For example, our average waiting time is only about an hour maximum.”
While it’s true that they’ve been keeping their response time below one hour so far, the request we sent them for Ferrero Rocher chocolates two hours ago hasn’t been confirmed yet. This might be because, in the co-founders’ words, “we’ve had an insane amount of users from sites like Reddit today.”
If you’re curious about how such messaging concierges plan to turn a profit — after all, goods are pretty convenient to buy in Singapore, so profit through high delivery fees might turn Singaporeans off — well, so were we, so we put this question to the nihao team.
“For now, we plan to experiment with monetisation. For things like advice, feedback and other basic tasks, we won’t charge any fees. However, we may choose to charge for tasks that require extra work, like delivery or shopping. This will be in the form of a “service charge”, but all costs will be made known to users.”
Considering how new such services are, it looks like finding a viable business model is still ongoing.
[UPDATE: 7 April]
Through nihao concierge, a 24-piece box of Ferrero Rochers would set us back $22.80, which is significantly less than Messenger’s quote of $34.70 for a similar box. However, more than three hours had lapsed before the butler could confirm the delivery.
While earlier, the estimated time of delivery was the next morning, it looks like nihao concierge wasn’t prepared for a sudden deluge of orders.
Unfortunately, the earliest possible delivery slot they could give me was 6 to 8pm the next day — an inconvenient timing for office deliveries, since most would have ended or would be ending work by then.
Eventually, our confirmed timing for delivery was 8 April, Wednesday morning — which means that we would have to wait nearly two days for our request made on 6 April, 3.49pm to be fulfilled. It would certainly be much easier, not to mention cheaper, to stop by a 7-Eleven to get them, or alternatively, pay more for a faster service through Messenger.
Our verdict? It might be too early to write nihao concierge off yet — it could still be a pretty amazing service once they work out their teething problems. But it seems that nihao concierge plans to go through third-party supermarket and delivery systems to get things done — in our case, it was Kamaka Group Pte Ltd.
This third-party system might be the main factor influencing nihao concierge’s slow delivery times.
It’s hard to imagine messaging concierges really taking off in tiny, urban Singapore if you’re talking about mundane things like checking movie timings or grocery shopping. One way that services like nihao concierge could be truly useful would be if the item you’re looking for is unusual or isn’t sold in Singapore, requiring a lot of research to hunt it down; in such cases, though, you’ll have to be prepared for exorbitant shipping fees or lengthy wait times. After all, messaging concierges are human too; it’s clear that such services aren’t quite the quick fix they promise to be, at least for now.
[FINAL UPDATE: 8 April]
Aaaand… our chocolates arrived this morning! We can’t fault them on their service – we received a complimentary bottle of water with our purchase. Still, while the novelty of messaging concierges are a draw, most of us would agree that a two-day wait is too inconvenient to outweigh their benefits.