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Chores become big business as errand companies put a price on time

Aug 12,2019
Trash to take out? The fridge empty? Laundry needs to be taken to the cleaners? There is, of course, an app for that. And it’s getting more popular in Korea by the day.

It doesn’t grant all wishes. But it will take care of many chores most busy people would rather not do, and it will take care of the hassle for a good price.

From left: An employee of “My Bulter” makes a delivery on a bicycle. A Washwat employee takes out the laundry. [MY BUTLER, WASHWAT]
Download the “My Butler” mobile application, press a few buttons or swipe a few bars, and in no time, someone is taking care of dirty, boring or tedious work for as little as 2,000 ($1.65) won for 20 minutes.

Errand services already exist, but My Butler says it will get the job done faster and cheaper.

It works like clockwork. The order is made, and an employee on standby nearby sprints into action. It’s 2,000 won to take care of food waste and 3,000 won for recyclables. Other chores attract other prices.

From the beginning, the service was popular with people with infants and children below the school age, as they often have a hard time leaving their homes for chores.

Trial services commenced in November 2017, and the company went live in March 2018. My Butler is now fulfilling around 15,000 orders per month. Since starting in a small district in Songpa, southern Seoul, My Butler now serves around 170,000 households in 160 apartment complexes across Seoul and in nearby cities.

“When taking care of babies, going outside for even a short time period is a huge task,” said Park Ji-eun, a working mom currently on parental leave.

“At first, I saw no need to use the service, but after they started taking care of bothersome chores, I could concentrate more on raising my child.”

Another parent, surnamed Kim, said errand services have given her more time for herself.

“I have to take care of my child for more than 12 hours a day,” Kim, 30, said. “When time allows, I do want to use it for myself. Although in the past I thought I would have to take care of every chore with my husband, as I started using the errand service, I felt I received a gift of precious time to use for myself.”

My Butler is not the only service that homebound parents use in taking care of their daily chores. Companies like the Cleaning Lab, Miso and Daerijubu are cost-effective options for house cleaning, while companies like Laundrygo and Washswat provide quick laundry collection and delivery.

To use Laundrygo, customers simply request a pickup via smartphone and put their clothes in a “launderette,” a laundry basket equipped with a smart lock system that can be installed near the door. Laundrygo employees pick up the boxes - there’s no need for a face-to-face conversation - and bring the clothes back, washed and cleaned, within 24 hours.

“Although laundromats do provide pick-up and delivery services, their timelines don’t really match with mine,” said Kim Se-yeon, 36, who uses a laundry pick-up service.

“Even when I try to go to laundromats myself, they are closed when it’s time for me to go to work, and when I get off work, they are already closed again. The reason I use the new errand service is that I don’t face time constraints using a smartphone application.”

The laundry pick-up services offer attractive pricing.

Washwat charges 5,000 won for blazers and 3,000 won for regular shirts, similar to what traditional laundromats charge. Laundrygo charges 8,000 won for 30 liters of clothes, 1,500 won for dress shirts and 3,500 won jackets, which are dry cleaned.

“Laundry is related to space not just labor,” said Laundrygo CEO Cho Seung-woo. “For houses built for one or two people, there is little room for washing machines and dryers. If a laundry errand service becomes well-commercialized, people can live without washing machines, providing them a better way to manage their time and space.”

Cho added that apartment buildings have increasingly asked the company to partner for its services.

Experts believe errand services will continue to prosper in coming years, as consumer habits are changing.

“The consumption trend is transitioning from goods-focused to service-focused,” said Lee Hyang-eun, a design engineering professor at Sungshin Women’s University.

“Modern consumers are looking for efficiency, and they are willing to pay a certain amount of money for bothersome work, and if they find the experience pleasing enough, they collaboratively give a boost to the sharing economy.”

Experts also say that the outsourcing trend will grow as the population ages.

“There is demand among single-person households, working women and housewives to outsource their household chores,” said Lee Jeong-min, head of trend analysis firm Trendlab506. “As the population ages, the outsourcing industry will definitely grow, and the service industry could also branch out to provide exclusive services for the elderly.”

BY YOON KYUNG-HEE [ko.juntae@joongang.co.kr]


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