Unqueue: Go online to get out of line

Above: Agyei Archer with Andel Husbands (background) at the shared Woodbrook workspace where Unqueue was developed. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Published in Newsday BusinessDay for July 16, 2020

Agyei Archer and Andel Husbands looked at the problems that arose for shoppers during covid19 restrictions and decided to make an app for that.

To solve the problem, they needed more than an app, they needed a system to tie retailers, delivery services and the customer together in a transparent and accountable way.

The result was Unqueue; a digital system supporting contactless shopping that’s meant to replace hastily jury-rigged solutions that have used existing communications systems like WhatsApp with varying levels of success.

The result, the two-man team believes, is a product that they describe as “a product tailored to the market we live in.”

Andel Husbands. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

In a press release announcing the system, Husbands said, “What excites me the most about this project is the fact that Unqueue is fully homegrown…from design to build and rollout, we were able to create a product for us, by us.”

“Production never left our islands’ borders, and I think that is something noteworthy. I really can’t wait to see the paradigm shift.”

This isn’t Husbands’ first go round in the local app market.

With Jonathan Aggaratt, he produced the popular party finder app, Where D Pump and has worked as a web and app developer with YUP Life, YUMA Vibe, and Erphaan Alves.

Archer is a designer with a particular and unique, at least in TT, focus on type design and has worked with the TT Government, Google and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Surprisingly for a project of this scale and reach, it was completed and brought to market by just the two business partners.

Archer handled project management, design, and planning while Husbands handled development and planning.

“Usually this many roles are split across a larger team,” Archer explained, “but we’ve been working together for a solid year straight on a lot of projects.”

“Normally building something like this would’ve taken a lot longer, but our working familiarity meant that we were able to express a lot of the processes with rapid prototyping.”

Agyei Archer with Andel Husbands (background). Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

In designing the project, development focused on the user experience first, working through each step for businesses and customers before designing the look of the app, which is spare and elegant.

“The UX should guide the UI,” Archer said, “we wanted an app that looks like everything else the customer has on their phone.”

Unqueue targets small businesses and has registered 44 sign ups since it launched a week ago.

“Some of our new signups haven’t created their stores yet, so we’re reaching out to see if they need any help with that,” Archer said.

“Our roadmap is exciting, and we’re really interested in seeing Unqueue operate at scale, which is what we designed it for: to be small enough to be manageable, while powerful enough for high-volume businesses.”

To develop the system, Archer and Husbands looked at a few existing platforms as “aspirational models.”

“Being in Trinidad and Tobago means that we had to work on bridging the gap between those solutions and our market,” Archer said.

“We built our codebase from scratch, as we felt that integrating something white-label would have taken as much time and been potentially less efficient.”

Our roadmap is exciting, and we’re really interested in seeing Unqueue operate at scale, which is what we designed it for…”
– Agyei Archer

The app also needed to make allowances for the pervasiveness of cash as a payment medium.

“Our change calculator – which tells businesses how much change to prepare for customers in advance – is an example of this kind of thinking and approach.”

“We made an app and tested it among our most challenging potential user base: high-volume retailers who already don’t have a lot of time on their hands.”

“We wanted the design to deliver product that was worth the 10 minutes it took to get setup and demonstrate the many hours of customer service and business operations time it can save.”

“We are hoping we can get a chance to demonstrate Unqueue’s capacity to serve larger companies like Massy Stores and Tru Valu.”

“At present, our app offers more built-in features than either of theirs and checks out faster with more pickup options and support, so we’re hoping we can help them establish a more technologically robust system, especially since their challenges are the ones we’re especially good at solving.”

Unqueue’s business plan depends on building a volume of store inventory and a steady flow of orders for product.

For anyone joining the service, the first thirty orders are always free, essentially a trial of the capabilities of the digital tool, but also, according to Archer, “as a way of supporting micro-businesses who might want to use Unqueue but are struggling financially.”

After that sales baseline is crossed, packages for using the service are $150 for 200 orders, $600 (1,000) and $1500 (5,000).

To introduce Unqueue, all order fees are suspended until September 01, 2020.

“We’re hoping that we can partner with some of our larger targets,” said Archer.

“Especially companies who are interested in its potential for fleet management, advanced reporting, cashless transactions, and the most important, the core feature of Unqueue, making orders easier.”

How Unqueue works

Unqueue screens for, from left, administrators, vendors and customers.

Businesses that sign up for Unqueue can either input required information about their individual products directly into the back-end or they can upload existing data in Excel or CSV format into the system.

Unqueue supports photos, which are easy enough to handle on single entry, but the team is still working out details for integration with modern inventory management systems that support images.

There are no minimum or maximum numbers for product listing and Unqueue makes a Business Services team available to anyone needing coaching on the process.

“For businesses that may have challenges with their onboarding process,” Archer said, “we’re happy to do their uploads for them, the app is fast enough to make even that manageable.”

The setup includes Google Maps support with fine-grained control over location placement, which businesses doing curbside pickup will find particularly useful.

Business verification for Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements is done using cloud-based OCR of an image of a bank statement during store creation.

In a brisk online demo, Archer showed a basic setup of an online store listing that took less than three minutes. Building out a large catalog of product will take more time.

Businesses receive a “welcome pack” which includes Unqueue pickup tags, branded sharpies and stickers used in the product delivery process.

The pickup tags, a crucial order-matching cog in the process, will be resupplied to paying customers on an ongoing basis.

Customers place orders using the Unqueue app and can opt to have their product delivered by drivers who have signed up for the Unqueue Delivery app.

For now, the delivery app is part of the business fulfilment process for participating companies and supports existing delivery teams and fleet services.

The product road map includes future integration with local rideshare services.

In additional to financial reporting on orders, the system will eventually roll out reporting on efficiencies like delivery times to guide Unqueue users on refining their engagement with the system.

The Unqueue team will probably poll their partner community to suggest which rideshare vendor they would like supported first.

Integrating Unqueue with the software used by each rideshare vendor will be its own project.

That feedback mechanism will also drive future development.

Users can up vote planned features, indicating priorities for the businesses who are actually using the product.

“We’re really focused on being a community-driven software solution,” Archer said.