Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Should You Use TaskRabbit to Pick Out Your New Couch?

I tried to do it. Here's how that worked out...

The Use Case -- Professionals With Less Time Than Money (Although Not Enough Money to Hire a Personal Assistant)

My fiancee and I are both employed in the tech sector. We love our jobs and work long hours, which leaves little time and interest left to focus on things like home decor.

But we recently moved into a new place, and decided to get a new couch. The issue was that neither of us wanted to spend time shopping for it.

So I decided to use TaskRabbit. TaskRabbit is a friendly service that allows you to hire someone for a specific task, e.g., picking up your dry-cleaning, or to take up a task like this yourself and earn a little extra cash. I figured it would be the perfect solution if I could make the task spec detailed enough.

The Experience -- Missed Deadline, Poor Communication, Task Incomplete

I used the iPhone app, which has a cute chore-wheel style interface.
TaskRabbit iPhone app interface

I chose a virtual task, since I thought most of the work could be done online, and then filled out the TaskRabbit form, which requires details like the skills necessary to complete a task, time limit, and how much you'll pay (I went with $25, which TaskRabbit suggested as the "most popular price" for tasks).

Then I filled out the description with specific instructions:
Recommend 5 couches for me to go look at. Couches must:--be new (not pre-owned)--be $1200 or less, including tax and delivery/assembly--be available for delivery within the San Francisco area--be 8 feet or less in width when assembled--have a chaise that can go on either side--be available in gray--not be from IkeaThis task requires Research.This task should take Less than 1 hour.

I posted the task. I got a notification within a few hours, saying that my task had been accepted. The TaskRabbit who would be picking out my couch also sent me an email to let me know that she was on the case:

So far, so good, but then my TaskRabbit disappeared. After a day's wait on a job that should have taken an hour, I emailed her, and she sent back one link to a couch:

Okay, so 20% of the task was complete. Great! But then more waiting followed. When I pushed my TaskRabbit for updates, I didn't get much back:


I got one more link (40% of project complete):

And then she gave up:

She was clearly not going to help me any more. So I ended the task and paid her. I left honest feedback that reflected that my TaskRabbit had exceeded her time limit and left the task incomplete. She offered excuses and a refund:

But at that point, it was too late. I didn't really care about my $25. I cared about getting some ideas for a couch. And besides, it sounded like she needed the money more than I did.

The Moral of the Story

When I told a few friends my TaskRabbit story, all of them shrugged and said "You get what you pay for." Maybe a higher price would have netted me a better outcome, but I was new to the service and used the price that TaskRabbit recommended. 

If I were TaskRabbit, I would be worried that people were having these kinds of experiences, because it suggests that TaskRabbit's business thesis -- that you can hire people to do simple tasks piecemeal and at reasonable prices -- might be fundamentally flawed. The price task posters are willing to pay might be below the price TaskRabbits are willing to work for.

Maybe next time I'll try Mechanical Turk for jobs like this. Meanwhile, thanks, TaskRabbit, and good luck!!

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