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Every year about 43 million Americans move and spend more than $20B. Chances are you have moved and know what a hassle it can be. Unlike most industries that have been made more efficient and accountable to consumers because of the internet and mobile devices, the moving and storage industry has not changed one iota. It’s still an old-school process and a downright awful experience. Why?

My father recently moved from Valdosta, GA to SW Florida. The experience was a nightmare. After loading the truck they presented him with a bill for 3X the “binding” quote. They held all his worldly belongings hostage and would not tell him where they were stored. When he refused to pay the ransom for a delivery date they would not guarantee or put in writing, they informed him they were auctioning all his stuff. Only after involving the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the State Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the County Sheriff, and various senior advocacy groups, was he able to recover his belongings.

You might think this is the extreme, but it is quite common. He used a duly-licensed carrier that supposedly had good reviews (turns out the reviews were all faked). The FMCSA processes more than 3,000 complaints each year and the BBB processes more than 10,000 complaints. Check out any consumer reviews site (except those owned by the moving companies) and you will be hard pressed to find any moving company with more than 3 stars. There is only one thing consumers hate more than moving – and that’s moving and storage companies. That is a huge opportunity for disruption.

The industry is dominated by small businesses and day laborers that could benefit from some technological know-how. It’s an easy business to get into and most of it is local – 84% of all moves are in-state. 50% of moving and storage companies employ fewer than 5 people. Only about 9% of companies employ more than 100 people. The bill for their services is predominantly footed by an employer: 35% of people move themselves, 39% are moved by their company, 24% by the military and the rest by the government. The dynamics are ripe for disruption by giving the legit moving and storage companies — and their customers — an Uberesque platform.

Here are some of the disruptive features I want in my next move:

1. I use my mobile phone or digital camera to take pictures of every room in my house containing the objects to be moved. I upload those pictures to MoveMe.domain. The MoveMe platform will determine the dimensions of each object to be moved, compare it against a database of common objects, and estimate the weight and space required for the move. This generates the initial cost estimate range. After seeing the size/weight estimate for my objects, I can make non-binding adjustments.

2. I enter the move-from and move- to addresses, preferred pick-up and delivery dates, and extra services desired (like packing and temp storage). I ask the platform to supply bids from bonded and licensed movers that have been trained and pre-qualified by the platform.

3. I receive the bids, check out their user reviews and qualifications. I select my mover based on their availability, binding guarantees and other personal preferences. I then make the deposit. The money is held in escrow by the platform.

4. On the day of the move the movers use their mobile phone or tablet to account for every object to be moved BEFORE touching them, make adjustments to the size/weight requirements and generate a new binding bill. (I may have missed some objects in step 1, or perhaps got rid of some objects that no longer need to be moved). This will also include boxes I have packed and did not account for in step 1.

5. Any broken, chipped, or scarred items are noted BEFORE touching them and I sign off on those flaws. A copy of the inventory (every object) with these notes is emailed to me immediately.

6. I agree on the final bill and the movers pack it and load it. (If I don’t agree with the bill, there is a 1-800 number for an ombudsman that can help mediate and resolve the dispute on the spot. If we can’t agree on the final bill, I can cancel the job and my deposit is instantly refunded.)

7. A Bill of Lading and insurance binder are generated and emailed to me. A GPS beacon is placed in the shipment so that I know exactly where it is at all times and can track its progress. I receive regular email updates as to the estimated delivery dates and times, considering weather delays, break-down delays, etc.

8. My belongings arrive and are unloaded. I note any discrepancies between the condition of the objects upon packing/loading and the condition upon unpacking/unloading. I note any missing items. If items are missing or broken, the insurance I purchased covers it, or an adjustment is made on the final bill. There is a 1-800 number for an ombudsman that can help mediate and resolve any disputes regarding the condition of my belongings.

9. I pay the movers the balance using my mobile phone, including the tip. I give them a rating and add comments/pictures on the experience. We all have beer and pizza.

There are all kinds of other innovations that can be deployed on the mover-side of this equation. More efficient ways of packing, loading and unloading; accommodating multiple customer loads in the same truck, etc. The platform’s job is to make the process more efficient, transparent and cost-effective for the consumer, while helping the (good) movers optimize their time and profits.

Okay hackers, go forth and build. They will come!

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Post Author: Michael ODonnell