Doing 'the messages' in the 21st century

Looking for a hand collecting the dry cleaning, picking up the shopping, or getting something in for dinner? A tech-entrepreneur and mother of four has come up with the answer, writes EMMA CONNOLLY
Doing 'the messages' in the 21st century
Niamh Parker, of Shopless

A CORK mum of four says she was inspired to set up an online personal shopping and delivery service to allow others to spend more time with the people they love.

Niamh Parker, from Ballincollig, was so sick of spending precious time away from her husband and kids, that she came up a solution herself.

And that’s Shopless, which the tech-entrepreneur is piloting in Cork with plans to extend to other Irish cities before extending to the UK.

Essentially, Niamh describes Shopless as ‘a way of doing the messages’ in the 21st century.’

“Modern life means that people simple don’t have the time to traipse from shop to shop, or to wait for days for something ordered off the internet. By subscribing to our dedicated concierge service, you guarantee delivery of what you need in a timely fashion to an address of your choice.”

It’s a very straightforward concept: log on to the website or call an 1800 number (potentially an easier option for the elderly and the less tech savvy) and select goods from nearly 20 retailers in Cork city who have already signed up, including many from The English Market and Opera Lane.

Alternatively, create your own personal list of ‘messages’ which could be anything from collecting dry cleaning to getting something in for dinner.

Currently offering work place deliveries (including a very attractive ‘Brunch Basket’), Shopless will be live to the general public in the App Store / Google Play to coincide with back-to- school time in September.

Operating within a 20km radius of Cork city, the service costs €12 an hour, or a corporate rate of €40 which covers two weekly deliveries to a place of work.

If you take parking and child care costs out of the equation and factor in how time-poor people are, Niamh describes this as good value.

Niamh Parker, of Shopless
Niamh Parker, of Shopless

Originally from near Youghal, Niamh’s career is a varied one: after studying Sports Science in college she worked with the Mayo Senior Football team. However, following a relatively serious car crash she changed direction and opened a Thai food business, Thai Cottage, in Kinsale. That was both a restaurant and outside catering business which she opened in 2003 and ran for seven years until the recession hit.

Next, Niamh studied law, followed by a Masters in European and Comparative Law in the University of Malta, where the family was based at the time, as her husband, a fellow Cork man, travelled for work.

Back in Cork, she works as a consultant on data privacy as well as developing Shopless, for which she has very ambitious plans.

“Entrepreneurship is a bit like a disease — and some ideas seem too good not to do,” she said. “This is all about putting the joy back into people’s lives and if you consider most people spend around five hours a week shopping, this will give them more quality time either to spend with loved ones or go to the gym or whatever they wish.”

Their corporate deliveries, she says, are taking a lot of stress away from people who would otherwise have to leave work, collect kids, take them to activities, and then have to run into a shop to get something or dinner.

What’s especially innovative about Shopless is that it uses artificial intelligence and machine-learning to discover what their customers want. The system learns about what is ordered and how regularly, generating prompts to re-order when stocks are running low.

“It will help greatly with things like food waste, and allow people to shop smarter with two or three smaller shops a week rather than one big one which can cause waste. Artificial intelligence will let you know if you’re buying too many perishables, for example.

“It can also link into your diary and remind you to buy balloons or cake for a party or event.”

Describing herself as ‘very entrepreneurial’, Niamh says she is hugely supported by husband Allan Beechinor.

“He’s also an entrepreneur and recently won best company at the International Security Accelerator with Cork Bic. He is an Artificial Intelligence thought leader. He is a hugely supportive, we recently launched a Podcast together as a hobby and it has been inspiring interviewing so many amazing guests. It’s on iTunes and called the LifeForce Mentors Podcast.”

Niamh was also full of praise for the supports that exist for start-ups in Cork including Cork BIC, of which she’s a client; the Local Enterprise Office and The Work Bench at Bank of Ireland.

Shopless, is also supported by Cork company ShockVoyce who provide a nesting service for start-ups at reduced rates.

They look after phone calls, which Niamh says provides great ‘peace of mind’, knowing they’re not losing business due to poor customer service as they get off the ground.

“We are really lucky to have this eco system in Cork. We’ve also been accepted onto the Ignite program at UCC which is fantastic, it keeps you grounded and focused on the business model and scalability of the business,” she said, adding that they expect to seek investors shortly.

Currently, the company has a full time staff of three as well as five shoppers and Niamh is looking forward to the arrival of their new electric delivery vehicles.

Mum to Griffin, aged eight; Alannah, aged six; Aeryn, aged two and Ariel, 11 months, she admits her child care bill is expensive. The two older children attend an after-school service; her two year old attends crèche three times a week while her 11 month old has a babysitter.

“Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s very rewarding creating something that helps busy mums — and dads — spend time with their kids without having to be running around.”

Lots of businesses, she said, are set up just for their ‘exits’. Not Shopless.

“I just want to build something that is going to last and that people will use. I want people to be able to say ‘just Shopless it’.

For more, see shopless.ie or call 1800805579 for more. The app will launch this September.

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