Bart van Lieshout

James – your automated digital consumer assistant

September 2011

I like to spend less, but I don’t like to compare and chance suppliers for everything every year. I’d rather have James do it for me.

The latest political hobby in my country is privatization. For the last decade or so most markets that used to be regulated by government services are now open markets where consumers can choose. And there is a lot to choose for consumers: from energy suppliers to insurance companies, television, internet, you name it and there are multiple providers to choose from. Good news for the consumer, but bad news for your hobbies and social life.
Comparing all these products for all these different services does consume an enormous amount of time. So most people don’t bother and stick to their current provider or insurance firm. Part of the problem is that many services have fixed points in the year where you can exit the product and move to a competing one. If you don’t quit your service in time, another year is added automatically. And of course you forget after a year or so, and just because I’m to lazy to look it up I keep the current service for another year.

Bussines based on laziness

So the thing to do would be to have a dedicated agenda to warn you when a service is due to end, so you can compare all alternatives in time to make the move to a competing firm is necessary.
The good news is that their are many websites that can help you to choose. And the best part of this is of course that all competing products have submitted the characteristics of their product to a database so the products can be evaluated and compared. There are dedicated sites for mobile phones and internet subscriptions, insurances of every kind including health care, energy suppliers etc.

A digital assistent

So what I would like to have is a digital alter ego. A peace of consumer assistant software to take care of all this consumer research activities for me. It will be called “James”. James would have to be a modular program, so that I can start with putting him in charge of finding a new internet connection and mobile phone subscription and add other services later.
James would have to have an internal agenda to store the moments where he can leave a service and find a competing product in time to transfer when the window of opportunity arrives. He would have to be able to understand and store my wishes as a consumer in order to find product that offer best value for money based on what I actually want (or he could suggest alternatives if I would check that option). James could connect to these comparison databases for the product he needs to find for me in order to find the best solution for my wishes. And he could then ask me to give the go on any transfer for any service. I can visualize that button just beneath the text “Sir, I have found the perfect energy deal for you! You will save over € 0.04 on electricity every day. Would you like me to make the necessary arrangements to transfer?” And I could just hit the “ok” button and earn some money while saving some time to read a book instead of surfing energy-deals-comparing websites.

Get the best deals

Imagine you would never have to do any consumer research anymore unless you would actually want to. I would like to compare phones for example, but if I find what I want, it would be great to just tell James to go find the best deal with that particular phone.
In my case I would activate James’ modules for: internet connectivity, internet hosting, mobile phone subscription and internet, television, phone (land line), electricity, natural gas, water, health care insurance, travel insurance, car insurance, contents insurance, liability insurance etc., but I would also like James to find me the savings account with the highest interest rates of the day and transfer all my money there without bothering me, checking if flights to any of the locations on my holiday wish list drop beneath the designated target on any flight carrier worldwide. And I could go on some more. But I’m sure you get the picture. All things you should do, but don’t feel like doing could be taken care of by this consumer software. Basically very simple tasks for a computer, but rather annoying and time consuming activities for humans.


Needles to point out that there are some other things James could do for me while we’re at it. How about doing my administration and taxes as well. It’s rather simple math in the end with only one rule: optimize towards the lowest legal amount of tax.
I think there are endless services that could be developed based on the same principle. A computer program will do your research and administer when it has to be done again because a service ends. It can independently search for the best solution in accordance with your wishes and it can take the necessary actions (online forms etc.) to transfer. For each product you can choose whether you want to give a physical order or you want the program to just don’t bother you about it.
I would actually pay for a program that could do all that. I never pay for software and I’m a great fan of open-source solutions, but a digital alter ego that could clear my mind on all these issues and just find the best deals for me I would definitely pay for. Since I hardly ever look for good deals it might just pay for itself and relieve my mind from issues I rather don’t spend my time on.

I’ll be waiting for James.

Published 09-09-2011

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