On Tuesday 17 March I published a first blog post about whether a WordPress-based local community shopping system would make sense in the times of the Coronavirus. The aim was to help the people living in the 40 or so flats in my building through the Coronavirus outbreak – to minimise the need for those vulnerable (were they to get the virus), and also those who are likely transmitters, to go shopping, and to coordinate those shopping tasks among those who are at lower risk.

Most of the initial responses were positive, but the gist was that the idea was too complex for the purpose set out. I ran the idea past tech friends of mine, and also asked what people living in the forty odd flats in my building thought of it (we have an email list with everyone on it). Some of those initial reactions are summed up in the updates to the original post.

The result is a much simpler setup that is now live, with the first orders to be taken on Monday 23rd March:

  1. A very simple WordPress powered websiteshop4me.team – that explains how the system works. This is basically some text pages, a news (blog) style page, and a contact form
  2. Three Google Forms – one for immediate or unique orders, one for daily orders, and one to allow other neighbours to volunteer to help
  3. A local Berlin 030 telephone number for telephone orders and assistance (it’s a Sipgate VOIP number that forwards to an old iPhone)
  4. Business cards with the details for how to make immediate orders, and paper forms for the daily orders, available at entrances to buildings – for those who cannot or do not wish to make online orders
  5. Posters hung in the two main entrances to the building to advertise the service

The two types of orders are handled differently – immediate or unique orders (what we call EXPRESS) in our system are to be dealt with on an as-and-when basis. The daily orders (what we call HEUTE) are more structured – here orders need to be submitted by 1700 each day, and then the deliverer goes on a set route – to a DM (drugstore), pharmacy, and LPG (organic supermarket) and then back home, then to Lidl (discount supermarket) then home, then to REWE (mid range supermarket) then home, with orders all done by 2100 at the latest. This route is specific to this neighbourhood, and tailored in light of feedback from neighbours. Payments in both cases are made after the order has been completed – ideally by bank transfer or PayPal, but (this being Germany) by cash if necessary. A person can make no more orders until their outstanding bills are paid.

A few of the initial ideas didn’t make the cut. Trying to handle combined online orders from supermarkets and do this once a week is impossible just now as supermarkets are accepting no new clients for these services. This has been spun off into a different blog post, and discussions are underway with a contact in the retail sector and with neighbours here how to make that work. Doing the orders with a dedicated WordPress plugin was deemed to complex for now, but it is something we may return to in later versions.

If you like this idea and you would like to run something similar yourself, please contact me. Replicating this tool for other people in other contexts – copies of the forms, posters, Google Forms etc. and indeed even running copies of the site on subdomains of shop4me.team – would be simple to do. Some more detail about how the system works is available in an English FAQ on the shop4me site.

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