Are you confined to barracks for the foreseeable? Struggling with online supermarket delivery orders, with all their annoying gaps and “substitutions”?
You may have an alternative.
One of the recent shopping innovations to hit Chiswick is the arrival of a new black cab concierge shopping service. Run by tour-guiding cab drivers thrown out of work by the current crisis, it enables you to order goods from a variety of stores, delivered to your door the same day. The cabs are used exclusively for shopping, and drivers adopt strict health and safety measures (details below).
Drivers will go to local supermarkets and pharmacies, as well as smaller shops and delis which obey government regulations on social distancing. If they can’t find what you want, they’ll try to hunt out an acceptable alternative in the same shop, or same area.
The Club is the brainchild of Ray Winstone (no relation to the actor). The drivers of his Black Taxi Tour London (BTTL) team usually spend their time showing American tourists around the capital. But when Coronavirus hit, Ray says, “We went from a full order book throughout the summer to zero.”
Ray, a taxi driver for 32 years, suddenly found himself unemployed. He wasn’t alone – with London’s streets deserted, many cabbies simply took their cabs off the road, or temporarily gave them up. Others are trying to hang onto their taxis, but high running costs mean they’re struggling with large overheads.
“Overall, it costs between about £135 and £200 pounds a week to keep a cab on the road,” says Ray. “You have to pay licensing, pay for the meter, maintenance. And newer cabs cost a lot more – about £70,000, including finance. Some drivers are paying more than £300 a week in finance payments.”
Ray started looking for alternative work. In March, he offered his services to a Belgravia supermarket, which was struggling to keep up with the sudden surge in delivery requests. That idea didn’t pan out. But the germ of another idea was born: a concierge shopping service, run by black cab drivers.
According to Ray, “It quickly became obvious there was a massive demand out there. I started speaking to customers, speaking to the other guides. We got some leaflets printed and started working.”
He’s been joined by around 10 of his fellow drivers, who whizz around London on a daily basis, doing everything from basic supermarket shops to hunting down more elusive items for their clients. Many, like Ray, have been cab drivers for decades.
Images above: Shopping Club driver, Moses Gonzalez, at work
The Exclusive Shopping Club, as its name might suggest, does not come cheap. The subscription currently costs £100 a week. Perhaps not surprisingly, its clients tend to be in the wealthier areas of London – Mayfair, Belgravia, Knightsbridge … and Chiswick. But Ray stresses it’s not a profit making venture.
“It’s community-based,” he says, “a service to help vulnerable people who can’t get out and give us a tick-over, help with our running costs. The drivers aren’t being paid ‘living standard’ wages.”
In fact, he points out, if a customer chooses to shop five times a week, the driver may only take home about £4 an hour after all his/her time spent queuing and shopping. That’s a far cry from the £35-£50 an hour cabbies can earn on the London streets in more normal times.
And the idea is that if more people subscribe, subscription costs will come down.
The Shopping Club employs strict safety standards.
- Drivers only use their cabs for deliveries – they don’t pick up customers in them, or use them privately
- Cabs are sanitised before and after shops
- Drivers sanitise their hands before and after each shop and delivery
- Drivers obey the 2 metre social distancing rule, both in shops and when delivering
And of course, to be a black cab driver you have to pass regular enhanced DBS criminal record checks. If you’re interested in joining the Shopping Club, you can find more details at