Business, Economics and Jobs

Forget pizza. In Jakarta, this delivery app will send a stranger to style your hijab.

This story is a part of

Human Needs

This story is a part of

Human Needs

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Makeup, hair, hijab styling. Go-Glam does it all.

Credit:

Go-GLAM Indonesia, Instagram.

Sure, Jakarta has a traffic problem. But that statement doesn’t quite capture it. The city’s gridlocked streets are a graveyard, bathed in exhaust fumes, where your afternoons go to die.

Each day, Jakarta’s commuters sacrifice millions of hours of precious human existence to grinding traffic. Vehicles creep forth slowly, inches at a time, as if the roads were made of tar. A simple errand — say, a three-mile trip to grab lunch — can burn through two hours or more.

By some measures, Greater Jakarta’s 28 million inhabitants suffer the worst traffic in the world. This is more than a nuisance. It’s an economic nightmare costing an estimated $5 billion in losses each year.

But one of the nation’s most popular tech start-ups has found a way to profit from this disorder.

The firm, called Go-Jek, offers a coveted commodity: the luxury of not sitting in traffic.

In lieu of wading into the congested city, customers use an app to summon services and stuff to their homes. This includes everything you’d expect: pizza and toothpaste, even USB cables and cat food.

But Go-Jek has discovered that its millions of users, desperate to stay off the roads, will also pay to bring a range of indulgent services into their living rooms.

Like back rubs. Or even a wax job.

The newest feature is called Go-Glam, a dial-a-stylist service. “Facials, pedicures, manicure or waxing,” said Yovita Liwanuru, Go-Glam’s chief marketer. “We cover it all.”

The stylists are usually shuttled over on the back of a motorbike taxi — the quickest way to cut through a sea of idling vehicles. (Motorbike taxis are Go-Jek’s primary service, which can be hailed with an Uber-like app.)

Many of Go-Glam’s offerings are uniquely Indonesian. There’s the “cream bath,” an hour-long head soak in a sudsy mixture often made from avocados or celery.

Also available: a “hijab adjusting” service.

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country but by no means the strictest. Middle- and upper-class women with money often prefer chic hijabs over drab dark fabric.

“In the last five years, we’re seeing more fashion hijabs,” Liwanuru said. “We’re just trying to follow the trend. Women like to accessorize their hijabs for special occasions like wedding ceremonies or [the Muslim holiday] Eid.”

But what truly distinguishes this delivery service from, say, Domino’s Pizza, is the trust asked of customers.

The pizza-delivery person never makes it past your doorstep. With Go-Glam — and its companion service, Go-Massage — a stranger is not only entering your home. They’re touching your face. Or dabbing wax on your thighs. (Or if you use yet another service, Go-Clean, scrubbing your toilet.)

“Our first assumption,” Liwanuru said, “was that this could be hard to sell. Going into strangers’ homes? It seemed like a challenge.”

This is perhaps extra challenging in a place like Jakarta. It’s as fast-paced as Los Angeles but, in some regards, more conservative than Alabama.

A small minority of Go-Glam stylists and Go-Massage masseuses are men. The startup doesn’t discriminate based on gender or sexuality — but not all of its customers are happy with that.

“We’re working on it,” Liwanuru said. “Many users have canceled because they expect women to show up. They have trust issues, you know, with people coming into their house.”

Go-Jek insists that all of its stylists and masseuses are pros with at least two years of experience and clean criminal records. They’re also given “attitude training” and must prove their styling skills on an employee. (As a result, Go-Jek’s staffers have inordinately pampered hair.)

Well-to-do urbanites in San Francisco or Tokyo have long seen apps as a solution to practically every human need. But this view is also blooming in less developed places such as Indonesia, which has one of the fastest-growing e-commerce markets on the planet.

The services here aren’t just for the wealthy. In New York City, an app called Soothe will bring a masseuse to your door for $120. But in labor-flush Indonesia, where nearly half the population scrapes by on $2 per day, someone will rub your feet for just $8. Or massage cream into your scalp for $9.

Plus, there's that key bonus: customers are spared the sweltering, noisy experience of leaving the house.

“You’ll do anything to avoid traffic,” said Rifka, 38, a Jakarta resident who works in digital advertising. “Going just five kilometers [about three miles] can take one hour. It’s often faster to walk.”

On a recent afternoon, in advance of a friend’s wedding, Rifka called for a hair stylist using Go-Glam. The city was deluged with monsoon rains. Trudging to the mall seemed especially dreadful.

“Most of my friends were happy with the service. So I decided to try it,” Rifka said. She lined up a meeting at 1 p.m.

But just before the appointed hour, Rifka got an apologetic text. I’ll be late, the stylist said. She didn’t need to explain why.