The honesty box our cashless society has been waiting for has arrived in the form of an online app. Jihee Junn talks to the Taranaki-based developer behind My Honesty Box to find out how it works, why it doesn’t take commission, and how it already has interest from vendors in the United States.
Honesty boxes are a quaint tradition. They rely on the notion that you, as a consumer and principled human being, will do the right thing and pay fairly for your goods, even when you know that no one is watching. In rural New Zealand, it’s not uncommon to still see honesty boxes used for roadside stalls as it’s an easy way for growers to sell their produce to locals and passersby. These stalls are usually completely unattended – just a small box is left behind for customers to deposit their cash.
Cash, however, is becoming increasingly elusive; not everyone has coins or notes readily on hand. Which is why David Clarke, a Taranaki-based software developer, came up with a 21st-century solution to the problem: he put the traditional honesty box online.
Clarke says he was motivated to create the platform, My Honesty Box, after experiencing the arduous process his local produce stall underwent every time a customer didn’t have enough cash. It involved putting a post-it note into the honesty box, texting the vendor for their bank account details, and making a payment via the internet manually. “It was a very clunky process with a lot of friction,” says Clarke. “It looked like a good opportunity to do something about it.”
For vendors, My Honesty Box allows you to create a store with a list of products and prices. This generates a QR code which you can then print out and display in lieu of your traditional honesty box. For customers, downloading the My Honesty Box app will allow you to scan the QR code which will take you to the vendor’s store. From there, you can choose what to buy and how many. To finish off the transaction, you either pay from your card or bank account online.
In addition to allowing you to pay for honesty box goods when you find yourself cashless, the app has the benefit of increasing the likelihood that customers will pay the full amount for their purchase. In turn, customers have the freedom to purchase as many goods as they want without the restriction of how much cash they have on hand.
Currently, My Honesty Box has four vendors: Kaitake Farm, Cook Learn Love, Clevedon Herbs and Produce, and Purangi Plants and Produce. All four deal in the business of promoting fresh, local, mostly organic food, which falls in line with the platform’s initial target market. But as Clarke points out, the potential applications for My Honesty Box go above and beyond.
“What we’ve really developed here is a simple payment system [that you can use] if you’ve got anything you want to sell,” he says. “We provide a store and QR code, which you can show to anybody. If they’ve got our app of their phone, they can pay you on the spot. So it can easily be used in primary schools, for example, where you’ve often got a lot of incidental payments for raffle tickets, fundraisers and things like that.”
Currently, My Honesty Box is completely free to use. For customers, the only surcharge occurs when they pay by credit/debit card as payment software Stripe takes a 2.9% cut (plus 30 cents per transaction). For vendors, POLi takes a 1% cut when customers pay via internet banking. My Honesty Box, however, takes nothing – its commission rate is zero.
“The reason why [we don’t take commission] is we really want to keep the bar for entry as low as possible for these small scale producers. That way, there’s no real reason why they can’t get onto the platform. I guess the 1% [that goes to POLi] is still a hurdle for some, but hopefully it’ll mean we’ll get lots of vendors on the platform and customers will have lots of reasons to have the app on their phone.”
My Honesty Box is clearly still in its early days as Clarke busies himself developing features that he hopes will eventually convince users to pay for the service (a subscription model with premium features is the main option he’s floating). But there’s another thing Clarke is hoping to do in the not-too-distant future: make the platform available overseas.
“We kind of expected to get established here first and then expand internationally, but what’s happened is we’ve had a lot of interest from North America… which was a big surprise to us,” he says, a phenomenon that’s likely down to the region’s huge organic farmers market sector and the fact that many rural areas in the US are populated with lots of small regional banks which makes modern payment systems like EFTPOS difficult to establish.
“We’re trying to make the changes to the system so we can actually service that market soon, and we’ll try and update the system over the next three or four weeks to a state where we can start promoting it to people outside New Zealand.”
Ultimately, My Honesty Box won’t be for everyone. Some customers won’t see the value in downloading an app just to buy a one-off bag of fruit. Some vendors simply “don’t do internet” as many rural networks remain underserviced by providers.
“It’s a niche I suppose,” Clarke admits. “But it’s a niche for something that wasn’t being served very well.”
The Spinoff’s business content is brought to you by our friends at Kiwibank. Kiwibank backs small to medium businesses, social enterprises and Kiwis who innovate to make good things happen.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.