Colu is a new payment wallet application which has launched in Israel, Liverpool and now East London. The app offers customers the chance to pay at local businesses with their mobile device using the “East London Pound” at an exchange rate of 10% more than the sterling you topped up by. Sounds like an offer you can’t refuse; yet not many people have said ‘yes’ to Colu.
The app was launched in East London due to the influx of independent businesses into the area. The idea is that using the app in local bars, retail stores and for community events will move people away from spending their money in corporate and mainstream businesses.
I downloaded the app and signed up to find out what it’s all about – and I received a welcome gift of five East London Pounds. Very nice, too! But scrolling through I noticed that although the participating businesses range from from bars to restaurants to an independent book store, they are few and far between.
Colu also gives customers access to special offers such as “two pints for £6” and “buy one get one free on coffee”. Paying with the app is easy: you tap pay on the store that you’re at, enter how much is owed, and follow the instructions on screen.
What I really wanted to know is whether it benefits the local businesses who are using it. To find out, I took a little shopping trip. My first stop was Burley Fisher Books in Hackney, an independent book store. I was reassured when I saw the “We accept Colu” sign in the window. I had a look around and picked out a book, then headed to the till to try the new app.
This is where things got complicated. The staff member had no idea about the app or how to use it. I then had to explain what the app was used for, and show her that I had indeed paid for the book. This ruined my plans for asking further questions about Colu as the answers were already obvious – it isn’t benefiting this business, and the staff have no idea.
I moved on to Pickles of London, a one-stop-shop in the heart of Dalston. I spoke with assistant manager Courtney Aldridge who said: “Colu is really good for us. It helps people who are wanting to be more involved with the community spend their money with us for things like pizza and coffee rather than Costa and Sainsbury’s.” She went on to say that “the only, and main downside to Colu is the fact that there hasn’t been much advertising. People who live in East London want something new and exciting to try but they don’t even know it’s there.”
Scrolling on my phone again, I saw how the app shows each store’s transaction history, and I couldn’t help noticing that throughout the day hardly anyone other than myself had used to it to make a payment.
Why so few users? Perhaps it’s because people simply haven’t heard of Colu and don’t know what it is. Or maybe it’s a trust issue? Another potential obstacle is that the company is based in Israel; people may be boycotting the app as part of the BDS movement.
Can Colu recover from its underwhelming launch phase in East London….or is it destined for the graveyard of inapplicable apps?