Uber’s new look is old news in China
After a new overhaul, Uber might look more like China’s WeChat or Meituan
Nobody has yet figured out how to turn ride sharing into a profitable business. China’s market leader Didi reportedly lost US$1.6 billion in 2018. Elsewhere in the world, Uber lost US$5.2 billion in a single quarter this year.
But now Uber is proposing a unique path to future growth: Become the “operating system for your everyday life.”
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Hundreds of millions of internet users in China will recognize this as the basic premise of WeChat, Tencent’s ubiquitous chat app that people use for seemingly everything, including mobile payments, playing games, ordering food and even ride hailing.
Uber seems to be planning something similar. The company is merging Uber Eats, the company’s food delivery service, into the main ride hailing app. The app will also add transportation alternatives, including buses, electric bikes and scooters.
In China, it’s more common to see companies cramming everything into one app to create “super apps” that haven’t been widely adopted in the West. Companies have achieved this in different ways. WeChat did it by providing a platform for third-party services within submenus and in mini programs. Others, like Meituan, have done it on their own.
Meituan founder Wang Xing compared his company to Amazon, but he said Meituan is an ecommerce platform for services. The app aims to be a one-stop shop for all your local needs in a Chinese city: Ordering food or groceries, booking a spa or a karaoke room, and in some Chinese cities, it also lets you rent Meituan bikes (formerly Mobike) and hail Meituan rides to get around.
Now it looks like Uber is trying to achieve something similar. The company said last year that it’s trying to be the “Amazon of transportation.” In Denver, the company is already letting users buy bus and train tickets through the app, and now it’s also offering bus and train schedules and public transportation directions in London and some US cities.
Didi does not offer ticketing for public buses or trains, but it’s been integrating bike rental and public transportation information since last year. Similar to Uber’s plans, Didi lets users see how they can get to their destination by public transportation. In several cities, it also offers substitute drivers, car rental services and shuttle buses for routes not covered by public transportation.
Adding public transportation information, which is already provided by map apps like Google Maps and Baidu Maps, isn’t expected to bring in revenue. The point of it, according to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, is to increase engagement.
“If more people are opening our app more often, then there will be business down the road. We’ll be able to monetize that one way or the other,” Khosrowshahi said in an interview with The Verge.
Making Uber the “everything app” isn’t the only thing about the app’s overhaul that might sound familiar to users in China, though. Uber also has a new emphasis on safety for ride hailing.
Since the middle of last year, after two female passengers were killed, Didi has been ramping up safety features in an attempt to regain public trust. Apart from adding an emergency button in the app, the company says it’s improved its software to detect dangerous driving patterns. It also requires drivers to take selfies for a facial recognition check before they can accept trip requests.
In July, the company said that since September last year, 99% of all rides have audio recordings that are kept for seven days and 20% have video recordings.
Uber is also introducing a range of other measures to try to improve safety. It’s adding an “on-trip reporting” feature that lets passengers report incidents during a ride, and passengers are given a four-digit code to check with a driver before they start the ride. One future feature Uber is planning is using ultrasound waves to verify whether a passenger is in the right car.