Case1 Uber

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uber case pertaining to digital marketing
    3 © Lenscap/Alamy I f you were trying to pick iconic examples of e-commerce in the two decades since it began in 1995, it is likely that companies such as Amazon, eBay, Google, Apple, and Facebook would be high on the list. Today, there’s a new company that is becoming the face of e-commerce as it enters its third decade: Uber. Uber and other firms with similar business models, such as Lyft (a ride service similar to Uber’s), Airbnb (rooms for rent), Heal (doctor home visits), Handy (part-time household helpers), Instacart (grocery shopping), Washio (laundry service), and BloomThat (flower delivery), are the pio- neers of a new on-demand service e-commerce business model that is sweeping up billions of investment dollars and disrupting major industries, from transportation to hotels, real estate, house cleaning, maintenance, and grocery shopping. On-demand service firms have collected over $26 billion in venture capital funding over the last five years, making this the hottest business model in e-commerce.Uber offers a variety of different services. The two most common are UberX, which uses compact sedans and is the least expensive, and UberBlack, which provides higher-priced town car service. UberPool is a ride-sharing service that allows users to share a ride with another person who happens to be going to the same place. In several cities, Uber is developing UberEats, a food delivery service; UberRush, a same-day delivery service; and UberCargo, a trucking service. Uber, headquartered in San Francisco, was founded in 2009 by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, and has grown explosively since then to over 480 cities in 69 countries. Drivers are signing up at an exponential rate: as of the beginning of 2016, there were over 450,000 drivers in the United States and over 1 million worldwide. According to an Uber-sponsored survey, over 44% of Uber drivers have college degrees (compared to 15% of taxi drivers), 71% say they have boosted their income and financial security by driving for Uber, and 73% say they prefer a job where they choose their hours rather than a 9-to-5 job. It is estimated that Uber’s revenue will reach around $2 billion in 2016, but it is still not expected to generate an overall profit, with losses in developing markets U b e r : The New Face of E-commerce?  4  CHAPTER 1 The Revolution Is Just Beginning such as China and India swallowing up profits being generated in North America, Europe, and elsewhere. Uber’s strategy is to expand as fast as possible while foregoing short-term profits in the hope of long-term returns. As of July 2016, Uber has raised over $12.5 billion in venture capital. Uber is currently valued at around $68 billion, more than all of its competitors combined. In August 2016, Uber agreed to sell Uber China, where it had been engaged in a costly turf war for Chinese riders, to Didi Chuxing Technology, its primary Chinese rival. Uber will receive a 18% interest in Didi Chuxing and Didi will invest $1 billion in Uber. In doing so, Uber converted a reported $2 billion loss on its Chinese operations into a new merged entity valued at around $7 billion, and freed up capital to invest more heavily in other emerging markets such as Indonesia and India where it does not have such significant competition. Uber offers a compelling value proposition for both customers and drivers. Customers can sign up for free, request and pay for a ride (at a cost Uber claims is 40% less than a traditional taxi) using a smartphone and credit card, and get picked up within a few minutes. No need to stand on a street corner frantically waving, competing with others, or waiting and waiting for an available cab to drive by, without knowing when that might happen. Instead, customers using the Uber app know just how long it will take for the ride to arrive and how much it will cost. With UberPool ride-sharing, the cost of a ride drops by 50%, making it cost-competitive with owning a car in an urban area, according to Uber. Uber’s value proposition for drivers is that it allows them to set their own hours, work when they like, and put their own cars to use generating revenue.Uber is the current poster child for “digital disruption.” It is easy to see why Uber has ignited a firestorm of opposition from existing taxi services both in the United States and around the world. Who can compete in a market where a new upstart firm offers a 50% price reduction? If you’ve paid $1 million for a license to drive a taxi in New York City, what is it worth now that Uber has arrived? Even governments find Uber to be a disruptive threat. Governments do not want to give up regulatory control over passenger safety, driver training, nor the healthy revenue stream generated by charging taxi firms for a taxi license and sales taxes. Uber’s business model differs from traditional retail e-commerce. Uber doesn’t sell goods. Instead it has created a smartphone-based platform that enables people who want a service—like a taxi—to find a provider with the resources, such as a personal automobile and a driver with available time, to fill the demand. It’s important to understand that although Uber and similar firms are often called “sharing economy” companies, this is a misnomer. Uber drivers are selling their services as drivers and the temporary use of their car. Uber itself is not in the sharing business either: it charges a hefty fee for every transaction on its platform. Uber is not an example of true “peer-to-peer” e-commerce because Uber transactions involve an online intermediary: a third party that takes a cut of all transactions and arranges for the marketplace to exist in the first place. Uber has disrupted the traditional taxi business model because it offers a superior, fast, convenient taxi-hailing service when compared to traditional taxi companies. With a traditional taxi service, there is no guarantee you will find a cab. Uber reduces that uncertainty: the customer enters a request for pickup using his or her smartphone and   Uber: The New Face of E-commerce? 5 nearly instantly (under the best of circumstances), Uber finds a provider and notifies the customer of the estimated time of arrival and price. Riders can accept the price or find an alternative. Uber’s business model is much more efficient than a traditional taxi firm. Uber does not own taxis and has no maintenance and financing costs. Uber calls its drivers “independent contractors,” not employees. Doing so enables Uber to avoid costs for workers’ compensation, minimum wage requirements, driver training, health insurance, and commercial licensing. Quality control would seem to be a nightmare with over 1 million contract drivers. But Uber relies on user reviews to identify problematic drivers and driver reviews to identify problematic passengers. Drivers are evaluated by riders on a 5-point scale. Drivers that fall below 4.5 are warned and may be dropped if they don’t improve. Customers are also rated with a 5-point system. Drivers can refuse to pick up troublesome customers, and the Uber server can delay service to potential customers with low ratings or ban them entirely. Uber does not publicly report how many poorly rated drivers or passengers there are in its system. Academic articles have found that in similar on-demand companies, such as Airbnb, there is a built-in bias for both sellers and buyers to give good reviews regardless of the actual experience. If you routinely give low reviews to sellers (drivers), they will think you are too demanding and not service you in the future. If a driver gives low reviews to passengers, they might not rate you highly in return. Rather than having a dispatcher in every city, Uber has an Internet-based app service running on cloud servers located throughout the world. It does not provide radios to its drivers, who instead must use their own smartphones and cell service, which the drivers pay for. It does not provide insurance or maintenance for its drivers’ cars. Uber has shifted the costs of running a taxi service entirely to the drivers. Uber charges prices that vary dynamically with demand: the higher the demand, the greater the price of a ride. Therefore, it is impossible using public information to know if Uber’s prices are lower than traditional taxis. Clearly, in high-demand situations they are higher, sometimes ten times higher, than a regulated taxi. There is no regulatory taxi commission setting uniform per mile fares. Consumers do face some traditional uncertainties regarding availability: during a rain storm, a convention, or a sports event, when demand peaks, not enough drivers may be available at any price. If Uber is the poster child for the new on-demand service economy, it’s also an iconic example of the social costs and conflicts associated with this new kind of e-commerce. Uber has been accused by attorney generals in several states of misclassifying its drivers as contractors as opposed to employees, thereby denying the drivers the benefits of employee status, such as minimum wages, social security, workers’ compensation, and health insur- ance. In June 2015, the California Labor Commission ruled that an Uber driver was, in fact, an employee under the direct, detailed supervision and control of Uber management, notwithstanding Uber’s claims that it merely provides a “platform.” However, the ruling applied only to that individual driver, and Uber is appealing the decision. In April 2016, Uber settled two federal class action lawsuits brought in California and Massachusetts on behalf of an estimated 385,000 drivers, who sued the company for mistreatment and  6  CHAPTER 1 The Revolution Is Just Beginning lack of due process, including barring them from the app without explanation, lack of transparency in how driver ratings are calculated, and deactivating drivers who regularly declined to accept requests. Uber agreed to pay up to $84 million to the drivers, give them more information about why they are barred from using the app, assist drivers in forming “driver associations” in these two states, and review its policy of no tipping. Uber also agreed to pay an additional $16 million if it goes public next year with a valuation exceeding $93.75 billion. The company retained the right to shut out drivers temporarily if their acceptance rates are low and can deactivate drivers completely if they have high cancellation rates. Most importantly, the settlement allowed Uber to continue classifying its drivers as independent contractors in California and Massachusetts, enabling Uber to continue not paying for workers’ compensation insurance, health insurance, or overtime work. However, in August 2016, a federal district court judge in California rejected the terms of the settlement on the grounds that it was unfair and unreasonable, and as a result, Uber and the parties to the lawsuit have resumed negotiations. The terms on which the lawsuit are finally resolved may have a significant effect on the on-demand services business model.Uber has also been accused of violating public transportation laws and regulations throughout the United States and the world; abusing the personal information it has collected on users of the service; seeking to use personal information to intimidate jour-nalists; failing to protect public safety by refusing to do adequate criminal, medical, and financial background checks on its drivers; taking clandestine actions against its chief competitor Lyft in order to disrupt its business; and being tone-deaf to the complaints of its own drivers against the firm’s efforts to reduce driver fees. Uber has been banned in several European cities. Critics also fear the long-term impact of on-demand service firms, because of their potential for creating a society of part-time, low-paid, temp work, displacing traditionally full-time, secure jobs—the so-called “uberization” of work. As one critic put it, Uber is not the Uber for rides so much as it is the Uber for low-paid jobs. Uber responds to this fear by claiming that it is lowering the cost of transportation, making better use of spare human and financial resources, expanding the demand for ride services, and expanding opportunities for car drivers, whose pay is about the same as other taxi drivers. Despite the controversy surrounding it, Uber continues to have no trouble attracting additional investors and according to CEO Kalanick, plans to remain a private company for the foreseeable future. Although Uber currently has a host of rivals, both big and small, most analysts expect that ultimately, only one or two major players will remain. Uber is doing everything it can to assure that it will be the one to prevail. SOURCES: “Uber Driver Settle-ment Rejected, Both Parties Resume Negotiations,” by Robert Lawson,, October 12, 2016; “Even Uber Couldn’t Bridge the China Divide,” by Farhad Manjoo, New York Times , August 1, 2016; “Uber Sells China Operations to Didi Chuxing,” by Alyssa Abkowitz and Rick Carew, Wall Street Journal  , August 1, 2016; “Why Uber Keeps Raising Billions,” by Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times , June 20, 2016; “Uber Points to Profits in All Developed Markets,” by Leslie Hook,, June 16, 2016; “An Uber Shakedown,” Wall Street  Journal  , April 24, 2016; “Uber Settlement Takes Customers For a Ride,” by Rob Berger, Forbes , April 22, 2016; “Uber Settles Cases With Concessions, but Drivers Stay Freelancers,” by Mike Isaac and Noam Scheiber, New York Times , April 21, 2016; “Leaked: Uber’s Financials Show Huge Growth, Even Bigger Losses,” by Brian Solomon, Forbes , January 12, 2016; “Twisting Words to Make ‘Sharing’ Apps Seem Selfless,” by Natasha Singer, New York Times,  August 9, 2015; “Uber Dealt Setback on Labor Rules,” by Lauren Weber, Wall Street Journal  , June 18, 2015; “The $50 Billion Question: Can Uber Deliver?,” by Douglas Macmillan, Wall Street  Journal,  June 15, 2015; “How Everyone Misjudges the Sharing Economy,” by Christopher Mims, Wall Street Journal,  May 25, 2015; “The On-Demand Economy Is Reshaping Companies and Careers,” The Economist,  January 4, 2015; “The On-Demand Economy: Workers on Tap,” The Economist, January 3, 2015.
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