Uber has announced a duo of new services as the company chases fresh revenue streams to offset the impact of COVID-19.
With billions of people around the world forced into lockdown during the coronavirus crisis, tech firms across the spectrum have been adapting to this “new normal.” For platforms that enable remote working, this has meant catering to a surge in demand. But for Uber, which relies significantly on physical interactions, it has had to get creative. Shelter-at-home policies enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated Uber’s core ride-hailing business, leading the company to fast-track the global launch of Uber Eats for business, accept phone orders for food deliveries, and even expand into grocery deliveries.
Now, Uber is looking to deliver pretty much anything, from pet food and medical supplies — and it even wants to deliver goods between friends and family living at different addresses.
Uber Direct builds on a service that Uber launched initially back in 2015 called UberRush, which was designed to enable local businesses to get all manner of goods to consumers in minutes. Uber eventually shuttered UberRush in 2018, noting that it was applying its lessons learned to its burgeoning Uber Eats business. As part of its new offering, the company is working with retail partners looking to embrace on-demand delivery. The initial roster of partners include online pharmacy Cabinet to deliver over-the-counter medication in New York.
Elsewhere, Uber has signed up partners in Portugal, South Africa, and Australia to courier parcels, medication, and pet supplies.
But arguably the most interesting new service is Uber Connect, which is essentially a peer-to-peer delivery service that allows anyone to send anything they want to anybody else. Inside the main Uber app, riders will now see an option that enlists the services of a driver to transport goods.
This makes perfect sense for Uber, as it instantly opens its vast transport network to millions of people who may want to send some spare toilet paper or hand-wash over to their grandparents’ house. In reality, though, it could be used for just about anything, including someone who wants to swap a guitar for their buddy’s exercise bike which is located on the other side of town.
Crucially, this new service promotes social distancing, so anyone who would otherwise have been tempted to jump in their car and drive over to someone’s house to borrow or lend an item can pay an Uber driver to do so instead. And of course, the millions of Uber drivers who have been pretty much out of work for the past month will now have an additional way to earn money.
For now, Uber Connect is available in more than two dozen cities in the U.S., Australia, and Mexico, though it’s safe to assume that this will expand into new markets and could even be made permanently available, if demand for the service is sufficient.