What went wrong with Uber Eats?
Here is what experts think could have been done to avoid the platform’s downfall

What went wrong with Uber Eats?

Here is what experts think could have been done to avoid the platform’s downfall
  • Uber Eats in India discontinued its operations on January 21 and was acquired by food giant Zomato.
  • We speak to industry experts to find out the reasons why the food delivery platform took a nosedive and if the onus can be put on macro-economic factors or its brand-building strategy.
  • Experts opine that working with minimum funding, rivaling against stronger communications from competitors, disadvantages of being a late entrant, not having a separate identity, getting sidelined from the parent company and offering deep discounting were some of the factors that led to its decline.
Food aggregator Uber Eats, which started its journey in 2017, was acquired by Zomato on January 21 for ₹2,485 crore. While its entity will cease to exist, Uber Eats’ consumers, restaurants and delivery partners will now be directed to Zomato. However, the buyout has left more than 200 employees on a cliffhanger.

The acquirer Zomato started in 2008 and now has over 40 million users. Swiggy, on the other hand, started in 2013 and has gathered 42 million users. Uber Eats, which was established just three years ago, had over 10 million users. And with Uber Eats’ huge consumer base in its kitty, Zomato will now have control over 50-55% of the food delivery market.

Experts opine that one of the reasons for Uber Eats downfall was its heavy discounting strategy. The operational losses amounted to ₹2,197 crore, more debts followed and a heavy competitive market did not let it sustain.

As Uber Eats hits its brink and merges with Zomato, we speak to experts to find out the reasons, what could the platform have done differently to sustain and explore if upping its marketing game before would have helped in dodging the bullet.

Increasing the frequency of communication with audiences
Uber Eats had on-boarded Alia Bhatt as its brand ambassador -- the only food aggregator in India to get a celebrity involved in its communication. However, it released its first brand campaign after two years of its existence -- in the month of January 2019 called ‘Everyday moments.’ According to Voodly, it garnered more than 50.3 million views by the end of January and secured the first spot on the list of Top 10 Most Watched Indian Ads on YouTube.

Karthik Srinivisan, Social Media and Brand Expert, says that there isn’t much for food aggregators to talk about so its communication strategy cannot be blamed. The ads can be about ‘variety, prompt delivery, post-delivery customer care, ease of ordering, UI/UX, payment options, loyalty program, promotions, etc.’

Gone are the days when brands would wait for some key occasions for a big media splash. Now it is more about participating in daily conversations, listening to what your consumers say. And being active on social media isn’t very expensive either. Srinivasan thinks Uber Eats could have been more consistent like Zomato and Swiggy here.

“To be in the top-of-mind recall in such a category, the brands need to continuously be in the buzz. Zomato and Swiggy have cracked that code to a large extent, always being in the social buzz one way or another. Brands are moving away from one or two big-budget media blitzkrieg every year to announce their brand name to the largest number of people, to having sustained presence throughout the year to the most appropriate target audiences. This ensures that brands do not have only two peaks in a year where people notice their communication, but there's a consistent wave (instead of peaks) all through the year where a large enough number of target audiences notice their brand. Uber Eats perhaps did this less impressively or consistently compared to both Zomato and Swiggy,” adds Srinivasan.

However, Srinivasan says the real reason is unplugging Uber Eats’ support system.

“Beyond all this is the investors' appetite to continue funding these businesses despite losses. At some point, they may want to pull the plug to cut their losses and that could be the bigger reason for the sale.”

N Chandramouli, CEO, TRA Research feels Uber Eats did not offer anything different from its competitors and its USP wasn’t clear in its communication.

“Other than the fact that they used a celebrity for endorsements, I think the ads did not communicate much. With more number of restaurants available on the competing apps, the promise of variety or choice, felt lame,” he explains.

Chandramouli rates Zomato’s communication strategy the most innovative in the category, followed by Uber Eats and then Swiggy.

Late mover disadvantages
Almond Branding’s Founder and Director, Shashwat Das, thinks the reasons for Uber Eats’ downfall has more to do with the business model and category dynamics rather than its communication strategy.

“The two largest incumbent players in the market, Swiggy and Zomato, were already half-way to the top by 2017 and had by now exclusively tied up with major restaurants. Uber had to hence rely on heavy discounting to acquire and retain users and deep discounting strategy is never sustainable as consumer keeps benefiting but none of the market players win in the battle of dominance. Last-mile delivery is an operations-heavy, low-margin business where most of the startups failed due to lack of knowledge, field experience, and funding,” notes Das.

“Uber knows from its cab hailing experience that any app brand that is not number 1 or 2 in the country it operates in, will find it difficult to be a successful and profitable business. In any app-based delivery brand, only ONE brand remains top-of-mind for consumers, with one more kept as backup. There is rarely room for a #3,” seconds Chandramouli.

Some of the restaurants in India still offer free home delivery with no price caps and Das thinks the food market isn’t easy to crack.

Downloading more apps, building new relationships and settling for lesser pay cuts did not make a stronger pitch for restaurant partners either.

“Once an app signs up a merchant, a regular flow of business determines what importance the delivery app holds for the restaurant. Plus, the incumbents had more focus, spend-power and aggression than Uber Eats. With Uber Eats India accumulating more losses than Uber, its cab hailing sister-concern, added to the pressure from international investors after their poor IPO, the only good option for Uber was perhaps to cut losses and focus on their core,” says Chandramouli.

Developing a distinct identity
While Uber Eat’s core idea was to piggyback on Uber’s image and use its established network, Chandramouli suggests that this wasn’t a smart move as it affected Uber’s disruptor position.

“I think they should have launched the food-delivery business under a different brand. Truly speaking, Uber's cab hailing app was always recognized as an innovator and leader, but by launching Uber Eats, it almost seemed like a me-too, copycat brand, losing its innovator positioning. Another risk of extending the Uber brand to this new business was that cab hailing apps business required a more involved and intimate decision of the consumer, which a food-delivery app did not,” he elaborates.

Thanks to Swiggy and Zomato’s heavy funding, they had the bandwidth to innovate and offer discounts. However, their core focus is food delivery and Uber’s, on the other hand, is mobility. Das thinks this could be one of the reasons why it was sidelined and cut at the source when it fell loose.

“Even though Uber Eats was launched with much fanfare, Uber couldn’t focus on it as much as its competitors. Clearly its core mobility ambitions in India were its top priority. Cab hailing companies like Ola and Uber after having burnt their fingers in this cash-guzzling sector saw more merit in focusing on their core rather than the side businesses,” says Das.

Was it a smart move for Zomato?
As per media reports, Uber will get a 10% stake in Zomato in a deal that values Uber Eats at $300-350 million.

"It was a bad deal for Zomato I think, giving away stock worth 300 million USD, to a company struggling to stay afloat. I think Swiggy will gain from this. And for Uber, of course, this seems to be their long term strategy of buying into local food compaines," says Shubho Sengupta, Brand Consultant.

"There is no economic crisis for those who order on Zomato. They are in the top 15% earners of this country," adds Sengupta.

All eyes on Swiggy and Zomato

While Dunzo and Food Panda also exist in the battleground, the horse race will continue between two stalwarts Zomato and Swiggy. This consolidation, experts opine, will bring some more financial discipline, nudge them to be more creative and source the much needed tech support from their parent companies.