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Uber launches rider loyalty Rewards like credits & upgrades 9 cities – TechCrunch

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Uber’s new loyalty program incentivizes you not to check Lyft or the local competitor. Riders earn points for all the money they spend on Uber and Uber Eats that score them $5 credits, upgrades to nicer cars, access to premium support and even flexible cancellations that waive the fee if they rebook within 15 minutes.

Uber Rewards launches today in nine cities before rolling out to the whole U.S. in the next few months, with points for scooters and bikes coming soon. And as a brilliant way to get people excited about the program, it retroactively counts your last six months of Uber activity to give you perks as soon as you sign up for free for Uber Rewards. You’ll see the new Rewards bar on the homescreen of your app today if you’re in Miami, Denver, Tampa, New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego or anywhere in New Jersey, as Uber wanted to test with a representative sample of the U.S.

The loyalty program ties all of the company’s different transportation and food delivery options together, encouraging customers to stick with Uber across a suite of solutions instead of treating it as interchangeable with alternatives. “As people use Uber more and more in their everyday, we wanted to find a way to reward them for choosing Uber,” says Uber’s director of product for riders Nundu Janakiram. “International expansion is top of mind for us,” adds Holly Ormseth, Uber Rewards’ product manager.

As for the drivers, “They absolutely get paid their full rate,” Ormseth explains. “We understand that offering the benefits has a cost to Uber but we think of it as an investment,” says Janakiram.

So how much Ubering earns you what perks? Let’s break it down:

In Uber Rewards you earn points by spending money to reach different levels of benefits. Points are earned during six-month periods, and if you reach a level, you get its perks for the remainder of that period plus the whole next period. You earn 1 point per dollar spent on UberPool, Express Pool and Uber Eats; 2 points on UberX, Uber XL and Uber Select; and 3 points on Uber Black and Black SUV. You’ll see your Uber Rewards progress wheel at the bottom of the homescreen fill up over time.

Blue: $5 credits

The only Uber perk that doesn’t reset at the end of a period is that you get $5 of Uber Cash for every 500 points earned regardless of membership level. “Even as a semi-frequent Uber Rewards member you’ll get these instant benefits,” Janakiram says. Blue lets you treat Uber like a video game where you’re trying to rack up points to earn an extra life. To earn 500 points, you’d need about 48 UberPool trips, 6 Uber Xs and 6 Uber Eats orders.

Gold: Flexible cancellations

Once you hit 500 points, you join Uber Gold and get flexible cancellations that refund your $5 cancellation fee if you rebook within 15 minutes, plus priority support Gold is for users who occasionally take Uber but stick to its more economical options. “The Gold level is all about being there when things aren’t going exactly right,” Janakiram explains. To earn 500 points in six months, you’d need to take about 2 UberPools per week, one Uber X per month and one Uber Eats order per month.

Platinum: Price protection

At 2,500 points you join Uber Platinum, which gets you the Gold benefits plus price protection on a route between two of your favorite places regardless of traffic or surge. And Platinum members get priority pickups at airports. To earn 2,500 points, you’d need to take UberX 4 times per week and order Uber Eats twice per month. It’s designed for the frequent user who might rely on Uber to get to work or play.

Diamond: Premium support & upgrades

At 7,500 points, you get the Gold and Platinum benefits plus premium support with a dedicated phone line and fast 24/7 responses from top customer service agents. You get complimentary upgrade surprises from UberX to Uber Black and other high-end cars. You’ll be paired with Uber’s highest-rated drivers. And you get no delivery fee on three Uber Eats orders every six months. Reaching 7,500 points would require UberX 8 times per week, Uber Eats once per week and Uber Black to the airport once per month. Diamond is meant usually for business travelers who get to expense their rides, or people who’d ditched car ownership for ridesharing.

Keeping everyone happily riding

Uber spent the better part of last year asking users through surveys and focus groups what they’d want in a loyalty program. It found that customers wanted to constantly earn rewards and make their dollar go further, but use the perks when they wanted. The point was to avoid situations where riders says, “Oh I’ve been an Uber user for years. When something goes wrong, I feel like I’m being treated like everyone else,” Janakiram tells me. When riders think they’re special, they stick around.

One big missing feature here is a Rewards calculator. Uber could better gamify earning its perks if there was an easy way to see how many more monthly or total rides it would take to reach the next level. It’d be great to have a few little sliders you could drag around to see if I just take Uber X, how many of my average length trips would it take to level up.

Uber managed to beat Lyft to the loyalty game. Lyft just announced that its rewards program would roll out in December, allowing you to earn discounts and upgrades. But Southeast Asia’s Grab transportation service started testing a loyalty program back in late 2016 where you could manually redeem points for discounts. While Uber’s rewards are more predictable and automatic, it does seem to have cribbed Grab’s rewards period mechanic where you keep your perks through the end of the next cycle. We’ll see if Uber mistakenly gave too much away and will have to reduce the perks like Grab did, pissing off its most loyal riders.

One risk of the program is that Uber might make users at lower tiers or who don’t even qualify for Gold feel like second-class citizens of the app. “One thing that’s important is that we don’t want to make the experience for people who are not in these levels poor in any sense,” Janakiram notes. “It’s not like 80 percent of people will suddenly get priority airport pickups, but we do want to monitor very closely to make sure we’re not harming the service more broadly.”

Overall, Uber managed to pick perks that seem helpful without making me wonder why these features aren’t standard for everyone. Even if it takes a short-term margins hit, if Uber can dissuade people from ever looking beyond its app, the lifetime value of its customers should easily offset the kickbacks.

[Disclosure: Uber’s Janakiram and I briefly lived in the same three-bedroom apartment five years ago, though I’d already agreed to write about the redesign when I found out he was involved.]

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TechCrunch’s parent company links up with Taboola • TechCrunch

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Folks often ask if Crunchbase and TechCrunch are still the same company (nope). Many express surprise that AOL was once this publication’s sole parent (yep). The saga of Who Owns TechCrunch is actually somewhat interesting. Various corporate developments over the last decade saw TechCrunch trade hands several times, including our most recent ejection from Verizon (long story) into the arms of private equity (shorter story).

Today we’re part of a reconstituted Yahoo, an entity that combines its historical assets — sans Alibaba — with AOL and other properties including this publication. I bring all that up because our parent company is in the news today. So much so that we’re pushing the value of a public company sharply higher by dint of our partnering with it, and taking a sizable stake in its equity at the same time.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on TechCrunch+ or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Because my employer is about to own just under a fourth of Taboola, I want to rewind the clock a bit today and recall how we wound up in a world where both Taboola and Outbrain — online advertising companies that you are familiar with, and have at times collected criticism — are public companies.

This should be lightweight and fun. Frankly, before today, I had never read a Taboola or Outbrain earnings report. We will explore together! Into the numbers!

A merger that didn’t

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Yahoo gets 25% stake in Taboola as part of long-term advertising deal • TechCrunch

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Yahoo is taking a nearly 25% stake in advertising network Taboola. In exchange for this move, Taboola is becoming Yahoo’s native advertising partner through a 30-year commercial agreement.

If you’re not familiar with Taboola, you may have seen its content recommendation widgets on popular news websites, such as USA Today, Insider and The Weather Channel. They mostly feature sponsored links that lead to third-party websites. Those links appear in recommendation widgets at the end of news articles or in the middle of a content newsfeed.

Yahoo is a name that you may already know quite well. It is now a private company owned by investment firm Apollo Global Management. It owns many popular media properties, such as Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo News, AOL and Engadget. Yahoo’s homepage and Yahoo Mail are also important products for the company as they attract large audiences. Yahoo is TechCrunch’s parent company as well.

This isn’t the first time Taboola is signing a strategic partnership that covers some of these properties. In 2015, Verizon acquired AOL. The next year, Taboola and AOL signed a strategic partnership that led to integrations of Taboola’s ads on AOL properties. Shortly after, Verizon also acquired Yahoo and merged AOL with Yahoo.

And now, the second incarnation of Yahoo, which includes AOL’s activities and operates separately from Verizon, is doubling down on digital advertising. With this new deal, Taboola becomes the exclusive partner for native advertising across all of Yahoo’s digital properties.

It means that you’ll soon scroll through news articles on Yahoo Finance and see an item that looks just like a normal article. But it will be a Taboola-powered advertising unit instead. Or at least, that’s the idea. Advertisers will be able to buy Taboola through the Yahoo DSP.

“Partnering with Taboola enables Yahoo to further enhance the contextual and native offerings within our unified advertising stack. The partnership also allows Yahoo and Taboola to continue to differentiate in market, improving user, advertiser and publisher experiences across properties, while benefiting from the long-term tailwinds in digital native advertising,” Yahoo CEO Jim Lanzone said in a statement.

As Yahoo currently reaches nearly 900 million monthly active users, it represents a significant deal for Taboola. Right now, Taboola partners with 9,000 publishers and reaches 500 million users every day.

This deal isn’t just a way to display Taboola ads in front of more eyeballs. As technology companies and regulators are cracking down on privacy-invasive targeting methods, adtech companies like Taboola need to find new ways to target audiences in an effective way.

“Our collaboration with Yahoo will give advertisers access to what I believe is the most sophisticated contextual dataset online. Together, we’re going to build a ‘Contextual Powerhouse’, enabling advertisers to target relevant audiences without relying on third-party cookies and while maintaining complete user privacy,” Taboola founder and CEO Adam Singolda writes in a blog post.

Taboola went public last year by merging with a special purpose acquisition company, also known as a SPAC. Taboola shares (NASDAQ:TBLA) are currently up 70% in pre-market trading compared to yesterday’s closing price — but Taboola shares have been steadily going down over the past twelve months. Shares should open at around $3.14.

As part of the deal, Yahoo is becoming Taboola’s largest shareholder with a 24.99% stake in the advertising network company. Yahoo will also get a seat on Taboola’s board of directors. Both companies expect to generate $1 billion in annual revenue from this newly formed partnership if integrations go well.

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Musk says Twitter will offer “amnesty” to suspended accounts • TechCrunch

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Elon Musk said Thursday Twitter will grant “a general amnesty” to accounts that had been suspended from the platform beginning next week. The CEO posted a poll the day earlier over whether the platform should restore affected accounts.

The news comes within a week of Musk also ending former president Donald Trump’s ban from the platform after running a similar poll. Trump was banned after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but said he doesn’t intend to return to the platform.

Musk’s poll to users included a caveat that suspended account holders could rejoin the platform “provided they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.” Around 3.2 million users responded to the poll, which voted 72.4% in favor of amnesty.

“The people have spoken. Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk said, using a Latin phrase that means “The voice of the people is the voice of god.”

Historically, Twitter has banned accounts that glorify hate and harassment, have the potential to incite violence or rampantly spread misinformation that can lead to harm. Some high profile individuals who were banned include MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell after he made a series of claims that Trump actually won the 2020 presidential election; former Trump advisor and former executive chairman of Breitbart Steve Bannon after he said Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be beheaded; and Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes for violating the site’s policy of prohibiting violent extremist groups.

It’s unclear from Musk’s brief tweet how Twitter will deal with content moderation in the future, now that more potentially problematic voices will be returning to the platform. These concerns have only been exacerbated by Musk’s mass layoffs and the general exodus of employees who’d rather quit than be “hardcore.”

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