Uber embraces ‘dumb’ phones in search for revenue

Uber is opening its food delivery service to telephone orders in the U.S., as the technology giant looks to expand its potential customer base to all mobile phone users.

The announcement comes two months after Uber launched its 1-833-USE-UBER phone-booking service for ride-hailing in the U.S., allowing anyone to call and speak to a human operator who will arrange a ride on their behalf — all the caller needs is a mobile phone with basic text-based messaging functionality to verify their account and receive notifications. However, much has happened in the past two months, with shelter-at-home policies enforced by the COVID-19 crisis essentially decimating Uber’s core business, and opening the door for food-delivery services to flourish — in theory, at least.

Last month, Uber announced that it would begin offering phone assistance to Uber Eats customers in France, which has been one of the most impacted countries during the pandemic. This was essentially designed to help those “who do not have a smartphone” to order food directly to their home. Now the service is arriving in the U.S., starting in New York City and the Greater Miami area, with plans to extend the service to more cities across the country in the near future. As with the ride-hail phone option, users dial 1-833-USE-UBER, where first-time users will create an account by providing personal details, such as zip code and credit card information — future orders will be automatically charged to the caller’s account based on their phone number.

While anyone is able to use the new service, it is largely based at the elderly population that don’t yet own a smartphone. According to Pew Research, 81% of U.S. adults own a smartphone and 13% own a ‘dumb’ mobile phone. And according to the 2010 Census, an estimated 235 million adults live in the U.S., which means that at least 30 million people own a “non-smart” phone. Given that Uber was already battling big losses prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the company is clearly doing it all it can to increase the pool of people that can use its service.

Earlier this month, Uber also fast-tracked the global launch of its Uber Eats for businesses service, as it looks to capitalize on the millions more people who are now working remotely, as well as those on the front lines.

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