Pioneered by companies like Uber and Lyft, the rise of the ride-sharing industry has been both meteoric, lucrative, and driven by an intense focus on the mobile experience.
Using primarily a data-driven approach and my own experience as a guide, this post examines who has driven the explosive growth in ride-sharing, why they became evangelists for the service, and their opinions about the mobile experience.
“Mobile Experience” is Everywhere
Smartphones fill the gap between traditional desktop computers and the physical world. Millennials, in particular, continue to grow increasingly attached to accomplishing tasks using their smartphones.
In fact, most of them find their mobile device indispensable, even more important than internet access or a car:
My Mobile Journey as a Millennial
Recently, I found myself in a situation where I needed a ride from Lawrence, Kansas to Kansas City, Missouri for work, a distance of about fifty miles. Without a car of my own, I concluded that public transportation was the most cost-effective option.
Planning my way using apps, the easy part of my journey
So, from my iPhone, I downloaded the Amtrak app, created my account, and purchased a ticket. Then, I downloaded the Uber app, created my account, uploaded my credit card information, and had the Kansas City end of my journey planned in less than five minutes. The Lawrence portion of my trip however, was not nearly as simple to work out.
The pain of finding and booking a traditional taxi
The train leaves from Lawrence every morning around 5:45 AM. Since I don’t own a phone book, I used Google from my mobile browser to help me locate a taxi. The internet offered me the ‘call’ button within Safari and I scheduled my taxi ride for 5AM the next morning.
I wanted a buffer for both for the train and my taxi driver because I didn’t have any way to check on my taxi without calling them back (and who wants to call anyone at 5AM, really).
The next morning, I waited on the cab driver. Although a little late, he delivered me to the train station without any early morning traffic. Thankfully, though, both cash or card were accepted (notably using a card reader connected to his phone).
How mobile contributed to improving my experience
As I waited another twenty minutes for the train to show up, I found it comforting to be able to check the train status from Amtrak’s mobile application. Amtrak even incorporated my digitally-delivered tickets into Passbook on my iPhone.
When the train arrived at Union Station in Kansas City, I opened the Uber app on my phone and summoned a ride. By the time I walked from the train to the parking lot outside the station, my driver Sam was waiting.
I already knew his name, what he looked like, and that he drove a black Hyundai Sonata because the application told me. With a smile, he took my bags, put them in his trunk, and drove to the office.
We reached the destination and I stepped out of the car. Sam retrieved my bags, waved goodbye, and sped off. I didn’t even need to open my purse once. I thought to myself, “Wow.” It was a dramatically refreshing feeling.
Enhanced Experiences Through Mobile
This effect is the result of one company understanding how the effective use of available mobile data can enrich and transform the user experience. With newly-discovered contextual awareness, clever businesses are figuring out ways to make brand interactions seamless between websites and their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
Banks have included mobile check deposit among a laundry list of other functions to digitize traditional interactions wherever possible. Airlines allow you to track your flight and luggage from the device in your pocket.
People use devices, not consumers or customers, and user experiences are designed more frequently with new, powerful functions in order to accommodate them.
Moreover, the penetration of smartphones across the mobile phone market is escalating:
Some brands have established entirely new business models around mobile-connected contextual awareness. Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and other ride-sharing services have effectively monetized the promise of mobile simplicity to capitalize on the seamless experiences smartphone marketing has offered for years.
Summon a ride with a touch of a button on your smartphone display, watch it arrive at your location—connecting two individual users on different sides of the experience (one driver, one passenger), and pay without paper transactions using the credit card you keep on file.
You reach your destination without saying a word and with Uber in some cities, you can even control the music during your ride from inside the application.
As these business models continue to expand, ride-sharing services demonstrate the demand for seamless mobile experiences. Lyft experienced the largest growth between December 2013 and December 2014 at a rate of 835% in unique visitors. In the same period, Uber grew by half that rate, still an explosive 440%.
Ride-sharing services understand that their customers carry portable, mobile computers in their pockets and use that data to create new experiences which are completely frictionless.
The simplicity of connecting users with digital content, understanding the value of that data, and mapping it effectively back into their own business practices allows these services to replace traditional taxi services.
Using Social Data to Understand the Explosive Growth of Ride-Sharing
Understanding why ride-sharing services have been so positively received is simple with the power of social media listening. Using Infegy Atlas to mine publicly available social media data, we found that the demographic most frequently part of the conversation related to ride-sharing services online, are Millennials.
While mobile markets continue to expand in traditional smartphone penetration, Uber and Lyft capitalized on a market segment hyper-focused on convenience and mobile connectivity to revolutionize traditional taxi service. It’s not just millennials taking notice of such a lucrative, simple business model, either.
Attention on Innovation
Ride sharing attracts a healthy amount of attention for the benefits enjoyed by the target demographic, as well as recognition for the potential revenue such businesses stand to gain for their fearless innovation and product iteration towards success.
Recently, Lyft announced a partnership with Verizon Wireless both to benefit their drivers who use Verizon as a service provider, as well as to ensure “select” Verizon phones purchased come pre-loaded with their application. Lyft made this announcement on their official blog:
Starting next week, Lyft drivers on the Verizon Network can receive discounts on their monthly bill, family plans, and accessories through Accelerate, Lyft’s premier driver rewards program. In addition, Verizon will now pre-load the Lyft app onto select Verizon Android devices, making it easier than ever to find a welcoming, affordable ride, whenever and wherever you need one. Verizon is firmly dedicated to leveraging advanced technology to power a fast, reliable network for consumers across the country. Lyft and Verizon share the vision of a more efficient, connected future, where a safe ride and reliable technology is available to everyone at their fingertips.
The Future is Now
The evolving mobile landscape will create changes in marketplaces we never thought possible. Constantly connected devices create powerful sources of information, and for the businesses interested in unlocking that data to transform services we know and love, the promise of continued relevance.
For the others? They will be as uncomfortable and clunky as my early-morning ride to work. After I got done with Uber that Wednesday, I remembered feeling like I had crossed some kind of time-travel boundary between technology we used to find convenient, and the new definition of simplicity.
Ride-sharing is a powerful example of that new, connected future, made possible by the rise in mobile.
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