How Uber Analyses Its Data To Discover Customer Needs

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 17 November 2016
Category: Features Comments View Comments


An AfricaCom session featured Uber's Tim Willis, who spoke about Uber's growth in Africa, how it's disrupting courier services, and what it discovered when it drilled down into the data from the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa; Victoria Island in Lagos, Nigeria; and Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya.

Tim Willis, from Uber Sub-Saharan Africa, gave a presentation on the company during the Big Data track at this year's AfricaCom. AfricaCom is not a consumer show - it's for industry people from all over Africa (and, increasingly, China), as well as government representatives - but if you're an Uber user, which more and more people seem to be, you may find some of the stats he provided interesting.

After all, you are part of that data.

YouTube link ]
Above: Tim Willis discusses Uber in Africa at AfricaCom 2016. The video was shot and edited on an FNB ConeXis X1 cellular phone as a test of the phone's video-capture and workhorse abilities, and battery life.
In the case of Uber, the company wants to understand its customers' needs and then use that to figure out ways to improve the service. "What my team spends a lot of time doing is trying to work out where are people going and what are their use cases? What are they doing with the platform? Why are they taking trips? How can we be better engaged? How can we use the data to drive better behaviour on the platform and provide better services [in] the marketplace?" Willis says.

Identifying Use Cases In South Africa And Africa

Uber launched in South Africa in August 2013 and subsequently it has expanded into other African countries, where it has demonstrated very swift growth this year. It launched in Abuja, Nigeria, in March, which then became one of the quickest growth cities in the region. It also launched in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and Kampala, Uganda, in June. The company estimates that well over 1000 economic opportunities have been created in Nigeria and over 1000 economic opportunities have been created in Nairobi, Kenya.

To demonstrate what kind of results the company gets when it analyses its data Willis showed an example of what he called "geofencing at a very small level - all sorts of venues and restaurants, etcetera - to try and understand what kinds of trips are happening", which took the form of a case study that was compiled using data from the Northern Suburbs in Cape Town, a "geofenced" area into which they drilled down to find patterns and preferences.

Uber discovered that 38% of all the trips in the Northern Suburbs were to shopping centres - in particular Tyger Valley. From information such as this it can start making data-driven decisions: in the Northern Suburbs' case, should it put more people marketing the product at Tyger Valley or should it move to other locations where Uber isn't as popular?

How Uber Analyses Its Data To Discover Customer Needs
Above: Tim Willis from Uber Sub-Saharan Africa.
On Victoria Island in Lagos, Nigeria, Uber ran more "geofencing" data analysis and discovered that hotels, shopping centres, and party venues are the most popular uses, which is "pretty standard", but a surprise popped up in twelfth position: Reddington Hospital. This is because people are starting to use the service as a way to travel to the hospital because it's so reliable. "ETAs are less than five minutes in most of Lagos," Willis says.

Uber conducted similar research in Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya and discovered that the top use cases were tourist destinations such as Nairobi National Park, hospitals, and shopping centres, which demonstrates that "people are using Uber for all sorts of different things and not necessarily just going out to have a big party; it's starting to become a part of their everyday life". The results of the data analysis mean that Uber can run the business better by, for example, reaching out to hospitals to form partnerships such as organising preferential parking for Uber drivers. "These are things we weren't even looking at before we had the data," Willis says.

Uber has also looked at how to make the app more efficient. The first idea is to "forward dispatch" the cars by setting up a driver's next pickup while he is still transporting someone by looking at where the passenger is going and then matching another customer in the area to the driver.

The second idea was to match its driver partners who are ending their day and heading home with someone heading in the same direction so that final trip can still generate some income.

Will Uber Disrupt Delivery Systems?

"So if we are able to get you a ride in five minutes we asked ourselves what else we can get you in five minutes," Willis says, "and that's when we said 'hey, how about Uber Eats?'."

YouTube link ]
Above: Tim Willis discusses Uber Eats at AfricaCom 2016. The video was shot and edited on an FNB ConeXis X1 cellular phone as a test of the phone's video-capture and workhorse abilities, and battery life.
Uber thinks this system is the future of food because "if we can put a person in a car we can probably put a burger in a car and we can get it to you pretty quickly". Uber has realised that it essentially has a courier system in place that can deliver all sorts of items.

Uber Eats is a great example of how fast the system can scale (and has, over the past six years of the company's existence). A year ago the Uber Eats app didn't even exist - the service was first launched in December 2015 in Toronto, Canada, and since then it has been launched in 36 cities (up until the end of September), including Johannesburg, in nine countries, including Canada, the United States, Australia, and South Africa.

How Uber Analyses Its Data To Discover Customer Needs
Above: Highlights of the Uber Eats timeline from its launch in December 2015 to September 2016.

Uber Stats

Finally, here are some stats that came up during the presentation concerning both the market in South Africa and the operations of the company worldwide.

Uber Data: South Africa
• Uber launched in South Africa in August 2013.
• 2 million trips were enabled in 2015.
• Over 4000 economic opportunities have been created.
• People from 47 countries have used Uber in South Africa.

Uber Data: Worldwide
• Uber is active in 475 cities in 75 countries.
• Over 2 billion connections have been made using Uber.
• There are 8000 employees.
• There are 1.5 million active driver partners.
• 75% of every fare goes to the drivers.

How Uber Analyses Its Data To Discover Customer Needs
Above: An example of a heatmap of London showing where the service is most in demand on a Thursday night (left) and a Saturday night (right).

Left: "Demand consolidated in central London, indicated by dark red. No demand in outlying areas shown by light green." Right: "Demand is more evenly spread across the city, although the demand in central London is not as high as on a Thursday evening at the same time."

Tags: #cape_town, #technology

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