Uber narrows its losses with surging delivery business

11 Feb 2021

Image: ©martina87/Stock.adobe.com

Delivery revenue in the last quarter soared by 224pc while its ride-hailing business continues to suffer during coronavirus lockdowns.

Delivery now makes up nearly half of Uber’s revenue as ride-hailing remains in the doldrums thanks to Covid-19.

The company’s fourth quarter earnings saw revenue from delivery up 224pc year over year while ride-hailing, once the core business of Uber, was down 52pc.

While delivery demand has soared during the pandemic, overall revenue for 2020 was $11.1bn, which was down compared to $13bn in 2019.

The drop in revenue reflects the challenges that the company faced during lockdowns around the world but delivery has helped narrow the company’s losses. In 2020 these losses were almost $6.8bn compared to $8.5bn in 2019.

“While 2020 certainly tested our resilience, it also dramatically accelerated our capabilities in local commerce, with our delivery business more than doubling over the year to a nearly $44bn annual bookings run-rate in December,” chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said.

Uber Eats’ core business has been delivering takeaway meals from restaurants but this has expanded into grocery delivery, which has proven to be a highly competitive landscape since the onset of the pandemic nearly 12 months ago.

Uber’s commitment to food and grocery delivery was further on display in 2020 with the acquisitions of Cornershop for groceries and takeaway delivery rival Postmates. So far in 2021 it has acquired Drizly, an alcohol delivery app, for $1.1bn.

Delivery shows no signs of slowing down as the company’s priority, as 2021 appears unlikely to be the year when the pandemic fully subsides. Its ride-hailing business is tipped to recover at a sluggish pace as different jurisdictions shift in and out of lockdowns.

Mobility revenues for the fourth quarter clocked in at $1.47bn, down from more than $3bn in the same period the year prior.

While the company carried out some acquisitions in 2020 to seize more market share, it cut a lot of costs elsewhere. It cut thousands of staff from its workforce.

It also sold off several business divisions that were no longer performing well or required intensive investment. Most notably it sold its embattled autonomous car unit in December. It divested from its Jump e-bike sharing service, sold its Uber Eats business in India to Zomato and sold its European freight forwarding business to Germany’s Sennder.

In November it scored a major win in California when voters rejected Proposition 22, which would have changed the status of its drivers to employees. If passed, it would have introduced a raft of new costs for the company.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin