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Uber’s Eats Ad Push Explained

Morning Markets: As on-demand companies hunt profits, expect more of what we’re now seeing from Uber.

According to a report in TechCrunch, publicly-traded ride-hailing company Uber is working to invest in building an ads business inside of Uber Eats, its food-delivery service. The move, TechCrunch notes, comes after Uber Eats allowed restaurants to offer discounts in exchange for better placement inside of the application itself.

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While an advertising business inside of Eats makes good sense for Uber, in our view, it is better understood from a profit perspective than from a growth orientation one. What’s more, the move underscores the fact that while Uber has scaled Eats quickly, the service’s losses have grown as well (more from Uber’s Q3 earnings here). If the ads experiment goes well for Uber, expect to see yet-private, on-demand companies also pursue similar monetization methods.

From the consumer perspective, don’t expect on-demand services to become cheaper; expect them instead to look for new sources of topline to staunch losses. Let’s explore the Uber example.

Uber Eats

Uber Eats is a quickly-growing portion of the larger Uber business. In the last quarter, Uber Eats pulled in $3.7 billion in gross bookings, representing a 73 percent increase year-over-year. Its revenue grew 64 percent year-over-year to $645 million and its adjusted net revenue also grew 105 percent to $392 million. Across most metrics, Uber Eats was the second-fastest-growing segment of the company in percentage terms, coming in only behind Freight. That makes sense, as Freight is a less mature division at Uber and therefore one growing from a smaller revenue base.

In the quarter, Uber Eats accounted for 22 percent of Uber’s total gross bookings, compared to the year-ago quarter when it made up 16.6 percent. In the third quarter, Uber Eats made up 11 percent of the company’s adjusted net revenue, compared to last year when it made up 7.2 percent of the adjusted net revenue.

It’s clear that Uber Eats is important to Uber’s growth story, as it’s one of the fastest-growing segments in the company while competing in the hot market of food delivery. It makes sense that Uber would double-down on the service by helping make it more commercially viable.

That being said, Uber Eats is deeply unprofitable. It lost $316 million in adjusted EBITDA in the third quarter. For reference, Rides brought in $631 million in positive adjusted EBITDA during the same period.

Uber Eats is a key driver of growth for the company while also a source of more red ink than Uber can stomach. The good is therefore also bad for Uber, a firm that very much wants to be valued on growth and not, say, GAAP profits. It’s stuck, therefore, pursuing Eats for the sake of growth while also trying to reach for profitability.

Enter ads, a business that can layer revenue into the Eats mix, lessening pressure on Uber to raise fees or dig deeper into the coffers of restaurants to help its must-work food delivery service become a viable long-term business.

Uber has a lot of cash, yes, but it also needs to start generating more of the stuff in time. If it doesn’t, it was never a real company to begin with.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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