Next time you hail an Uber, make sure your phone is fully charged.
Apparently, Uber knows when the battery on your phone is running low – and that you’ll be more likely to pay higher ‘surge’ prices for a ride as a result of it.
According to the Independent, the taxi-hailing app captures a massive amount of data on all its users, and the company’s head of economic research Keith Chen has revealed how Uber uses that information as business strategy.
Speaking to NPR’s Hidden Brain programme, Chen said how much battery users had left on their phones was ‘one of the strongest predictors of whether or not you are going to be sensitive to surge’ – or, in other words, willing to pay twice or more of the normal cost of a journey.
How do they know this? Well, it’s your Uber app that gives you away. The company knows whether or not a user has low battery because the app needs to use that information to go into power saving mode.
Chen said: “When your phone is down to 5 per cent battery and that little icon on the iphone turns red, people start saying I’d better get home or I don’t know how I’m going to get home otherwise.”
But Chen adds that they ‘don’t use that to push you to a higher surge price’ – it’s just an ‘interesting psychological fact of human behaviour’.
So while it’s a good trick to pick up desperate people, the company won’t push the price on you.
Uber has also discovered something called a ’round number effect’, another trick on how and when people accept paying more. Chen said the company is more likely to offer you a journey that costs ‘2.1 times’ normal than ‘2 times’ because apparently, it looks smarter.
When you tell someone your trip is going to be two times what it would normally be, people think that is capricious and unfair – somebody just made that up.
Whereas if you say your trip is going to be 2.1 times what it normally is they think there is some smart algorithm at work, it doesn’t seem quite so unfair.
He added that Uber does ‘have access to a tremendous amount of data,’ but you shouldn’t be worried – Chen says there are privacy rules in place to protect user’s data, saying: “We take our responsibility very seriously.”
So if you want to get a fair price, remember a surcharge .1 higher than the normal cost isn’t a smart algorithm, and charging your battery will keep you from being subject to higher surge prices.