Uber wants to make it easier for companies to make a gift of its services. So, on Thursday, the ride sharing platform company introduced UberCENTRAL, a way for businesses to subsidize rides offered to clients.
In contrast to Amazon, which ships goods to customers, Uber is offering businesses the means to ship customers to their stores. According to the company, Hugo Boss and Bloomingdale's are using UberCENTRAL to drive retail customers to store locations.
Companies can either pay for rides in full or bill the trip back to guests, as some hotels do. "We have a place on the form for a memo, room number, expense code where a company can put that information in to later recoup the cost," an Uber spokesperson said in an email. "The billing back happens outside of UberCENTRAL so it would be up to the company to figure out how they would go about doing that."
UberCENTRAL, the company explains in a blog post, provides companies with a dashboard through which they can request, manage, and pay for any number of Uber rides on behalf of their customers.
The service isn't only for importing potential customers. It's also being used to coordinate transportation for senior citizens with limited mobility, some of whom don't have smartphones capable of ordering a ride or the capacity to manage a ride request.
At the Benson Center in Atlanta, Ga., seniors used to have to book rides as much as two weeks in advance, or they had to use a shuttle, said Rahul Bijor, strategic partnerships product head, and Ann Bordetsky, of business development, in a blog post.
Since the center started using UberCENTRAL, seniors have enjoyed much greater mobility and independence. The Center books rides on seniors' behalf so they don't need to use smartphones, then volunteers call the seniors to let them know their driver's information and arrival time.
MedStar Health, based in Columbia, Md., has been using UberCENTRAL to provide transportation to those who need both medical attention and financial assistance.
UberCENTRAL is designed for easy administration, through any tablet or web browser. It allows multiple rides associated with multiple customers and multiple business locations to be managed from one place. It can distribute ride information to customers through SMS, so they don't need a smartphone to participate.
Uber began life in 2009 as a ride-sharing service, but has shifted its position since then. It became more business friendly with the advent of business profiles last year, a feature that competitor Lyft began offering in April.
With the introduction of Uber's merchant delivery service UberRUSH last year, Uber for Business in February, and now UberCENTRAL, Uber has one foot on the gas pedal and the other foot holding the door open for enterprise clients.Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio