Whether you are heading out to Itaewon for a night in town, going shopping on Garosu-Gil, or looking to get back to your hotel from a COEX event, Uber is just a touch of a button away. Within minutes, your private driver will come and whisk you away in style. The premium on-demand car service today officially launched in Seoul as its third Asian city to expand its presence in the region to, after Singapore and Taipei. The launch in Seoul follows customer trials for product testing since late June and has taken a somewhat lavish style to its launch, by having locally famous soccer player Koo Ja-Cheol as its “rider zero”.
Premium segment targeted by Uber
With a population of more than 10 million, Seoul is the biggest market Uber has entered so far but they don't think that the infinite availability of cheap taxis in Seoul will be a problem, Travis Kalanick, CEO and co-founder of Uber said on Wednesday at a press event at The Plaza Hotel Seoul. He went on to compare the transportation market with the restaurant business; “Most people eat at McDonalds but they don't want to eat there everyday. Sometimes you want a bit more flair”, he said, further emphasizing their targeting of the premium market in Korea. Compared to other markets where Uber's prices are between 1 and 1,5 times more expensive than a regular taxi, Seoulites will experience prices that are 2-3 times higher. Uber is banking on the superior customer experience of using Uber's services as a way to ensure that people keep using Uber. The company has centered their marketing efforts so far to more affluent areas such as Gangnam-Gu and Jung-Gu where the company believes they will have the most success. “We are very happy to be in Seoul. This is a huge opportunity for Uber, especially given that Seoul loves style, luxury, and large-sized sedans. We think Uber is going to bring a bit of style to Seoul's nightlife”, Kalanick said.
Uber admitted that their service initially might have some teething problems with, for example, estimated time arrivals before their data points reaches a high number, but they are confident that their superior data system will eventually guarantee that they will decrease.
Uber vary of cultural differences
Sam Gellman, head of Asia expansion at Uber, doesn’t think that cultural differences will have a big impact on Uber's success in Korea. “We are seeing the same feedback from customers and drivers in Seoul that we have in for example Amsterdam, New York and Taipei, people simply want the same thing” he said. “At Uber we have great respect for what we don't know and we have a great local team consisting of Koreans who knows the culture and the city and they will be a great help for us”, he went on. The fact that Korea has the highest smartphone penetration in the world, and because Koreans are comfortable adopters of new technology, Uber thinks that they can innovate transportation in Korea’s capital and later expand to other cities in Korea. It will be interesting to see how Uber performs in the extremely competitive transportation market of Seoul with cheap public transportation and regular taxis, numerous premium taxi services and other domestic services such as Easy Taxi operating the busy streets of Seoul.