Uber & Cargo Partner for In-Car Shopping

When drivers don’t have to drive anymore, they’re free to do more in cars than just listen to music, make phone calls, or talk to Alexa. And what do Americans love to do? Go shopping.

Backseat buying is starting out simple. An in-car shopping platform from startup Cargo launched last year for ride-hailing cars, and while it handles purchases and inventory management online, it requires drivers to hand items to their passengers.

On Thursday, July 19, Cargo announced an exclusive global partnership with Uber that should make it easier for the ride-hailing company’s drivers to become Cargo sellers. For riders, it will mean a convenient way to buy items like snacks, drinks and electronics, cash-free, on the way to their destinations.

Cargo says it already has about 7,000 ride-hail drivers using the service in seven cities around the US. On Thursday, it announced an expansion into Los Angeles and San Francisco as well as the Uber deal.

Uber drivers will be able to register for the service and pick up Cargo vending boxes at Uber’s driver assistance centers, called Greenlight Hubs. Uber is the only ride-hailing service that will actively help drivers onto the Cargo platform through promotional activities and driver assistance centers, Cargo says.

Cargo merchandise is stored in a box that drivers can put between the front seats. Passengers use the service’s smartphone app to view the current selection in that vehicle and make purchases. When it’s safe and convenient, the driver takes the purchased products and hands them to the rider.

Each box contains about ten items, including mints, lip balm, protein bars and iced tea. The box and merchandise is free for the driver and is regularly replenished by Cargo, which continuously monitors inventory.

Drivers get a 25% commission and $1 per transaction. This adds up to an average of $100 per month per driver, Cargo CEO Jeff Cripe has said. By making it easier for drivers to get that income, Uber may help to keep them happy. It’s taken other steps recently to address grumblings about driver earnings, such as adding a tipping option to its app last year.

Uber won’t get a cut of the in-car sales but secured an equity stake in Cargo as part of the deal, a Cargo representative confirmed.

And Cargo is already looking toward the age of self-driving cars, when the process might become more automated. The company told The Connected Car it plans to partner with autonomous vehicle manufacturers in the future. While it didn’t share any details, in-car vending machines could be one of many new ways to make money from an in-car audience.

Self-driving cars are expected to open up new opportunities for marketing and advertising, both because drivers will become passengers and thanks to all the data the vehicles are expected to generate. When there’s no need to watch the road, there’s no reason to look away from your smartphone — or from a bigger, more immersive infotainment screen in the car.

Advertisers could reach riders with greater precision and send cars to destinations like coffee shops if the consumer chose, without having to persuade them to make the extra turns, an Adweek article speculated last year.

Eventually, the rider’s attention might even pay for the ride itself. UC Berkeley researchers have suggested companies could offer free autonomous transportation supported by advertising.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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