A convenience store in the back of the car – that’s what ride-hailing company Grab hopes to provide with its new Grab&Go service. But how does it really work in practice?
SINGAPORE: My Grab driver was clearly a service-oriented person, and it was obvious from the moment I first set foot into his car.
A basket of sweets – for passengers to help themselves to – was attached to the back of the driver’s seat, while a long green USB cord snaked from the plastic box in the car’s centre console, which my driver, Koo Kay Kee, invited me to use to charge my phone.
But it was the large signs stuck on the back of the headrests that couldn’t be missed: It explained how passengers could, with a few taps on their phone, get items like mineral water, canned drinks, snacks or even free face mask samples from the repository of goodies housed in that very same plastic box that also allowed them to charge their phone.
Grab&Go, a new initiative announced by Grab earlier this month, is a tie-up between the ride-hailing company and US-based in-car commerce start-up Cargo. It comes as Grab consolidates its position as the dominant ride-hailing service in Singapore, after announcing its acquisition of Uber’s regional operations in March.
Since then, Grab has also announced the launch of the GrabFood delivery service.
For Grab&Go, drivers of private-hire cars equipped with the box of items will be able to supplement their income by taking a cut of each item sold to passengers from the box.
As for passengers, it’s more or less a convenience store on the go.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
It sounded like a win-win situation for both driver and passenger. But were there kinks to be ironed out, and did it really bring more convenience to passengers? I had to try it out for myself, which is where my ride with Mr Koo came in.
He told me that he makes it a point to observe passengers when they first get into their car. “If they’re not busy staring at their phone, I’ll introduce the service to them,” he said.
“Most of them say it’s quite innovative, and want to try it out because it’s a new experience for them.”
And for the most part, the large, prominent signs did their job in piquing my curiosity. The printed instructions were also clear: Scan a QR code, and you’ll be taken to a site where you can see all the different products in the box that’re up for sale. Alternatively, you could go to a site and key in a unique five-digit code.
Getting to the online menu of items was almost effortless. But the challenge, however, was scanning through the menu on the browser of my mobile phone, as the images shown could not be tapped into or expanded. There was also no description of the item for sale, and I had to rely on looking at only the pictures to make my selections.
Nonetheless, I went ahead, selecting a can of Milo for S$1.40 and a Kellogg’s cereal bar that turned out to be a free sample. On Mr Koo’s recommendation, I also picked up a brightening face mask – yet another free sample.
With a few taps on my phone, I confirmed that I would add S$1.40 to my fare. And as we slowed to a stop at a traffic light, Mr Koo’s phone beeped with a confirmation, and he turned around with a smile, opened the box and handed me my items.
TO EAT, OR NOT TO EAT?
But if you’re feeling tempted to dig into your snacks right away, be warned: Grab doesn’t encourage passengers to eat or drink in the cars. And a sign pasted on the window of Mr Koo’s car also makes that clear to passengers.
“No one really questions it,” he told me. “I think most people know that they’re not supposed to eat or drink in the car.”
But in that case, I asked, why offer the sweets? In response, he smiled. “That one, okay lah.”
On further questioning, Mr Koo explained that drivers are meant to hand over the items to passengers only at the end of the ride. “But whenever there’s an opportunity that I can stop the car and it’s safe, I’ll try to pass them the items.”
Perhaps instant gratification is just another way Mr Koo tries to make his passengers happy. But drivers who wait still appear to see positive results from passengers – even those with hungry children.
“There was once I picked up a family of tourists, and there was a young child who was asking his mother for canned Milo and a box of Pocky biscuits,” said another driver, Sheila Koh. “When I dropped them off at their hotel and gave them their items, the child was so happy.”
HAS IT BEEN WORKING?
Save for the few issues I faced, the box was an ingenious initiative, and a good way for passengers to score free samples of beauty products, or pick up a drink or snack if they know they’ll need it later.
And the drivers I spoke to all agree that it’s a great way for them to earn some passive income. Drivers earn 20 per cent commission for every paid sale and a S$1 bonus on every transaction, with the remainder going to Grab&Go.
Mr Koo, for example, has sold 28 items to passengers ever since he first got the box about three weeks ago. “And it’s still going strong,” he said.
Ms Koh, similarly, says about half of the passengers she ferries daily will buy something from the box. “Customers think it’s really cool, and it’s a novelty for them,” she said. “So sometimes they just pick up a packet of Pocky biscuits, which is only 50 cents, just to see how it works.”
But another driver, Eric Toh, has only made one sale from his box ever since he got it three weeks ago. “Most of my passengers seem to be busy with their phones,” he said with a rueful laugh. “And while some of them ask about the box, they don’t actually go to the website.”
“But some of them are delighted to see there are free face masks available, and one of the passengers actually told me the free samples made their day!”
The box, he stressed, is a “wonderful initiative” to supplement his income. But he said the entire initiative could do with more publicity. “It’s done through the Grab app, and through the signs and decals,” he said. “But I think passengers are either too occupied with their thoughts, or they’re too paiseh (embarrassed).”
Publicity aside, drivers also hope that the variety of items for sale could be increased. And the top request from passengers, they say, is for chilled drinks to be sold.
“I’ve sold mints, the Pocky biscuits and two tubes of Mentos sweets,” said Mr Koo. “But the canned drinks aren’t so popular…because they want chilled drinks.
“Maybe that could be the next step.”