By Deepak Gopalakrishnan Jan. 22, 2020
Zomato acquired UberEats in a huge corporate merger this week. A company shut down, and people are potentially going to lose jobs, but the internet was more worried about having to pay full price for a plate of biryani.
On Tuesday morning, around 10 AM, I logged on to the internet to learn that UberEats had been acquired by Zomato, a development confirmed with a sombre message on their social media pages. And because I’m a sucker for internet-aided torture, I decided to read the comments. What I was hoping for was some show of support and love for a company that brought people their sustenance while they had nothing more to do than tap a few buttons.
Oh, was I mistaken.
So… A company shuts down, people are potentially going to lose jobs, and the internet was more worried about having to pay full price for a plate of biryani. I scoured through hundreds of comments (yes, I have my own ideas of self-harm). Not a single one about the riders or employees. Instead, we had variants of:
“Oh no, Zomato doesn’t have as many discounts!”
“What about the coupons I had? Eh? Eh? What about those?!”
“Keep the offers the same ok otherwise I’m using Swiggy”
“EXTRA CHARGES FOR DELIVERY HOW DARE THEY”
Now, there are two broad problems here. Let’s start with the most obvious one, and the one that really makes me seethe: Entitlement. Or to give it its full name in this context, “Venture Capital-fuelled Entitlement”.
There used to be a time when we didn’t expect discounts for food. We’d have to call the restaurant, sometimes even paying a small delivery fee. All that changed as we got introduced, a decade ago, to discount culture. Now, discounts and offers are not inherently bad things, but they are meant to be temporary means of bumping up interest, trials, and clearing stock; not a permanent solution. Unfortunately, VC-backed start-ups are only too happy to keep sending these temporary discounts our way and make them a way of life.
The coupon-lament responses show how a business built solely on discounts will struggle to find emotional resonance.
When a low price is made the normal, companies that should be selling at full price are forced to cut corners or “optimise”, in PPTspeak. Food delivery riders race to shave seconds. Cab drivers try to hit a daily target for a bonus. And we all know about Amazon’s benchmark-setting ruthlessness and disregard for warehouse workers. This is exactly where India’s famous entitlement comes into play.
Mobile apps – which reduce effort to nifty UX, cute animations, and clever copy – dehumanise the service professionals that make the entire operation work. This is why we think our Uber driver is “randomly just standing there bro” while he could be stuck in very bad traffic, scared that your cancellation could cost him, or that the Swiggy delivery guy is chilling with his buddies, while he is in fact haranguing the restaurant to get you your delivery fast so you’ll give him a good rating. In their bid to fall over backwards to treat customers like royalty, companies have reduced partners (as they’re euphemistically called) to mere executioners. The apex of this mentality is surely when a company fails, the first thought of hundreds of people is that they will have to now pay a little more for a fucking biryani.
The second problem is more a business/marketing thing – the coupon-lament responses show how a business built solely on discounts will struggle to find emotional resonance. That, combined with our entitlement and fickleness, shows we’ll move on to the “next cheapest” offering. Think of a food app shutting down vs your favourite restaurant shutting down, and you know the difference. For a contrast to these responses I shared above, go back and see the comments when Jet Airways shut: There were hundreds of emotional stories, love for the company and well-wishes for its employees.
I’ve argued before that it’s time to end our obsession with discounts. The world would be better off if we paid for what things are actually worth. If that means I am forced to ditch the ₹600 cab and go by public transport, that’s probably a good thing. And before you get all “you don’t want us to have good things” on me, we survived before discounts, and we’ll continue to do so after they’re gone. We just think a pizza at half its actual price is our God-given right at the moment. It’s not.
They say that many Americans were actually closet racist, and Donald Trump gave them legitimacy to raise their voices. In many ways, I could say that some of us were always a little entitled, apps just exacerbate that with their please-customers-at-all-cost approach. Perhaps the customer should no longer be king, and just be one of everyone else. Goodness knows there are a few egos that could use some taking down.
Deepak 'Chuck' Gopalakrishnan is a freelance writer and marketing guy who lives in Mumbai. He runs two podcasts (Simblified, The Origin Of Things) and a satire newsletter (The Third Slip). He used to work in advertising until his soul couldn't take it anymore, and now spends all his time annoying his cats, listening to prog-metal, cycling and writing bios of himself in third person. He has an irrational love for cold water and Tabasco.