Uber Courts Riders by Playid Cupid on Chinese Valentine's

Uber Technologies Inc., competing in China with Didi Kuaidi for the ride-hailing market, is building its community of users by playing matchmaker on the nation’s equivalent of Valentine’s Day.

Uber ran a promotion on Thursday in southern Guangzhou city that gave users the chance to meet eligible bachelors through its app. In Chongqing, special buses picked up users who booked their spots to mingle with other singles. In total, Uber ran events and promotions in 15 of the 16 Chinese cities it operated in to mark the Qixi festival, according to spokeswoman Huang Xue.

Qixi refers to the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, which commemorates the folklore of a cowherd who married a celestial weaver in an act of forbidden love, and whose punishment is to be able to meet only on that one day a year.

The Uber promotions highlight how Uber is trying to adapt to local tastes and avoid imposing a business model that may have worked elsewhere on Chinese consumers. With plans to start operations in 50 medium-sized cities in China in the next year, the ride-booking company is hiring local managers and empowering them to tailor marketing and services to suit local conditions.

Local Needs

“We want to make it different and fun and at the same time local,” said Cleo Sham, Uber’s general manager in Guangzhou and person responsible for its meet-a-bachelor promotion. “A lot of this is enabled by our local team understanding what people will need here, and try to use our platform to satisfy those needs.”

Uber is investing more than 7 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) to expand in China, with Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick personally overseeing day-to-day progress there, the company said in a letter to investors in June.

The company has said Uber China, a separate entity, could at some point be listed on the Chinese stock market, without providing a time frame.

“Rider acquisition is part of it,” Sham said of Uber’s local events. “It’s also to provide a more interesting experience through our platform and have more interaction between our driver and rider base.”

Didi Kuaidi, the Uber competitor backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd., ran promotions of its own, calling for followers to upload pictures depicting love to its microblog to win Samsung smartphones and ride vouchers. In Beijing, it offered couples a chauffeur-driven trip to a candle-light dinner at a luxury villa.

“It’s not just like getting people from point A to point B,” said Uber’s Sham. “We also try to integrate into people’s lives here in a more interesting way.”

— With assistance by Alexandra Ho

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