Sick Of Rewards Programs? Uber’s UX Makes It Hassle-Free

Get free rides, without the annoying codes and signups.

Starting today, if you have a Capital One Quicksilver card connected to your Uber account, every 10th ride you take will be free (up to $15). And in a smooth bit of UX, there’s no special setup or opting in necessary. You’ll know because you receive a notification when you log in, and a progress bar–inspired by a loyalty punch card–will appear as you book.


When you reach your 10th ride, the app will tell you. You can use the free ride right away, or with a single tap, bank it for later.

“If there were additional signups or codes to put in, it just feels like labor. There are no additional signups, no additional codes,” says David Richter, vice president of strategic initiatives for Uber. “If you … already have a Quicksilver card, it’s simply going to happen. I’m going to see that bar start to get lit up and it’s going to be a smooth, low friction experience.”

It’s a play by Uber to build a lucrative customer loyalty program that works as seamlessly as hailing an Uber, while at the same time, opening the doors to powerful partners.


Lighting Up The Bar Makes Uber More Addictive

Progress bars are no UX breakthrough. We have them on downloads, file transfers, and even fitness applications along with just about every video game in the App Store. But placed inside Uber, they shift the tone of the experience. They add a sense of urgency to booking, and dangle a satisfying carrot to counter the stick most of us have begun to fear from surge pricing.

“Even when we didn’t tell the user what the bar was, they were really excited,” says Drew Quinn, a product manager at Uber, of early testing with the product. You read that right. Even before people realized there was any tangible reward with the bar, they were just happy to see that bar be filled.

Originally when building out rewards, Uber didn’t implement a progress bar. The company tried an interface closer to a punchcard system, with each ride ticked off as a sequential dot. People didn’t like the dots. Uber didn’t go so far as to diagnose why, but I can hazard a few guesses. Progress bars are already part of the language of digital interfaces. Plus they’re vague. They allow the human mind to do what it does best–to interpret information. So if you feel like you’re SO CLOSE to that next Uber, there’s no objective count of punches standing in your way (even if the number is still listed right next to the bar).


Uber Is Banking On Loyalty, Literally

Unlike the free rides you may have scored by referring a friend to Uber, Uber’s reward rides will let you bank them, storing up as many as you like in a new dropdown in the Payments screen.

“We got a very common request with getting free rides, to be able to save them for later,” says Quinn. “We felt talking to users, some of the current promotions we had in the app didn’t feel super tangible. That influenced our design decisions … so users could see they’re getting something there.”

The new payments screen is all about tangibility. All your free rides are listed as buttons–just tap one to use it. Then below the free rides, you’ll spot another important new part of Uber that reads “Unlock ride discounts.” Here’s where you can find a deal like Capital One’s Quicksilver card, if you’d like to sign up. Or, theoretically, it’s where you could find any other number of loyalty programs that Uber would like to offer from other partners. (Neither Uber nor Capital One would speak about the financials of their partnership.)


A Future Of Endless Progress To Endless Ubers

Looking at the changes in the new app, it seems built for free Ubers to come your way in every direction. Capital One is likely only the start if things go well, the team hints. You could imagine free rides tossed your way as often as you can score a free cup of Starbucks now. And that’s probably not a coincidence. A considerable amount of Starbuck’s growth has been attributed to loyalty programs, of which more than 10 million people take part. That’s more people than the population of New York City.

“I’ll admit the nice part of this design is it allows it to be extended in many different ways,” Richter says. “The value of good design and engineering is it can be used for other initiatives going forward.”

The challenge is, will a parade of endless progress bars clutter the app and destroy that “hit a button, have a car arrive like magic” UX that Uber is so well known for? Or will we be so hooked on scoring the next free Uber that we don’t care?


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach


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