The UBER/GRAB war in Vietnam

The competition for on-demand car trips in Ho Chi Minh City has gone wild between the 2 main players, Uber and Grab. Both are promoting their services heavily, both are offering huge discounts on weekly basis. It’s a real warfare!

As a heavy user of on-demand transportation services I wanted to give some insights about my experience here in Vietnam.
I am expressing my personal feeling and reasons I believe that Grab is doing it better. I get this from my 2,5 years’ experience using both services and friends/relatives’ feedback.

Let’s go through the 3 main differences I can notice between the 2 brands in Ho Chi Minh City:

Market adaptation:

Uber lost a lot of potential customers to Grab over the years because of its lack of adaptation to the Vietnamese market. Many young Vietnamese I met wanted to take an Uber ride but couldn’t, why?
They could not pay by cash, Uber used to be a card only operator. But at the time, only a small percentage of Vietnamese had a credit card.
So, what happened?
They went with Grab cars or motorbike instead where cash was accepted. During all those years they get used to ride with Grab and build a connection with the brand.
I believe that lack of adaptation gave a big head-start to Grab and the opportunity to build brand loyalty.
As we know, it is much less expensive to keep a customer than to acquire a new one.

The Vietnamese market is specific, you must adapt your brand and services.


Grab has a clear brand awareness advantage thanks to 1 major factor: its memorable green colors. You cannot walk in Ho Chi Minh City for more than 5 minutes and not notice one of those green motorbike drivers with a big Grab logo on the back.

Uber took way too long to enforce its brand identity with its motorbike staff. Most of them used to wear their own shirts and helmets. They were basically impossible to identify as Uber drivers.

Nowadays Uber drivers have started using the Uber clothing line, but it’s blue. Much less eye catchy than Grab’s green theme.
I can almost instantly identify a Grab bike, still not an Uber one.

On the long term, this makes a difference in terms of brand awareness.

Like me, Vietnamese keep noticing the green bikes, slowly but surely Grab gets the top position in users’ mind when thinking about their next on-demand motorbike trip.

It is important to build eye catchy-easy to notice brand visuals, this is true for on-demand transportation services as well as for every product or service brands (especially in retail).

Customer Experience:

Uber rewards its drivers with a bonus fee if the customer canceled the trip more than 5 minutes after the booking confirmation.
You can imagine what happened next. An epidemic of “non-moving” drivers.

When I ordered an Uber, instead of thinking “when will my driver come?” I was thinking “Is he coming at all?”

I kept staring at my phone to check is my driver moving or is he trying to rob me some cancellation fee. Stressful and frustrating.

If it happens once, or twice from time to time I wouldn’t mind. But at some point, half of the drivers wouldn’t come at all. Probably waiting at some coffee shop to cash the 15 000 or 5 000 VND penalty fee from my cancelation.

Of course, after a proper complain Uber refunded that amount, but is that something I want to do after each failed trip? Log to the customer account and get my money back? NO

I understand that Uber must protects its drivers from late cancellations, but by doing so, they created a monster and awful customer experience.

After some time, that fact made me give up Uber. Even though Grab is slightly more expensive, the experience is much better

This shows the importance of providing a consistent wonderful experience, especially with services or products that customers might use several times a day.

After a long break, I have started using Uber again, it seems that the situation is getting better, less fake trips.

As users, it is of course in our best interest to have both brands fighting for the market leadership. We benefit from countless discounts and a continuous obligation for both companies to always enhance the customer experience.

It is not easy to make your brand succeed in Vietnam, especially in highly competitive markets, remember that small details can make a big difference.

International Brand Strategist and Digital Marketer since 2012.

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