India: Urban Company reports exponential growth during raging Covid-19 pandemic

It is Asia’s largest technology-enabled home services marketplace, with a partner network of 32,000 hand-picked service professionals


Joydeep Sengupta

Published: Mon 19 Sep 2022, 12:40 PM

Last updated: Mon 19 Sep 2022, 4:56 PM

Urban Company started out as an idea to connect consumers to the unorganised local services industry in India through a mobile app (application) marketplace in 2014.

Previously known as Urban Clap, Urban Company is Asia’s largest technology-enabled home services marketplace with a partner network of 32,000 hand-picked service professionals.

Before expansion to Australia and Singapore and in a bid to support global ambitions, Urban Clap was repositioned as Urban Company in 2020.

Nitesh Agarwal, Regional Head, Middle East, Urban Company, weighed in on the rebranding.

“The rebranding was also in line with our vision to become a horizontal gig marketplace with a global presence and leadership position across home and beauty and wellness services. Now, we offer a bouquet of high-quality services, such as beauty and spa at home, cleaning, plumbing, handymen, appliance repair, painting, etc., through our mobile app and websites,” he said.

Urban Company has been delivering services across the UAE's home and beauty and wellness verticals since mid-2018.

"We began our operations in Dubai by launching part-time cleaners, one of the popular categories here, slowly expanding our services to Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. We now offer services in around 20 categories across the UAE's home, beauty and wellness verticals along with EPH (electricians, plumbers and handymen) in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

"We started with Dubai in the UAE because of the potential that we saw in this market. There was already a lot of organised competition when we entered the market, unlike in India, and that was an added challenge as well. Our vision is to establish ourselves as the largest on-demand home services marketplace by focusing on delivering an unparalleled experience to our users. We've invested heavily in the selection of service professionals with extensive training in real-life simulated set-ups and deep investments in bringing the most cutting-edge tools and products to our users. Our vision is to deliver services at home like never experienced before and to grow 10x across the UAE in the next three years,” Agarwal said.

Urban Company offers services in over 50 cities in India; Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi in the UAE; Jeddah and Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA); Singapore; Melbourne and Sydney in Australia.

Elaborating on the growth path, Agarwal said: "We believe in delivering a remarkable customer experience and we are constantly on the lookout for innovative measures to give the best to our customers. As per Biztech, the global online on-demand home services market is estimated to reach $4.1 trillion by 2027, with more service providers and vendors introducing and enhancing sustainable, scalable and convenient services for modern customers.”

Agarwal maintained that the start up is competitive in pricing, especially for loyal users who can subscribe to its UC Plus programme and save additionally with each booking on the platform.

“However, our endeavour is to give the best service experience and hence improve the value for money of our services. We have observed that customers in the UAE are quality conscious and loyal to brands that deliver great value and experience. The UAE is highly competitive with organised and unorganised service providers; and consequently, cost considerations are vital. Besides, brick-and-mortar salons, technicians and cleaning providers operate at low prices. The growth of the on-demand home services sector in the UAE is expected to be 9.7 per cent between 2021 and 2026. And it would be much faster for online players like Urban Company," he explained.

"We’re able to constantly improve the service offering while structurally maintaining or even reducing prices. We realise that affordability is crucial for customer retention in the UAE. For instance, we successfully reimagined pedicure services for women. Our signature pedicure is available at Dh99 through our app while in top-end salons, it is listed at upwards of Dh200, building on our mission to bring our users a superior experience at affordable prices.”

Urban Company’s primary focus is to go deeper and deliver the best-in-class service in these categories first.

“We will continue to add more services that users in the UAE need and where we feel we can create significant delta to the current way the service is delivered, whether through organised competition or offline players,” he said.

The demand for on-demand services grew exponentially in the UAE because of the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has catalysed the demand for high-quality professional and hygienic home services at affordable prices across the world. In the UAE, the industry is still nascent, but its growth accelerated during the pandemic due to heightened concern for health and hygiene. We observed a high demand for part-time cleaners, salon services, and wellness services in the UAE.

"To meet the growing demand for safer top-tier personalised services, we’ve constantly worked on increasing our partner strength and investing in technology and safety training. We revamped the traditional cleaning services in the UAE by introducing steam cleaners and scrubbing machines for unparalleled hygiene,” he added.

Initially, Urban Company launched in the UAE with part-time cleaners — one of the most significant categories in the young nation.

What are the most popular services?

“Two big categories we offer in the UAE are part-time cleaners and salon-at-home. As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of locally organised and unorganised players providing services, who often fail to maintain the service quality in the bid for low prices. This is where Urban Company focuses on understanding the needs and preferences of the customers and delivering high-quality services at affordable prices,” Agarwal said.

Hyper-localised services key for growth

“We’re focusing on delivering hyper-localised services, and vendor onboarding is an ongoing process. We’ve a structured approach towards partner development and well-being centred around four key pillars: improved earnings, safety net, training and wealth creation. We work with vendors to improve the living standards of the workforce, upskilling, increase salaries and give incentives to them, as employee engagement is essential for great customer satisfaction,” he added.

There is a discernible trend in the paradigm shift in on-demand services.

“Unlike earlier, we have been observing a spike in the demand for cleaning or salon services during the weekdays. This one-way consumer behaviour has changed during the pandemic and with new work models coming into the picture. The busy schedules of working people and changing priorities, and a lack of time for self-care and chores, also influence the rising demand for home or beauty & wellness services during the weekdays,” Agarwal said.

Besides, there is a rapidly evolving consumer behaviour changing the on-demand service game.

“Evolving consumer behaviour is one of the most important challenges faced by all consumer-facing industries. Consumer needs and preferences and user persona are rapidly changing, and brands must leverage technology and market research to meet or exceed the customers' expectations to stay relevant.

"In the on-demand and experience economy, brands must be technology-enabled and offer user-friendly interfaces and hassle-free-payment gateways for tech-savvy customers. Moreover, brands must keep track of the consumer journey, as one negative feedback can change the course of the entire business. This is vital because modern consumers’ purchase decisions and spending patterns are now largely digital driven,” he said.

Agarwal cited the importance of innovation and regular upskilling in the on-demand services’ sector.

“The World Economic Forum predicts that over half of all global employees will need to upskill or reskill by 2025 to keep up with the evolution of jobs, showcasing that a highly professional and skilled workforce is the most integral part of a company, especially in the evolving on-demand marketplace. At Urban Company, training is critical and the most important factor in transforming our partners into professionals. To every vendor on our partner network, we offer a four-stage training programme — screening, training, practice and the final examination to ensure the quality of our services.

"Innovation is also as important as upskilling or training to stay ahead in the highly competitive on-demand landscape. For instance, introducing scrubbing machines in the cleaning category enabled us to exceed customer expectations by providing the best cleaning experience,” he said.

Though a technology marketplace, there are no categories such as photography services available on its platform. “This is largely because we can’t add value to such services by offering training or creating standardised prices; we prefer categories that can add value to the customers. We’ve pioneered delivering the highest quality services by offering intensive training and selecting best-in-class products,” he added.

The roadmap

In KSA, Urban Company recently entered into a partnership with Baheya, one of Riyadh’s largest salon chains, "and we are open to exploring strategic tie-ups, partnerships and acquisitions with other players in the region who share the same organisational values as ours", explained Nitesh Agarwal.

He added that the compnay wants "every one of our partners to be quality conscious". Urban Company has launched salon and spa services and part-time cleaning in Riyadh, which will be extended to Jeddah by the end of this year.

5 key pillars to ensure enhanced customer experience

>> Thorough and objective selection process for every single service professional

>> Detailed technical and soft skills training given by on-payroll industry experts in real-life simulated set-ups built in every city it operates in

>> Constant ongoing innovation and investment in tools and products to deliver superior outcomes. For example, anyone who would have used its hourly cleaning service or signature pedicure for women in the last few months "would have realised how it has significantly disrupted the market with great innovations on tooling", according to Agarwal.

>> Technology-driven checks to ensure genuine products are being used, standard operating procedures are being followed and every partner is being constantly re-trained on the basis of dynamic inputs from user feedback

>> Incentivising service professionals on the basis of the experience they deliver and overall improving their living standards if they work with the start-up


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