8 deals that fuel the gig economy's takeover of payments

Once upon a time, Amazon just sold books. Someday soon, we'll be describing ride-sharing companies the same way.

Rapid-fire acquisitions, partnerships and investments in the likes of Uber, Lyft and Grab are transforming these ride-sharing providers into much more diverse companies. And much of this activity is built on their ability to handle payments seamlessly as part of the experience.

This story was compiled from reporting by PaymentsSource writers including John Adams, Kate Fitzgerald, David Heun, Michael Moeser and Daniel Wolfe.

Uber picks up where Walmart left off

Uber driver sticker
The Uber Technologies Inc. logo is seen on the windshield of a vehicle in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. New York's city council dealt a political blow to Uber Technologies Inc. and other app-based car-for-hire companies by approving a one-year industry wide cap on new licenses and giving the city Taxi & Limousine Commission authority to set minimum pay standards for drivers. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg
Uber has taken a majority stake in Cornershop, a grocery delivery startup that operates in Chile, Mexico, Peru and Canada — with plans to expand to the U.S.

The deal is notable because Cornershop was once courted by Walmart, which had to abandon its $225 million acquisition of the startup in 2018 under pressure by Mexican antitrust officials.

Walmart itself has been experimenting widely in grocery deliveries with services such as Delivery Unlimited, a $98 membership program designed to compete with Amazon Prime.

Grab's joint venture steers into insurance

A Grab-branded taxi
A Strides Transportation Pte taxi, operated by SMRT Corp., displays an advertisement for the ride-hailing application Grab, operated by GrabTaxi Holdings Pte, in Singapore, on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. Buyers in one of the world's most expensive car markets just missed their chance to snag one at the cheapest price in five years. Car-ownership permit costs in Singapore have gained since February after ride-hailing companies obtained licenses for their fleets and the regulator eased rules on vehicle loans in May. Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg
Asian ride-sharing app Grab has dramatically expanded into other products such as technology development, hotel management and prepaid, a diverse mix that's about to add insurance.

Through a joint venture with Zhong Insurance announced in January 2019, Grab began to offer insurance with discount premiums for consumers and drivers.

The collaboration includes accessing insurance products, disbursements and premium payments supported by Grab's app, which is designed to cut costs and navigation, thus broadening the insurance market.

Grab Ventures supports many business models

A GrabCar driver displays the support information page on the Grab app on a smartphone in an arranged photograph in Singapore, on Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. Grab is riding a Southeast Asian ride-hailing arena with some 620 million people, forecast to grow more than five times to $13 billion by 2025. Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg
In 2018 Grab unveiled Grab Ventures, an innovation unit designed to build new business models internally to accelerate the development and time to market for new products from internal and external sources.

Grab Ventures works with private sector firms and government agencies in Singapore and across the region to scale travel, logistics, food and payment services in Southeast Asia.

Its portfolio includes the scooter service GrabWheels, the restaurant service Kitchen by GrabFood, the grocery delivery service GrabFresh and the autonomous vehicle developer Drive.ai.

Grab's other investments — and Uber

Uber and Grab signage
Signage for Uber Technologies Inc. and Grab are displayed outside a building in Singapore, on Thursday, April 26, 2018. Ride-hailing service Grab started a new app in March that will be a single marketplace offering different sharing options for bicycles and electronic-scooters in Singapore, according to a company statement. Photographer: Paul Miller/Bloomberg
Grab has also made an investment in Oyo, a Singapore-based hospitality company. Grab additionally has an existing prepaid card partnership with Mastercard.

In January, Grab acquired iKaaz, an Indian mobile payments platform that supports NFC, QR codes and other forms of contactless and online payments. iKaaz allows Grab to pair ride-sharing with P2P, bill payment, in-app mobile and retail payments.

Grab also owns what remains of Uber's Southeast Asia operations. The deal gave Uber a 27.5% share in Grab; Uber also gave up its branding and transferred nearly 500 employees in the region, strengthening Grab while removing a major competitor.

Lyft's data deals

Lyft sticker
A Lyft Inc. decal is displayed on a car window in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. Lyft Inc. has gained significant ground on its rival, Uber Technologies Inc., and is expected to grab more market share in the U.S., according to a private Lyft investor document obtained by Bloomberg. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
Lyft bought two companies in 2017 to give it a better grasp of its data.

Both deals were meant to spur growth. YesGraph builds referral programs to entice customers for bringing in their peers; and DataScore focuses on customer acquisition and retention.

At the time, Lyft was already growing rapidly, benefiting in part from Uber's troubles, TechCrunch reported at the time.

Lyft buys AI

Lyft driver light
Lyft Inc. signage is displayed in a driver's windshield at night in Montclair, New Jersey, U.S., on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Valued at $15.1 billion on the private markets in its last funding round, Lyft is aiming for an IPO valuation of $20 billion to $25 billion, a person familiar with the matter has said. Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg
The robotics and augmented reality provider Blue Vision became a part of Lyft in 2018, bringing not only new technology but also a new market.

Blue Vision Labs is Lyft's first office in London, operating under Lyft's Level 5 division for developing self-driving tech, Blue Vision announced in October 2018.

Self-driving cars are sometimes described as enablers of digital shopping and payments, since their design allows riders to ignore the road and focus on other tasks.

Uber's AI deal

uber rider
A passenger holds an Apple Inc. iPhone displaying the Uber Technologies Inc. car service taxi application (app) journey progress screen in this arranged photograph in Budapest, Hungary, on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. Uber will suspend its ride-hailing services in Hungary from July 24 following a government decision to pass a bill that allows authorities to block access to the mobile application and fine media promoting it. Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg
Not to be left behind, Uber made its own AI acquisition in early 2019, purchasing Seattle-based Mighty AI.

Mighty AI develops technology to train AI systems, such as those used in autonomous vehicles.

Mighty AI was originally called Spare5, but relaunched in 2017 with the goal of using people to train AI systems to be smarter about tasks such as identifying obstacles in the road, GeekWire reported.

Uber and Careem

Uber user
A man checks his smartphone whilst standing amongst illuminated screens bearing the Uber Technologies Inc. logo in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. Uber won an 15-month probationary license to operate in London after convincing a judge and regulators that the ride-sharing service had shaken off its gung-ho attitude of the past. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
To gain ground in the middle east, Uber entered into a $3.1 billion deal for Dubai-based Careem in March 2019.

The deal, expected to close in early 2020, also brings Uber a digital payment platform (Careem Pay) and last-mile delivery system (Careem NOW).

"With a proven ability to develop innovative local solutions, Careem has played a key role in shaping the future of urban mobility across the Middle East, becoming one of the most successful startups in the region," Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi said in a press release.