Uber’s Weird Christmas Tree Program

The car-hiring service Uber is doing an Uber Tree offering today in several cities where while supplies last they will deliver a Christmas tree on-demand to your house in partnership with Home Depot.

Obviously a fair amount of this is just a marketing gimmick. For a service like this scale matters a lot, so anything that gets people talking (or writing blog posts) about the company helps. But Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has been talking lately about wanting Uber to be understood not just as a transportation service provider but as a kind of all-encompassing urban logistics firm. At the moment, though, they’re actually just a transportation service provider.

But his underlying point is correct. The basic technology of calling for vehicles and routing them through cities has lots of applications beyond transporting people. You could imagine Uber growing to fulfill the lost promise of and arbitrary same-day small parcel delivery. Or food delivery.

Yet for now they don’t seem to have any concrete lines of business like that that they think they can launch profitably. So the next best thing is the occasional marketing stunt—this tree thing, the kitten delivery promotion from a few months back—that generates a little buzz and also plants in people’s mind the idea, “wouldn’t it be great if I could get Uber to bring me some X.” The one thing I don’t get about this is the price: $135 seems like an awful lot to pay for a Christmas tree. And even at that high price point, they say “availability will be very limited.” If supply is going to be tightly constrained anyway, why not make it more affordable, so everyone who gets an Uber Tree has a great experience, and write the cost off as marketing?