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Review: How efficient are Grab's cashless transactions during COVID-19 lockdown?

Ratziel San Juan - Philstar.com
Review: How efficient are Grab's cashless transactions during COVID-19 lockdown?
Grab invited media to take the "Safer Way to Pay Challenge" to encourage use of cashless transaction features on its mobile application amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Photo release

MANILA, Philippines — Without an available vaccine for the virus that causes novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), known as SARS-CoV-2, it’s still anyone’s guess when the global pandemic will end.

The public and private sectors have since attempted to adapt to a “new normal” situation, where familiar processes need to innovate around the coronavirus threat so that people may continue on with their daily lives.

The omnipresence of money, in particular, is a struggle since SARS-CoV-2 can last up to four days on banknotes as found by an April study published in The Lancet Microbe.

A solution, however, that existed prior to the health crisis that sees a newfound relevance today is the mobile wallet, which makes cashless payments possible through applications like PayMaya, GCash and GrabPay.

Grab, in particular, has recently expanded its GrabPay option to encompass its other features, enabling users to now order and pay for food, groceries and other supplies without having to transact with paper money.

“We are navigating through unprecedented times and we are seeing a huge shift towards digital payments to minimize the spread of the virus. As a technology company that serves the everyday needs of our consumers, we have stepped up our cashless solutions to help our fellow Filipinos get more things done from the comfort of their homes, all within one (digital) wallet,” GrabPay Philippines Head Jonny Bates said in a release.

To test whether the company’s claims indeed hold weight, the author of this review took on the “Safer Way to Pay Challenge,” personally checking the convenience of a range of cashless transactions on the mobile app's different features.

Here’s how they shape up in terms of user-friendliness, reliability, accessibility and merits.


Claim: “Family members and friends can easily transfer funds to their loved ones using their GrabPay wallet. In the Payments tab, users can easily transfer funds by clicking on the Send button, choosing the number of the recipient and inputting the value of the desired amount. Transferred funds can be used by the recipient for services within the app.”

Challenge: “Send funds to family and friends”

Never having used Grab before other than for ride-hailing purposes, I had to complete a verification process in order to transfer funds.

One of the necessary steps is taking a picture of a valid ID, in my case, an NBI Clearance. The in-app camera only has a landscape orientation and is unable to readjust focus, making an otherwise simple task tedious, especially for users of low-end mobile phones with low-spec cameras. I ultimately resorted to scanning my valid ID and transferring the file to my phone before uploading it.

From there, I had to make a video call as the final step in the verification process. Before then, I waited for almost 10 minutes until the nine customers ahead of me presumably finished or left the application.

While fairly time-consuming, I appreciated the verification procedure before being permitted to transfer funds for the reassurance of safety.

As for sending funds, there is an option to send via bank account or directly to other Grab users (provided that their account is verified).

The “send to bank account” feature is very inconvenient. I would much rather just use the online banking applications of my actual bank accounts.

Processing of the transfer request can take up to three working days. After several days, my attempt to send P500 to my mom’s bank account ultimately failed with the money just being refunded to my Grab wallet.

I suspect this is due to a limitation on the applications’ interface, which does not allow for space in the name fields, making it impossible to type two-word last names like my mom’s.

The “send to contacts” feature is much more reliable.

I was able to instantly send P1,000 each to two friends based in Taguig and Quezon City, respectively, with ease.

My only minor concern is that the receiver gets a real-time push notification upon obtaining the funds, but the sender does not. I did, however, encounter a confirmation screen and an in-app notification that the credits were transferred.

Overall, I would recommend transferring money via GrabPay only for those with friends and family who are already Grab users.

Rating: Two Stars (Poor)


Challenge: “Pay cashless on GrabFood orders”

I’m sure that many people use Grab features not just for themselves but for their friends and family, which is why it was a disappointment to me that GrabFood was not available on my device, presumably due to region-locking.

According to the company's website, only 10 locations are catered to nationwide: Bacolod, Baguio, Bataan, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Davao CIty, Iloilo, Manila, Naga and Pampanga.

In order to accomplish this and succeeding challenges, I employed the help of the friends I transferred the Grab credits to.

My Quezon City friend was able to order KFC and pay cashless. As promised, the only contact made between my friend and the GrabFood driver was to hand over the food.

The best part is the app allows the user to tip the driver cashless — a nice touch.

The only real downside I can find is the region-locking which does not allow me to order food for friends living in Grab-covered regions.

Rating: Five Stars (Excellent)


Challenge: “Pay cashless on GrabExpress deliveries”

My friend in Taguig, a colleague at Philstar.com, used GrabExpress to have her government-issued media ID delivered from an editor, who was also based in Taguig.

Backstory: the lockdown made it very difficult to personally obtain these useful IDs that would allow media workers greater mobility.

In less than half an hour, the package was received.

Unfortunately, my friend said that GrabExpress did not offer the same option to tip the driver present in other Grab features.

Rating: Four Stars (Good)


Claim: “With GrabPay, users can purchase grocery items, personal care products, and soon, even medicines, from specialty stores and well-known retail partners such as Robinsons Supermarket, Great Deals Ecommerce Corporation, FamilyMart, Starbucks,  ASSI Fresh Plaza, Fetch! Naturals, Freshmart and more.”

My Quezon City friend used GrabMart with the same convenience as GrabFood. The main issue encountered is limited options.

In her case, mainly Korean marts were available from her area.

Like GrabFood, GrabMart provides the option to tip your driver.

Rating: Three stars (Okay)

Scan to Pay

Claim: “If really unavoidable to go out for grocery and medicine runs, users can still opt for a contactless and cashless payment using GrabPay’s scan-to-pay service. Users just need to click on the Payment tab and choose the ‘Pay’ button to scan the QR code in the checkout counter. GrabPay users shopping at SM establishments and can use the GrabPay Green Lane for faster checkout.”

Challenge: “Scan to pay at SM Markets & Watsons”

Although this feature is not region-locked, I was unable to pay using Grab at my nearest SM Supermarket and Watsons.

The instructions are not super clear and upon talking to the respective cashiers of local branches of SM Supermarket and Watsons, one said that Grab is not a payment option and the other said they are unsure.

My takeaway from this is GrabPay as a payment option is not yet mainstream enough to warrant in-store customer service.

Rating: N/A


With just some minor tweaks, especially on the accessibility of features, GrabFood and GrabExpress could definitely prove useful during the COVID-19 pandemic.

GrabMart also shows potential especially if more participating stores were added to their roster.

When it comes to sending money to others, I suggest scrapping and foregoing the bank transfer option altogether in favor of the “send to contacts” option.

Longtime Grab subscribers are sure to benefit from cashless payment features, but I feel that expansion of the application’s non-ride hailing features, delivery at least, are necessary before I can recommend GrabPay for wide use.

Overall rating: Four Stars (Good)

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