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ByteDance’s video app Douyin weighs expanded food delivery in more cities to take on Meituan and Alibaba

ByteDance’s short video app Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, plans to offer its food delivery service in more Chinese cities, expanding an existing trial in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, a company representative said on Tuesday.

If the plan goes ahead, Douyin could stand to become a powerful new challenger in a market dominated by Meituan and its rival Ele.me, a service owned by Alibaba Group

Holding, owner of the South China Morning Post.

Chinese media reports circulating online on Tuesday said the service, the Chinese name of which roughly translates as “group-purchased goods delivery”, would expand to the rest of China next month. A Douyin representative said “there is no specific timetable”, but confirmed the company “is considering expanding the pilot cities”.

Douyin made its first foray into food delivery last year in the three cities. Shanghai’s economy was hit especially hard in 2022 during a resurgence in Covid-19 cases in the spring.

Users in the trial cities were able to order takeaway by accessing an option added to Douyin channels.

Expansion plans suggest the new food delivery service may be gaining more traction than “Xindong Waimai”, a similar service ByteDance tested in 2021 as a mini program that opened within Douyin. The company eventually opted not to roll it out more broadly.

Last August, Douyin also formed a partnership with Ele.me, allowing the short video app’s 600 million daily active users to order meals via a mini program for Alibaba’s delivery service.

Any company able to grab a slice of the food delivery market could see huge rewards. In 2021, China had 544 million users of food delivery platforms, up nearly 30 per cent over the previous year, according to Chinese consultancy Zhiyan. The market had been growing quickly even before the Covid-19 pandemic, which created more demand when people were forced to stay at home during multiple periods of lockdowns across several cities.

However, gaining momentum in the market means changing user preferences, which revolve around apps that have become staples of Chinese netizens’ digital lives. In 2020, Meituan and Alibaba controlled a combined 95 per cent of the market – with 69 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively – according to Zhiyan.

Internet search giant Baidu also tried its hand at food delivery in 2014, only to sell

Baidu Waimai three years later to Ele.me, which rebranded the service as Star.Ele.me. That service made up 4 per cent of the market in 2020, according to Zhiyan.

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