With its peak daily order volume for food deliveries surpassing 60 million last year, Meituan continues to sit pretty at the top of the tree when it comes to China’s local life services sector. The app spans everything from movie tickets and restaurant bookings to medical appointments, and recorded a total of 677.9 million users making transactions in 2022.
Yet Meituan’s dominance is increasingly facing challenges. Major Chinese companies including social media platform Xiaohongshu and ByteDance-owned TikTok sibling Douyin have been making inroads into the local life services market as Covid restrictions have eased. By linking consumers with nearby service providers or merchants and encouraging them to make purchases digitally before going to have the experience offline, these newcomers are looking to such transactions as a way to monetize their huge user bases.
For the moment, Meituan claims to be unperturbed. Meituan CEO Wang Xing described Douyin’s expansion into food delivery as having “a limited impact” on the company during its Q1 earnings call. However, the delivery platform recently made takeout livestreaming a monthly event and has launched group-buy delivery services in what many see as a bid to stay competitive in the face of these new entrants.
The total size of the local life services market is expected to reach RMB 35 trillion in China by 2025, though its online penetration rate was only 12.7% in 2021, according to data from Chinese research firm iResearch and cited by Chinese media outlet 21jingji, meaning there’s still plenty to play for.
Here’s a short introduction to new players in this vibrant market.
Experience-sharing lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, the latest major entrant to this competitive sector, has over 260 million monthly active users. The platform has maintained a thriving user base and sense of community for years and serves as a lifestyle search engine for many of its users. Now, it is making one of the biggest moves in the local life sector.
Xiaohongshu is currently inviting caterers and service providers to test the sale of group-buying packages on its platform. Participating merchants can sign up without paying a deposit or commission to Xiaohongshu for revenue earned through the service, according to tech media outlet GeekPark. Meanwhile, the platform’s influencers are able to earn commission by posting information about retailers that offer group buy options.
If the Shanghai-based company can leverage its feed algorithms while encouraging users to complete transactions within the app, it may see Xiaohongshu emerge as a serious challenger to Meituan, while also accelerating the company’s monetization quest. In 2020, 80% of Xiaohongshu’s revenue was generated by ads, the Financial Times previously reported, citing research firm LeadLeo, but the company is increasingly looking to diversify its revenue streams.
Douyin has made significant strides in expanding its presence in the local life market, with its services sector reportedly generating over RMB 77 billion ($11.1 billion) in total sales last year, while advertising revenue amounted to just RMB 8.3 billion.
Growth in the platform’s brightest business continues to be strong. Local media outlet 36Kr reported that the unit generated more than RMB 10 billion in GMV in every single month in the first quarter of this year.
The TikTok sibling app has expanded its offerings to include group-buy delivery, sightseeing tickets, hotel reservations, and manicures in recent months. In mid-2022, Douyin allowed short video viewers to order meals directly on the app through a mini-program operated by Alibaba’s food delivery service Ele.me. In March, the service was introduced to 15 new cities, expanding the service to a total of 18 locations in China.
These efforts reflect the fact that ByteDance, Douyin’s owner, is stepping up its push to monetize users on the widely popular platform.
The head of Douyin’s local life business, Zhu Shiyu, recently stated that life services was a vast market worth more than ten trillion yuan, and that only a small proportion of transactions were currently being conducted online.
Kuaishou, another leading short video-sharing platform in China with 366 million daily active users, has been expanding its presence in the local life services space in an effort to also capture market share, although it currently has less of a presence than rivals Douyin and Meituan.
Kuaishou had been active in offering lifestyle services in Shanghai, Qingdao, and Harbin, with Hangzhou the next major city to see local services rolled out. Kuaishou aims to provide local life services for different cities through a replicable model developed through experimentation. The short video operator incentivizes local merchants to sign up for the service while supporting local influencers who are willing to promote shops on the app.
Xiaogu, head of Kuaishou’s local life business unit, noted that since it entered the Qingdao market on Feb. 10, it has added over 300 local businesses. Kuaishou reportedly recorded around RMB 5 million in local sales in the seaside city in its first month, and already saw some influencers generate around 200,000 yuan in a single month.