Ordering Food on TikTok? Chinese Food Delivery Apps Team Up With Social Media Giants in Scramble for Customers

Popular Chinese food delivery apps are teaming up with social media platforms to offer food delivery and other local services for online customers.

TikTok App. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
TikTok App. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
By Shelly Xu
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5 minute read

China’s food delivery market has grown rapidly since the Covid-19 pandemic began. As more younger users begin ordering food through apps, competition has also intensified. To rise above rivals and earn more customers, some food delivery startups are trying a new strategy — partnering with social media platforms.

Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, became the latest example in late August when it announced its cooperation with Alibaba's Ele.me, China’s second-largest food delivery platform. The deal could have profound implications for the future of social media giants and tech startups alike.

In an interview with The Org, Douyin marketing strategist Jessie Lu claimed the era of "short video delivery" has officially arrived. Lu also shared her perspective on the upcoming changes this collaboration may bring to the broader Chinese market.

Recent deals in China’s food-delivery startup scene

The announcement follows one of China’s largest food delivery platforms Meituan strategically teaming up with the video-sharing platform Kuaishou last December. On Kuaishou’s app, users can now order food delivery and make reservations directly from restaurants already using Meituan. The rollout was a huge success for both platforms: Kuaishou’s revenue hit 20.49 billion yuan (about $2.97 billion USD) in the third quarter of 2022, a 33.4% year-over-year increase, according to analysis by Sina Financial.

Douyin aims for similar post-deal growth. According to CNBC, Douyin had already hit 600 million daily active users as of August 2020. Per the deal terms, Ele.me will provide Douyin users with tools for online ordering, local services such as restaurant reviews, and instant delivery for food and groceries.

Lu told The Org that Douyin's “mini-programs,” which are sub-applications within the app that allow users to access services or shop for featured products without exiting the Douyin app, are different as they are mainly powered by the app's recommendation algorithm, meaning that users would be recommended services based on their use of the app.

“Compared with the cooperation between Meituan and Kuaishou, which is limited to the traffic layer, the cooperation between Douyin and Ele.me goes deeper into the transaction and fulfillment layer,” Lu said. “We focus on the connection between content sharing and consumer logistics, which is more straightforward and effective.”

From "people searching for meals" to "meals looking for people"

Douyin is a short video platform and a model of a personalized content platform for hundreds of millions of users with diverse backgrounds and interests. Usually, the logic follows that people order food on food delivery platforms with a clear purpose — to get meals delivered or search for restaurants and recipes. This behavior can described as "people looking for food." But the "Douyin + Ele.me" model hopes to achieve "food looking for people," in which users will receive food recommendations based on their browsing history and interests — without having to search manually.

Targeted “selling" and "purchase" are connected

Since the launch of the restaurant review platform Dianping in China almost two decades ago, many people are accustomed to discovering restaurants and places based on other people’s recommendations. Emerging platforms such as Douyin and Xiaohongshu offer an alternative.

Before the Ele.me deal, users could share restaurants, food and recipes on Douyin — but they would need to jump to a separate app to search and order food they want to try. The whole process could take minutes. Now, "Douyin + Ele.me" allows users to quickly place orders and receive meals immediately after viewing someone else’s video or live broadcasts, without leaving the Douyin app.

“Every day I try to cook or order something different, and sometimes I could just sit on my couch for hours trying to figure out what to eat,” Douyin user Yanqi Wei said. “But now I can find a cool recipe or a new restaurant within just seconds as I am browsing my Douyin app. It is a life changer.”

According to iresearch data, Food and Beauty content ranks third on Douyin’s content ranking, and food-related videos garner roughly 50 billion views each month. And this is nothing new to Douyin. The platform has previously impacted the food industry. For example, the video "Bowl of Wine" transformed the city of Xi'an into a popular tourist destination for historic and cultural experiences. Videos about "Haidilao Innovative Eating Method" have 51.8 billion views and 1.3 billion likes, driving users to visit Haidilao restaurants across the country.

Delivery service expands beyond just food

For local retail businesses, Ele.me and Douyin are complementary. Both platforms offer real-time logistics capabilities for business owners, while also connecting them with local customers.

With Ele.me on Douyin’s platform, local products such as flowers, medicine, fresh fruits, daily convenience products and more can also be delivered through the video app. These products are connected to large supermarkets across China. This year, Douyin launched the "all-around supermarket" business in many Chinese cities to provide delivery for pantry staples and pandemic-related sterilizing products.

“With such a powerful and diverse collaboration between the two, people will be able to receive all sorts of services across different retail categories,” Lu said. “In the future, I am certain that there is limitless potential for more pair-up opportunities in other industries as well.”

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