Meituan-Dianping vs. US consumer app ecosystem

I recently returned from a trip to China where I liberally used the Dianping app to identify the best places to eat at. Dianping (or Meituan, depending on which you use, they seem pretty much the same to me…), can be used just like Yelp in the US, though in my opinion the data they provide is far superior and helps diners make much better decisions resulting in greater happiness from eating. It’s also way more than just a restaurant review app (more on that later).

Logo-Meituan Dianping
Credit — GGV Capital

First, I’d like to point out the features of the Dianping restaurant review platform that I think make it stand out from Yelp, which I am frequent user of in the US.

  1. Detailed price information. While Yelp has a $-$$$$ price index, I find it to be not granular enough, a $$ could be a $15 meal or a $40 meal, that’s a big difference. Dianping gives you an actual per-person estimate (see picture below), a far more precise metric that I felt allowed me to make more informed budgeting decisions.
  2. Detailed ratings of different restaurant aspects. While Dianping uses a 5* rating system just like Yelp, it also gives sub-ratings for food, environment, and service. This solves the conundrum that I often face with Yelp, there are many 3.5/3 star places that have excellent food but may lack in environment or service. The only way to pick these out is to diligently comb through the reviews, quite the chore.
#1 and #2 refinements

3. Top Item List. Dianping has a feature that allows you to see the top items, ranked. This solves the problem of deciding what to order at a restaurant. Instead of combing through reviews and pictures on Yelp or asking the waiter for “recommendations”, I can literally go to the top list and pick from there, as I know I am ordering what the restaurant is known for. This was a highly successful strategy for me.

Top Items List

But beyond it’s Yelp capabilities (which are impressive), Meituan Dianping offers a wide range of capabilities from food delivery to travel bookings to a Groupon-like function (it’s initial business model) that are for the most part successful and sufficiently scaled high volume businesses. In fact, Meituan is the market leader in food delivery. Yelp’s purchase of food delivery service Eat24 never really amounted to much.

Closely integrated services can drive significant consumer value. I enjoy using DoorDash for the food delivery service, but the lack of detailed review information for non-chain restaurants has always been a major point for me. An outstanding question for me is, why is the app ecosystem in China more concentrated (few apps that do many things) vs the ecosystem in the US (many apps for many things)? I have a few theories as to why.

  1. Internet Adoption Curve. The US adopted the internet far earlier than China, but China caught up in a stunningly short amount of time and in a mobile-first environment. The US app ecosystem has an abundance of “legacy” applications, whereas China is relatively free of that history, allowing apps to possibly have more freedom in their scope.
  2. Investment and Business Strategy. This one I’m not quite so sure of, but my theory is that Chinese technology companies may have relatively larger early rounds that are used to fund horizontal expansion, whereas US investors are more cautious and startups/tech companies usually focus much more on their core offering before branching out to varying degrees of success (Amazon seems to be the most successful in doing this, other tech companies have had much more mixed records).
  3. Government Policy? Not going to go deep into this one, but it’s an interesting thought.

Ultimately, the question is which model (few apps, many functions or many apps, few functions) leads to better consumer experiences. Right now, I prefer the Chinese model, the experience is much more seamless (Wechat, Alipay, Meituan are terrific with few equivalents in the western world) but I wonder if the many app model will ultimately be more innovative in the long-term. Time will tell!

Retail, consumer goods, and technology aficionado. Fitness enthusiast. Proud Texas Longhorn and Columbia Biz MBA.

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