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China’s grocery delivery battle heats up with Meituan’s entry – TechCrunch

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Fast, affordable food delivery service has been life-changing for many working Chinese, but some still prefer to whip up their own meals. These people may not have the time to pick up fresh ingredients from brick-and-mortar stores, so China’s startups and large companies are trying to make home-cooked meals more effortless for busy workers by sending vegetables and meats to apartment doors.

The fresh grocery sector in China recorded 4.93 trillion yuan ($730 billion) in total sales last year, growing steadily from 3.37 trillion yuan in 2012 according to data collected by Euromonitor and Hua Chuang Securities. Most of these transactions still happen inside wet markets and supermarkets, leaving online retail, which accounted for only 3 percent of total grocery sales in 2016, much room for growth.

Ecommerce leaders Alibaba and JD.com have already added grocery to their comprehensive online shopping malls, nestling in the market with more focused players like Tencent-backed MissFresh (每日优鲜), which has raised $1.4 billion to date. The field has just grown a little more crowded with new entrant Meituan, the Tencent-backed food delivery and hotel booking giant that raised $4.2 billion through a Hong Kong listing last year.

Screenshots of the Meituan Maicai app / Image: Meituan Maicai

The service, which comes in a new app called “Meituan Maicai” or Meituan grocery shopping that’s separate from the company’s all-in-one app, set out in Shanghai in January before it muscled into Beijing last week. The move follows Meituan’s announcement in its mid-2018 financial report to get in on grocery delivery.

Meituan’s solution to take grocery the last mile is not too different from those of its peers. Users pick from its 1,500 stock keeping units ranging from yogurt to pork loin, fill their in-app shopping carts and pay via their phones, the firm told TechCrunch. Meituan then dispatches its delivery fleets to people’s doors in as little as 30 minutes.

The instant delivery is made possible by a satellite of physical “service stations” across neighborhoods that serve warehousing, packaging and delivering purposes. Placing offline hubs alongside customers also allows data-driven internet firms to optimize warehouse stocking based on local user preferences. For instance, people from an upscale residential area probably eat and shop differently from those in other parts of the city.

Meituan’s foray into grocery shopping further intensifies its battle with Alibaba to control how Chinese people eat. Alibaba’s Hema Supermarket has been running on a similar setup that uses its neighborhood stores as warehouses and fulfillment centers to facilitate 30-minute delivery within a three-kilometer radius. For years, Meituan’s food delivery arm has been going neck-and-neck with Ele.me, which Alibaba scooped up last year. More recently, Alibaba and Meituan are racing to get restaurants to sign up for their proprietary software, which can supposedly give owners more insights into diners and beef up customer engagement.

As part of its goal to be an “everything” app, Meituan has tried out many new initiatives in the lead-up to its initial public offering but was also quick to put them on hold. The firm acquired bike-sharing service Mobike last April only to shutter its operations across Asia in less than a year for cost-saving. Meituan also paused expansion on its much-anticipated ride-hailing business.

But grocery delivery appears to be closer to Meituan’s heart, the “eating” business, to put in its own words. Meituan is tapping its existing infrastructure to get the job done, for example, by summoning its food delivery drivers to serve the grocery service during peak hours. As the company noted in its earnings report last year, the grocery segment could leverage its “massive user base and existing world’s largest intra-city on-demand delivery network.”

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US Border Patrol seizes thousands of fake vaccine cards and Pfizer stickers

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The US Border Patrol has reported seizing thousands of fake COVID-19 vaccination cards and Pfizer inoculation seals, the latest confiscation in what has been at least several thousand counterfeit cards found by customs officers this year. The latest batch arrived at the Port of Cincinnati in multiple shipments.

The latest Customs and Border Patrol seizure of counterfeit COVID-19 cards was reported by the agency on September 16. A total of 1,683 blank COVID-19 vaccination record cards were seized across five shipments that arrived starting on August 16, according to the agency. As well, these shipments contained 2,034 Pfizer inoculation stickers.

The report came only one day after CBP officials in Pittsburgh reported that they’d likewise confiscated fake COVID-19 vaccination cards, though a lesser amount at 70. In the latest case, the agents noted that the cards originated from China and were being imported by people who lived in private residences in multiple states, including Texas and Maryland.

As with previous seizures involving counterfeit cards, the Customs officials noticed that the latest fake cards featured “substandard printing,” as well as misspelled words. Other confiscated counterfeit vaccination cards featuring the CDC logo have also been reported at ports in Anchorage, Chicago, and Memphis.

The FBI has repeatedly warned that making, buying, and selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards is illegal and could result in penalties. Despite this, many anti-vaxers continue to seek ways to fake vaccination records in an effort to get around vaccine mandates.

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HBO Max lures in new subscribers by cutting its premium price in half

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HBO Max, one of the largest streaming services on the market, is luring in new and returning subscribers by slashing the cost of its premium plan for up to half a year. The price decrease makes the premium plan cheaper than the ad-based plan, at least during the promotion, giving subscribers access to new theatrical movies from Warner Bros., HBO originals, and more.

HBO Max is now the destination for streaming HBO content; the platform’s parent company recently made the move to remove its now-defunct HBO app from Amazon’s Prive Video Channels platform, leaving those customers to finally make the transition to the new service.

That change happened earlier this week, with the new discount promotion coming only a couple of days later. The new deal is available only for the Ad-Free plan, which ordinarily costs $14.99/month but is temporarily lower at $7.49/month.

The ad-free plan includes access to 4K UHD resolution content, the ability to download for offline viewing, and the rest of Warner Bros. 2021 movie premieres with same-day streaming access. It appears the new promotional pricing is available for new and returning subscribers, as well as those who are jumping to HBO Max after Amazon Prime Video Channels lost access to HBO.

Overall, this is a great deal for those who want to catch up on their favorite HBO shows or stream the latest Warner Bros. theatrical movies from the comfort of their homes. The same-day theatrical movie releases only apply to 2021, however — it’s unclear whether this holiday season’s COVID-19 cases will fuel another series of lockdowns and whether Warner Bros. will extend its hybrid releases into 2022.

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Watch Apple break down the iPhone 13 differences

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It’s iPhone 13 preorder day, and if you’ve been scratching your head about whether to go iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, or iPhone 13 Pro Max, a new Apple video could help filter through the options. Announced on Tuesday, there’s no shortage of information out there on what changes Apple made in 2021, and what sets its four new smartphones apart.

Now, it probably shouldn’t come as a great surprise to you that Apple is very impressed by Apple’s new smartphones. If you’re hoping for unbiased, impartial commentary on the new iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro, this really isn’t the video for that.

However, with Apple’s virtual event meaning no opportunity for hands-on reports from media, along with the fact that we’re not expecting the first round of reviews until sometime next week, for the moment we’ll have to take what we can get. Given the four-strong line-up again this year, too, it’s also an opportunity to compare and contrast if you’re on the fence about which iPhone model fits your particular needs. As ever, that’s not necessarily an easy decision.

Like was the case in 2020, for most people the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro seem likely to be the sweet spot in 2021. The iPhone 13 mini is most affordable, but the smaller display could leave it too small for some. We also need to see whether Apple’s claims that it has addressed the mini battery life are accurate, too.

At the other end of the scale, the iPhone 13 Pro Max clearly has appeal for those who don’t want to compromise: whether that’s on screen size, cameras, or anything else. With a starting price of $1,099, though, that’s a whole lot to spend on a new smartphone. Meanwhile, unlike with the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, there aren’t any obvious differences in the cameras this year.

Last year, the iPhone 12 Pro Max got sensor-shift image stabilization and a larger lens. This year, though, the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max have the same camera specs. It means you don’t have to find space in your pocket for the very largest handset if you want the very best camera tech Apple has to offer.

Clearly, you shouldn’t be basing your entire purchasing decision on Apple’s video. All the same, if you’ve been wondering about new features like macro photography support, the new Super Retina XDR display with its 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate, and the new AI-powered Cinematic mode, this video offers a more in-depth look than Apple had time for during its keynote on Tuesday.

Preorders of the iPhone 13 family are open now, with deliveries expected to begin next Friday, September 24.

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