COMPETITION

Meituan apologises for snafu with food-delivery app that blocked rivals

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 June, 2015, 2:24pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 June, 2015, 2:24pm

A senior executive at group-buying website Meituan, often dubbed the Groupon of China, has apologised for several lines of code in the company’s food-delivery app that prevented four of its competitors’ apps from operating properly.

A Chinese user on Zhihu, a question-and-answer website operated by an online community that is comparable to the American site Quora, noticed the problem and revealed his findings in a post last Thursday.

Users who had Meituan’s food-delivery app installed on their devices were not able to run similar apps by Alibaba's Taodiandian, China's leading search engine Baidu, Tencent-owned Dianping, the country's largest review and daily deals website, or Shanghai-based Ele.me when the Meituan app was in use.

This is because the code rendered them temporarily ineffective. Meituan is also backed by Alibaba.

In an online statement posted on Friday, Meituan vice-president Wang Huiwen apologised for what he described as an accident and said the lines of code had since been removed.

He claimed that the code was written in July last year by a programmer, who found that killing the operations of similar apps running on the same device would ensure Meituan’s food-delivery app could connect to Bluetooth printers more efficiently. 

Bluetooth printers are portable devices that allow merchants to wirelessly print out receipts.

Eventually, better solutions were discovered, but because of Meituan’s “rapid development," the few lines of code in the app were overlooked and not deleted, he said.

Wang promised the company would tighten its review processes to avoid any such problems in the future.

Yet Meituan took much flak for the snafu, with many users criticising it for resorting to unfair tactics to gain a market edge. 

Competition in China’s food-delivery industry has ramped up over the last year, with major players raising hundreds of millions of US dollars in investment.

READ MORE: Tencent-owned review site Dianping about to close US$850m funding round: report

Ele.me, one of China’s largest food-delivery portals, raised US$350 million in January. Another Chinese meal-delivery company, Daojia.com.cn, received US$50 million last year.

Statistics from China’s E-Commerce Research Centre, which monitors data, suggest that the domestic market for online-to-offline catering will hit 120 billion yuan (US$19.3 billion) by the end of this year.