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Meitu says the shopping app recommends products based on your skin condition. (Picture: Meitu Beauty)

China's selfie king had a plan to make money by selling makeup... but it didn't work

Meitu shutting down shopping app that was supposed to use filters

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

Forget slapping filters on selfies or reshaping your face. Chinese selfie giant Meitu had a plan: Analyze photos to work out someone’s skin condition, and then sell products for that type of skin.

Genius, right? Er, maybe not. Meitu is shutting down that app at the end of this month.

Meitu, China’s selfie king

“Ecommerce is one of our attempts at commercialization,” the company’s COO said in an internal letter reported by Chinese media. “But after two years of exploration, we finally decided to shut down Meitu Beauty’s business.”

Meitu didn’t explain how exactly the app didn’t work out, but said in the internal letter that Meitu’s will shift its business model back to “the nature of mobile internet”.

We didn’t know what that meant either, so we asked -- but Meitu hasn’t responded to our request to elaborate on that.

Update, November 16, 2018: Meitu says,"'Back to the essence of mobile internet' has two layers of meaning. Firstly, it refers to Meitu’s strategic focus on its platform businesses. It also refers to our focus on scaling our user base and increasing our gross margin."

Meitu says the shopping app recommends products based on your skin condition. (Picture: Meitu Beauty)
Right now, more than 70% of Meitu’s revenue comes from hardware -- cute smartphones with enormous selfie cameras and built-in beautifying features. But it’s trying to make more money from software. In September, it said it would transform its selfie-editing app into an Instagram-like photo social platform.

It’s an abrupt “adjustment”, given that the company told us “an ecosystem around beauty” was an important part of their vision -- and that app was singled out as one of the leading elements.

In May, Meitu CEO boasted to me about the Meitu Beauty’s unique ability to come up with tailor-made product recommendations, which he said is the niche that’ll help the app survive among ecommerce giants. He also dismissed doubts that it’s just a gimmick to sell more products, saying that the skin analysis function is done with the help of a Shanghai hospital.

Six months later, the app is going away.

Selfie app Meitu wants to build an empire around beauty

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.