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Internet firms look for new ways for offline merchants to link up with smartphone users

WeChat and Koubei seek to drive online-to-offline business as part of strategy
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Internet companies are looking at new ways for offline merchants to tap China's smartphone users as a key part of their strategy to drive the online-to-offline business.

WeChat launched Mini Apps earlier this year, which allows consumers easier access to offline services, and it's seeking to allow third party developers to offer more data analysis ability to the apps' developers.

WeChat's Mini Apps now covers government agency services, transport, financial services, travel and dining industry.

Chen Hao, a WeChat team member, said the company is seeking to provide more app programming interface and data analytics capability to third party mini apps developers for them to better connect with WeChat users.

Koubei, the joint venture between Alibaba Group and its financial affiliate, also hopes to connect more offline merchants through a unified barcode for consumers to make easier payments and also for merchants to manage their orders and customer information.

The vice general manager of Koubei’s local lifestyle business unit, Zhang Feng, said it has introduced more than 500 developers to its platform to allow offline merchants and retailers to leverage online capabilities.

In the second quarter this year, Koubei’s transaction volume rose 1.9 times from a year ago to 92 billion yuan (US$13.8 billion) with daily orders over 20 million on average.

Koubei now connects with over 2.5 million brick-and-mortar stores ranging from restaurants, cafes and leisure service providers.

The online-to-offline service is a key sector for Internet companies to grow, and Internet consultancy iResearch said in a report that the O2O market size is set to surge 76 percent from a year ago to 978 billion yuan by the end of 2017.

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