Baidu unveiled on Wednesday a new service that enables traditional businesses, especially small and medium-sized ones, have a free and easy way to expand their businesses online, QQ.com reported.
The new offline-to-online (O2O) service is called Connect, or Zhi Da Hao in Chinese. Business owners can register for free on Baidu to set up a customized Connect page that functions like a mini app and shows information such as the nearest branch locations.
When consumers search related keywords in Baidu on their mobile phones, the Connect account links will be listed as top results. And the search engine will smartly recommend related Connect accounts for users based on their locations or other information.
The service will help retailers advertise on the smartphones of nearby users, and offers toolkits for merchants and software developers to build O2O applications.
The applications can help bring customers to nearby shops and restaurants via promotions and ads displayed on smartphones.
Baidu’s chief executive Robin Li emphasized in his speech at Baidu Technology Information Conference 2014 on Wednesday that the company is moving toward “linking users and services” from “linking users with information”.
Observers say Baidu’s Connect initiative is clearly a move aimed at challenging Tencent’s huge popular chat app Wechat, in which similar functions are provided through Wechat official accounts for businesses.
Liu Jun, vice president of Baidu, noted that O2O services market in China is worth about 3.6 trillion yuan. The Connect service with be integrated with Baidu Map and group buying unit Muomi “to subvert the traditional business model of life services”.
The service has already roped in some users, with entities such as the Mount Emei tourist attraction, Haidilao Hotpot restaurant operator and Pingan Insurance opening their Connect accounts.
Baidu also offers customer relationship management tools for the businesses.
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