According to a report by Chinese media outlet Caijing, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is in negotiations with Alibaba to acquire its food delivery platform, Ele.me. The acquisition is still in the discussion stage, and no final decision has been reached. On Monday, Ele.me responded by saying, “There’s no such thing. It’s completely a rumor.”
According to Caijing, a source close to Ele.me revealed that ByteDance and Ele.me’s executives had a meeting before the end of 2023, which resulted in two disagreements:
- The acquisition price: ByteDance’s offer stands at $7 billion, while Alibaba‘s expected price ranges between $7.5 and $8 billion.
- The form of acquisition: ByteDance aims to retain only Ele.me’s instant delivery team, which would handle orders from Douyin’s local life business. However, Alibaba hopes that ByteDance can take over the entire Ele.me team, with ByteDance then responsible for any necessary layoffs.
Ele.me is China’s second-largest food delivery platform. In April 2018, Alibaba Group announced its acquisition of Ele.me for $9.5 billion. At the time, Alibaba stated that this acquisition represented a significant breakthrough in its new retail strategy. Going forward, Ele.me was projected to become a key player in Alibaba‘s new retail strategy. In August 2023, Douyin and Ele.me partnered in the food delivery sector.
Two insiders from Alibaba, who are close to Ele.me, told Caijing that there are two camps of opinions within Alibaba regarding Ele.me: some view Ele.me as a “burden” for Alibaba‘s transformation, supporting its sale to focus on other more critical businesses. Others believe that it is possible to cooperate with Douyin in the long term, but selling Ele.me could impact the value of Alibaba‘s entire local life business.
Alibaba‘s financial report for the second quarter of fiscal 2024 (July to September 2023) shows that Alibaba‘s local life business, including Ele.me and Amap, generated revenue of 15.56 billion yuan, marking a year-on-year increase of 16%. The report also highlighted that Ele.me continued to improve its operating efficiency as the business scale grew, which led to a continued year-on-year narrowing of operating losses. This, in turn, drove the local life group’s adjusted EBITA (earnings before interest, tax, and amortization) to increase to 2.56 billion yuan.
Another key party involved in this potential transaction is Meituan, the market leader in the local life sector and a direct competitor of Ele.me.
On December 19, 2023, when rumors of the acquisition surfaced, Meituan‘s stock price fell by 8% in a single day. An investor close to Meituan told Caijing that if the acquisition is finalized, the most significant impact will be on Meituan, and the capital market may further downgrade expectations for Meituan‘s future development. Meituan experienced a significant reduction in market value in 2023, with a decrease of over 500 billion yuan, bringing its latest market value to 469.9 billion Hong Kong dollars.
Ele.me is a direct competitor of Meituan, but over the past few years, Meituan‘s attitude towards Ele.me has been more supportive than competitive. A Meituan insider told Caijing that for Meituan, Ele.me’s existence helps reduce regulatory pressure regarding monopoly. Meituan hopes for Ele.me’s stable development, but if it is acquired by ByteDance, “it would be the worst outcome for Meituan.”
According to data from third-party agency Trustdata, in 2020, Meituan and Ele.me held market shares of 68% and 25%, respectively. By 2022, these figures had shifted to 72% and 15%, indicating a widening gap between Ele.me and Meituan. Besides its food delivery business, Meituan has ventured into multiple business sectors. In its current market strategy, the biggest competitor is not Ele.me, but ByteDance. In August 2023, after ByteDance announced its cooperation with Ele.me, Meituan announced a partnership with another video platform, Kwai. In addition, Meituan significantly increased subsidies and reduced merchant commissions in 2023, which are all defensive measures against ByteDance.