China´s Baidu is often dubbed China´s Google, but Kaiser Kuo, Baidu´s director of international communications, is happy to explain the SF Chronicle what American and European internet users are currently missing when they rely on Google, and what they might can get in the future.
Kaiser Kuo: Let me just start with what we do with maps. (Pulls out his phone.) I open up maps, and it shows me of course where I am. But this is the cool thing, this vicinity button. I click on this vicinity button, and all these services pop up. I can book a table at a restaurant and get a discount, a really substantial discount. It’ll show me all the meal deals that are available to me. And it knows something about me — it knows the history of what I’ve eaten before.
If I’m traveling in another city, I can book a hotel. I can get an Uber from here. I do not leave the Baidu map environment. Let’s say I want to see a movie. I like Matt Damon, so I’m going to go see “The Martian.” And then it will show me all the discount shows. I’ll say I want to go with four of us. I click this button, and through Baidu wallet I’ve paid for it.
Baidu food delivery is a true marvel. At peak deliveries we do about a million a day. We deliver food generally in 40, 45 minutes, and when you think about what’s going on there, it’s just an insane logistical thing. We can do incredibly efficient automated dispatch. Because we know where you are, we know where the restaurant is, how long that meal will take to prepare, how much it matters how hot it is when it’s delivered.
Q: Does Baidu employ the delivery people?
A: We use employment agencies. But they wear Baidu uniforms, Baidu helmets. Baidu delivery is everywhere. We add thousands a month. So the guy’s riding along, another order comes in that will be convenient for him to pick up and deliver, and his route is mapped entirely. They’re riding these little electric scooters. And we want obviously to be able to pack as many of those deliveries into a day’s work as we can. It’s good for the driver — he makes more money — it’s good for us.
Q: So it sounds like you’ve really got down the ability to combine entertainment and Uber and other services into Baidu. Why do you think the United States doesn’t have anything quite like that?
A: There’s a lot of different reasons. Let’s start with restaurants. It’s a terrible, sad fact, but most of the time when we eat in restaurants in America, it’s at a big chain. It’s Sizzler or Olive Garden. And these restaurants are national or they’re regional, and they have large back-office staff that’s capable of designing online campaigns. Not so with China. China is extremely fragmented that way. Often, we’re talking about merchants that don’t have a Web presence at all. There’s no reason to — they’re a noodle shop on the corner. We provide that infrastructure for them.
But also, it’s having this steady stream of rural migrants coming into the city, who can take a low-skill job. They don’t even need to know the city well, they just follow the map. In China, you can have literally anything delivered. You can order a foot massage, you can have a guy come up and teach you how to throw a pot with a potting wheel, come to your apartment and cook you an astonishing gourmet meal, or give you a guitar lessons.
Q: It sounds like this model of branching into on-demand services probably would work better in places like Brazil or India than Google’s business model would. It might give you a competitive advantage as you expand around the world.
A: We actually are betting on that. When you’re talking about India and Brazil, you’re talking exactly about the sorts of markets we’re looking at. We’re looking at markets that do in many ways resemble China, that are populous, have large urban centers, have quite a pronounced bifurcation between a more developed, tech-savvy coast with larger urban centers and a pretty underdeveloped hinterland. And we think the experience we’ve had in this market might very well be relevant in those markets.
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