With 250 million monthly active users for its mini programs, Baidu goes after e-commerce

Baidu wants its users to search and buy within its app.

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China’s largest search engine Baidu said the number of monthly active users (MAUs) for mini programs on its main app has hit 250 million, just one year after the company introduced mini programs to its platform. A total of 150,000 developers have used the option to create mini apps that plug directly into Baidu since then.

In a press release, the company explained that it’s particularly going after e-commerce players and brands with its mini app strategy, hoping to offer users of its main app a seamless shopping experience.

Baidu is primarily a search app people use to look for information or products or services they are interested in. But with the advent of mini apps, Baidu can now do more than just send these searches to sites outside of Baidu where they might purchase the item they were interested in.

The number of mini app users on Baidu has made a significant jump since April if the figures are reported correctly.

In April, Baidu’s mini programs had just 115 million MAUs , mobile internet research firm QuestMobile found.

Baidu highlighted several ways in which mini apps interact with its platform, all of which indicate Baidu’s ambition to transform itself from a search-focused app into an e-commerce transaction portal.

For example, Baidu said, 100 brands in various industries have opened an online shop on Baidu’s mini program platform, aided by technologies from Youzan, a Software as a Service vendor which helps companies set up and maintain online shops.  A clothing brand called Handu was among the 100 brands, according to online news portal Qianlong.com. Handu’s flagship store on Alibaba’s Tmall has been operating for years.

Baidu has also teamed up with technology information portal Zol.com.cn to help speed up its e-commerce push. Zol said it expects to help 50,000 offline retail stores join the Baidu mini program platform in next three years, according to Baidu’s press release.

However, Baidu has gone through various setbacks in its attempts to develop an e-commerce business, dating back 12 years, according to Zhao Yunhe, an industry observer.

In 2007 it once launched a C2C platform called You’a and later paired this up with a Japanese e-commerce site but that cooperation failed at the end of 2011. Later, Baidu set up a product review and price comparison site called Leho but it failed too in 2014. In 2015, the firm invested USD 200 million in Womai.com, a food-centric e-commerce site which has been posting losses for four years.

Baidu has good user traffic, but that’s not enough for success in the e-commerce sector, which relies on management of the supply chain and good quality service, Zhao argues in an analysis published on online news portal Sina.com.

Compared with other super apps that host mini programs, Baidu still lags behind. In April, MAUs of Alipay’s mini programs were at 401 million while MAUs for WeChat’s mini programs amounted to 681 million, according to QuestMobile.

When contacted by KrAsia on Thursday, Baidu did not confirm QuestMobile’s MAU count from April and did not explain why there was a huge increase in the course of two months.