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Developing a Western Brand in China

Posted in Business on May 19th 2017

At IT Consultis, we strongly believe in the power of sharing and exchanging knowledge as a way to not only keep improving ourselves, but also bring value to the people that surround us. Over the years, this commitment has brought us meaningful relationships with various people and organizations, and the story of how we were chosen to be featured on a book about Universal UX design is certainly a valid example of this.

About 2 years ago, we received what sounded like a quite peculiar request: Alberto Ferreira, a London-based UX consultant and researcher, was looking for an agency with international experience and with a strong background in web design in China. As he mentioned in his message, he wanted to know more about the process of adapting a brand proposition, as well as its online presence, to the Chinese market, from the point of view of professionals in the web design industry. As a company at the crossroad of Western and Chinese culture, he thought we could give him a good feedback on the topic. Intrigued by this request, we agreed to meet Alberto

During the meeting (and after a few drinks), it became clear that we were certainly suitable candidates for this research. Not only we had a similar vision in terms of design, user behaviour, optimization and much more, but we also had many good examples from our portfolio to share. Alberto chose two of our works to be analyzed and featured in his book: Best English Name, and Sunglass Hut.

The following is an excerpt from Universal UX Design by Alberto Ferreira, which featured ITC and the work made to localise Sunglass Hut for the Chinese Market.


China is a hotbed of feverish consumerism where the big brands invariably win out, but Western brands often struggle for success and even acceptance in the distinctly insular marketplace. IT Consultis sought to curb this trend when they were assigned the task to establish the new Sunglass Hut site in China. The stylish brand has adorned the tanned faces of many a movie star in idyllic marinas throughout Europe and America, but Asia remained an elusive part of the world.

The main challenge for IT Consultis was to build a brand new web presence that stood out in an increasingly crowded marketplace. The first step was to assess the unique selling points of the brand’s proposition and what could make the brand more interesting for Chinese consumers. The data collected enabled the agency to understand which adjustments and changes were necessary to adapt the website to a Chinese audience.

A full site audit was performed in order to check the appropriateness of the visual and text content of the website. Several changes were introduced in order to make sure the content resonated better with the Chinese audience. To accomplish this, every page in the main user journeys was reviewed by a local team. The sitemap and main navigation categories were also reviewed in order to make mobile navigation easier and more intuitive.

Several social media components were integrated in the website structure:

  • A custom Weibo feed was placed in the homepage footer to quickly enable users to follow the brand.
  • The WeChat QR code was placed directly in the page sidebar in order to allow users to follow the brand on WeChat at any point during their navigation.

As a fashion retailer, the popularity of Sunglass Hut is unparalleled in the USA, but it was largely unknown to Chinese consumers at the time. However, the portfolio of the sunglass retailer presented an important opportunity. With an audience eager for luxury brands, brands like Armani, Burberry or Miu Miu were given a personalized touch. Each was given its own dedicated page, allowing users to get more information at a single-stop point for their products. As these products were featured prominently in the official Sunglass Hut website, the visibility of these companies increased the overall brand awareness for the retailer.

These dedicated brand pages also enhanced SEO, as the content could be specialized and optimized accordingly for each brand. All the website content (text, pictures and video with meta-descriptions) was optimized to allow indexing by search engines, enabling a much-needed boost to the search engine result ranking of the brand new website.

Performance was also a consideration. All the assets and code in the website were reviewed and optimized in order to facilitate access for Chinese users with slower connections. The new website was built to be locally hosted for connectivity reasons (as well as to comply with Chinese regulations on website hosting). Local APIs and lazy loading patterns were also implemented in order to allow for a smoother page navigation and loading.

Mobile users would also access a dedicated adaptive version, designed exclusively for smartphone browsing. This allowed for a better integration with the most popular social media network in the country: WeChat. This improved significantly the brand’s odds of success in China, particularly as the digital strategy of the company did not encompass e-commerce functionalities at that point. Both the website and the social media integration were meant to help the brand find a solid market foothold in the O2O brick-and-mortar business model.

With this in mind, the store locator became one of the main components of the website. Based on the China-optimized Amap API,the feature enabled users to find Sunglass Hut stores throughout the country. More tellingly, mobile users can check nearby stores based on their current location and their proximity. Each of the stores was also highlighted in the website, with dedicated photos and information designed to attract users to the physical business.

The Sunglass Hut project reveals the importance of addressing local requirements and preferences in a strategic manner that takes into account business model and leverages the unique opportunities each market can present.

About the author: Alberto Ferreira is a UX consultant and researcher, experienced in design strategy, globalization services, and interaction psychology. He has worked on UX research and service design for major media and consumer-oriented companies such as Sony, BBC, Avira, and eDreams. He also speaks and writes extensively on topics ranging from cultural aesthetics to emotional mapping. His latest book, Universal UX Design, published by Morgan Kaufmann, blends the latest ethnographic and market research with key insights on international digital strategy.