With a population of 1.4 billion people, China represents a huge market for virtually all industries, and the rush with which many brands entered this market comes to no surprise. Everyone wants a slice of the pie, but not all brands can grow sustainably in this challenging environment. One of the biggest factors that contribute to the success of brands in China is having good digital assets: the number of internet users in China has reached a whopping 731 million people in 2016 and in recent years the population has become more and more internet savvy. However, China has a very specific digital landscape and cultural background, so brands need to be careful in how they approach this market: what works in Europe or in the US may not necessarily work in China, especially in the case of e-commerce websites. Therefore, a thorough localization process to create a China-oriented e-commerce design is crucial.
To what extent should your website be localized though?
Let’s take a look at this website.
What do you think about it? Busy, cluttered, confused, colorful, splashy? Yes, that might be true. But most Chinese people feel quite comfortable when dealing with such design, simply because this is what they are accustomed to. If you still don’t believe it, see for yourself the record set by Alibaba during Single’s day 2018.
This article will give you 4 basic tips you need to know in order to localize your e-commerce design for China.
Be wary of Chinese language
Chinese websites usually look cluttered to Western users because of the Chinese language’s nature. Unlike Latin languages, Chinese characters are made of strokes and each character can comprise 1 to 60 strokes. Besides, there is no space between characters, no capitalization, no way to emphasize and also a limitation of fonts. As a result, a string of Chinese characters may look overwhelming to people who do not understand the languages but completely normal to Chinese people - after all, characters have been around in China for over 3000 years! Nevertheless, presenting the Chinese language on limited space of a desktop or mobile screen is not an easy task. If the website is not designed carefully, it may end up looking confusing even to Chinese people.
How Chinese characters are written
Given the enormous content of an online store, all elements of your online store such as menus, navigation, product list, information, the whole buying process, etc. need to be well-organized to bring a seamless experience. Due to the characteristics of the language, the minimum font size should be 12 to ensure the readability. As we cannot add space between characters, there should be appropriate line height and considerable space between each body of text. Depending on your brand identity, other practices can be considered such as high contrast colors, illustrated icons, etc.
Making full use of the space
Make your site responsive
Most Chinese netizens consider smartphones their primary device. According to eMarketer, there are 519 million smartphone users in China (2014). This number is expected to grow to 704 million users in 2018, which accounts for more than a half of China’s population. Chinese people spend averagely 3 hours per day on their smartphones for different purposes: paying for their meals, hailing a taxi, paying movie tickets and of course, online shopping. Emarketer expects that 75% of e-commerce sales – over $1tn - will be transacted via a mobile device by the end of 2018. That’s the reason why mobile responsiveness is mandatory to your improve your e-commerce design for China. Responsiveness means adjusting all the elements of a website - from text and visuals to layouts and user flows to ensure the consistent user experience on any devices.
Responsive design behavior
Open to a new window/tab
Internet connection in China used to be very slow, so websites in the country adapted to this issue by allowing every page to open automatically into a new windows/tab when clicked. By setting this function, users can open many pages at the same time and read a specific page while waiting for the other ones to load. Also, when going back to a previous page, there would be no need to reload the page since it was never closed.
Nowadays, thanks to many efforts from the government to improve the Internet speed, Chinese netizens can access websites at much faster speed. However, most websites still keep that function because it has become a habit of Chinese netizens and they usually expect the webpage to open in a new tab automatically. Therefore, this is a feature that should be implemented in your China e-commerce design in order to provide the best experience possible for your users.
Cultural factors do matter
Be mindful of symbolic colors
In Western countries, the red color is limited to some specific meaning such as love, anger or danger; therefore, only certain websites use red in their color scheme. Meanwhile, red evokes different feelings for Chinese people: this color mostly represents luck, happiness, health, etc. and therefore different shades of red has been using in a wide variety of design, from packaging, billboards, architectures, to websites.
Red is one of China's favorite color
You do not necessarily need to use red for your design because it depends on your brand identity, but adding a few touches of positive colors such as red, golden and purple is a good way to optimize your China e-commerce design.
Red is not the only color that has a different meaning in China compared to the West: white for example, is also the color of mourning, so be prepared to audit your brand VI and apply adjustments if necessary.
Implementing the color red in your e-commerce
Chinese people expect a lot of content
In China, marketplaces such as Taobao and Tmall are famous for having tons of contents on their sites. Nowadays, there are over 70,000 brands selling through 50,000 stores on Tmall and each of these stores offers hundreds of thousands of product categories, together with technical details, instructions and customer reviews. As a result, it becomes a habit of Chinese customers to expect content-rich websites where they have various choices, detailed product information and useful recommendations from the community. Therefore, whether you are selling a single product or a variety of products, make sure your China e-commerce design provides enough informative contents to optimize the Chinese buying journey.
Product pages are filled with content
Example: Comparing the product page of Tmall and Amazon
In order to emphasize the difference of Chinese e-commerce websites compared to the Western ones, we provide an example of product page of Amazon and Tmall.
Amazon's product page looks cold and neutral...
...while that of Tmall looks more colorful.
Although the standard layout of product pages is applied for both Tmall and Amazon, you can see some obvious difference in the “feeling” of these two pages.
First of all, it is the red color, yes. While Amazon uses cold or neutral colors, Tmall chooses light red as its brand identity, therefore, all important elements on the website are adapted to this color: logo, icons, search bar, CTAs, text, etc.
A lot of white space in the layout...
...compared to a content-rich website.
Besides, therefore a lot of white space on Amazon product page, while Tmall page is filled with contents, from eye-catching product images, colorful advertisement, and the long list of recommended products.
As mentioned in the previous parts, red is China’s favorite color and Chinese prefer pages with a huge amount of content, so they definitely find Tmall more attractive than Amazon.
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
With the development of web and mobile technologies, building a beautiful and dynamic website is not a big deal. The real thing that matters is building a website that is relevant to your target customers. China is a challenging market for brands coming from abroad and Chinese netizens are affected by different factors than netizens from the rest of the world. They have a unique language, different symbolic colors, and philosophy. They face a different ecosystem and online regulations. And the market is just too enormous to be ignored. Adopting the best practices to localize your e-commerce design for China will mean taking a step further for your brand’s success.
To get more news about design and the digital landscape in China, subscribe to our newsletter!
About the author
Vice President and Co-Founder of IT Consultis
Aurelien is a serial entrepreneur, co-founder and member of EO (Entrepreneur Organization), also a coach for startups and mentor for other entrepreneurs. As Vice President of ITC, Aurelien is responsible for the development and expansion of the company, leading the sales and marketing department.
Follow us on WeChat