5 mistakes retailers make when creating a website for China


By Dave Anderson, VP Marketing EMEA & APAC at Dynatrace.

Analysts forecast that China's retail import market will surpass $66bn this year. This market has always been profitable for European retailers, but thanks to the internet, merchants no longer need to take the arduous Silk Road to sell goods within the country.

Unfortunately, creating an ecommerce site that works well in China can be a nightmare. For a start, Chinese websites don't use the same payment gateways and consumers there tend to prefer different design layouts that might appear pretty basic from the perspective of western consumers. However, there are a multitude of other factors that can impact the performance of a retailer's website in this market.

To build an effective ecommerce site for the Chinese market, retailers need to emulate their local counterparts and benchmark themselves against the performance of their in-country competitors, to ensure they can create an even playing field. As well as keeping an eye on how well their local competitors' websites are performing, retailers also need to identify how Chinese consumers prefer to shop online and pander to these tastes.

For example, on Singles' day, China's equivalent to Black Friday, 70% of purchases were made through mobile devices, so it's clearly very important to have a seamless mobile site for Chinese consumers. So how do retailers tap into this lucrative but secretive economy? I've identified five common mistakes when it comes to building a website for China – to help retailers serve up a strong user experience and unlock the revenue potentials behind the Great Wall.

Mistake 1: Not vetting third party plug-ins

The average website has about 30 third-party plug-ins. This means a big portion of a website is made up of external functions and features such as Google fonts, Adobe Typekit, product rating facilities, live chat, automation tools like Marketo, analytics and more. These objects are common third party services used by developers when creating websites, which is why so many websites perform inadequately within China.

The problem is that each time a website loads it typically makes 'calls' to collect these externally hosted features, before returning to serve up the content to the user via the website. What most don't realise is that a huge number of third party plug-ins are restricted within China. This will cause major timing issues, disabled functionality and load errors for local users.

Mistake 2: Taking the wrong perspective

What's the point of testing how a Chinese website looks, feels and performs from your office in London or Glasgow? Just because your international sites appear to load quickly and completely from your desktop, doesn't mean that's the case for your target market. You need to keep tabs from a grassroots perspective, which is why companies need the ability to test their website from within China to see how their site performs for their local users.

In addition to continuously testing the website from the internet backbone to identify areas for fundamental improvements, businesses also need granular visibility into the experience of every single end-user to ensure they can identify localised problems affecting the customer journey and minimise abandonment rates. These user experience management capabilities are particularly beneficial in China, where the vast population can quickly overload the network, meaning the user-experience is impacted by factors outside of retailers' direct control. This level of visibility can help retailers avoid wasting valuable time and resources in trying to fix the unfixable.

Mistake 3: Hosting externally

Content Delivery Networks (CDN) and Domain Name Systems (DNS) are critical to site performance in China. This is tech terminology that marketers need to familiarise themselves with, especially when branching into new regions. If your CDN or DNS is located outside China, it creates a huge delay for users accessing your site from within the country – which means almost certain abandonment. In fact, according to recent research, 75% of all smartphone/tablet users would abandon a mobile site that was buggy, slow or prone to crashes and shop elsewhere.

To ensure that consumers don't defect to your competitors, both the CDN and DNS of your Chinese websites needs to be served from a local Point of Presence (POP) - which is common practice for Chinese retailers. The closer your CDN and DNS are to your users, the more responsive the website will be for them, which ensures seamless online transactions and can boost sales.

Mistake 4: Embedding social media

The major Western social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are completely blocked by the Chinese firewall, which equates to slow website load times or gaping holes in web pages where social icons and links once stood. As a rule of thumb, embedding social media is best avoided when creating websites for China. Just because a third-party application works today, doesn't mean it will work tomorrow – such is the ever changing nature of China's internet rulebook.

Mistake 5: Resting on your laurels

Once you've built your site to fit the current internet landscape in China, you must keep watching and investigating because the rules are evolving and growing more complicated by the day. China's internet regulations are highly complex, but it is possible to successfully navigate the difficult rules and develop a site that performs and resonates within a Chinese market. Even if you've stripped your website of third party objects; hosted it from within China and designed website layout purely for Chinese consumers – it still won't guarantee performance.

Some retailers have ultimately gone back to the drawing board with a completely fresh website design for China, so it's important to continuously evaluate whether performance and conversion rates are as strong as they can be and if your website is serving its most important audience; your customers, effectively.

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