China presents an increasingly tantalising market for brands looking to expand their ecommerce presence internationally.

But what are the exact challenges and opportunities they face?

In this post I’ll look at some of the Chinese consumer trends that Western brands need to consider, and for more on this topic be sure to download our State of Ecommerce in China report.

Chinese attitudes to digital

The internationalisation of ecommerce is a priority for established brands; China in particular provides significant opportunities for growth.

According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, China’s 302m online shoppers spent $296bn in 2013, although it’s the huge potential of the region which gets marketers excited.

McKinsey forecast that the country’s online retail market will be as large as the US, Japan, UK, Germany and France combined by 2020.

Just as important is the fact that this is a market that is receptive to digital advertising.

For example, an August 2014 survey of mobile habits by the IAB found that Chinese smartphone owners were twice as likely as their US equivalent to say that the device makes them more successful in their personal life.

As a result, they are more likely to interact more frequently with marketing messages on their device. 

Challenges in the Chinese market

One of the first Western brands to launch in China was KFC; unfortunately a literal translation of its slogan came out as “eat your fingers off”.

Online translation tools, Google’s being the most widely known, have empowered marketers – but they can only go so far.

Ben Wightman, head of paid search at Latitude, for example, recommends that brands always hire a translator to vet keywords. The positive impact it can have on your search rankings more than outweigh the costs.

While rapid mobile adoption presents opportunities to pure-play retailers, it can cause a headache bricks and mortar operations.

Showrooming, for example, is increasingly prevalent. In fact, IBM research found Chinese shoppers were more likely to showroom than consumers anywhere else (24% compared to 4% in the US).

To avoid cannibalising sales, for example, Uniqlo has ensured prices online and offline are the same, drawing shopper’s in store using mobile apps and QR codes.

Localised content

Localising content is also crucial for inspiring trust – consumers want the companies they interact with to reflect their local and regional values.

The most successful internationalisation and localisation strategies follow consistent global templates.

This enables brands to communicate a common message and brand position, which can be skewed to different markets.

Similar site architectures can also make it cost effective for marketers to measure key performance metrics.

Finally, while it makes for an amusing story, the first “cellphone lane” launched in the city Chongqing underlines just how progressive the Chinese market is today.

But while consumers are increasingly connected, there’s no silver bullet. On the plus side, brands have access to more data on consumers than ever.

Those that are digitally transformed, in particular, are able to engage with individuals on a personal level and have the most to gain.

Jim Clark

Published 5 February, 2015 by Jim Clark

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Comments (1)

Arron Zhang

Arron Zhang, Business Consultant at Advangent

The most important lesson Western retailers learn about China e-commerce is that stand-alone online store rarely works, most Chinese buy from leading e-commerce marketplaces like Tmall, JD and etc., that's why some of the most famous brands still need them. Burberry, Karen Millen, Apple, Super Dry, they all have their flagship store on Tmall.

over 3 years ago

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