On Nov 11, China’s Single’s Day, Chinese consumers broke the world record for online shopping.  In 24 hours, on just Taobao and TMall, shoppers stuffed their carts with $3 billion of discounted goods; more than double the $1.25 billion on America’s Cyber Monday.  It’s yet another signal of China’s love for the Internet.

Even the Chinese Government are getting behind it, implementing policy in its latest 5-year plan to quadruple ecommerce revenue to $2.9 trillion from 2010-2015.

Get your website right for Chinese consumers
Get your website right for Chinese consumers

As Chinese become increasingly urban, they’re commuting longer and spending more nights at home than most westerners.  Many are online during that time. China’s 538 million Internet users spend an average of 2.7 hours a day online, more than any country except Japan.

When Chinese consumers are online, they’re doing much more than shopping; they’re increasingly using it as an aid for buying from bricks & mortar stores as well.  A recent Ipsos survey discovered that 37.6% of Chinese consumers regularly increase their brand awareness through websites.  A further 47.5% claimed official websites increased their purchase intent, significantly more than the 31.3% for newspaper ads, 22.4% for TV and 20.9% for radio commercials.

In short, optimizing your website for the Chinese market is one of the most important things you can do.

Having analyzed many foreign websites in China, here are the common issues I’ve found and how best to deal with them:

1. Its essential that your site is optimized for mobiles

Chinese now visit more websites on their mobiles than their PCs.  With Android smartphones costing as little as $100, mobile traffic will continue to rise.

Make Sure: Your website is optimised for mobiles and tablets.  Information should be easy to find and tailored to small displays, with links that suit fingers on touch screens.

2. Social media is a too good opportunity to ignore

Social Media’s influence in China is big.  91% of online Chinese used social media in the past 6-months, and they believed what they read more than on traditional media. 55% have used it to participate in a conversation about a foreign brand. Social Media is a key channel to talk to, influence and listen to customers.

Make Sure: You have an active presence on Chinese social media. Facebook/Twitter references should be removed from your site’s Chinese pages (they’ll be blocked inChina) with the Chinese equivalents added.  Sina Weibo should be on every site, and depending on who you’re selling to, you should look into Renren, Kaixin, Qzone and Douban. Tudou or Youku should replace Youtube (also blocked) for your China-clips.

3. Don’t cut corners with your translations

“Finger-Lickin’ Good” translates to “Eat Your Fingers Off” in Chinese. A correct translation could be the difference between crowds or tumbleweed. Amazingly, there are still websites with Google Translated content.

Make Sure: When translating content into simplified Chinese, use a Mainland Chinese speaker who understands the nuances of the Mandarin and English. Traditional Chinese characters used in Taiwan, HK and by Malaysian Chinese also deserve a look-in; the market isn’t as large as China, but it still accounts for more people than Australia.

4. Localisation is more than just translation

When designing a Chinese website, just translating the language generally isn’t enough. China’s education system is much different to the west, and Chinese often learn to solve problems differently.  Something that may make sense to you, may be very confusing to Chinese visitors.

Make Sure: You test navigation and key site tasks with genuine Mainland Chinese users and ensure it’s easy and logical for them to use.

5. Offer additional payment options than you normally would

Although Chinese users are increasingly paying with plastic, more than 50% of purchases are still made with cash. Most Chinese can’t and won’t use credit or western debit cards to buy goods online.

Make Sure: You offer a popular payment system on your website such as Alipay. Cash on delivery is popular in China.

6. Service is important to online Chinese

Customer service is a relatively new phenomenon in China, but expectations online are high.  Chinese anticipate they’ll be able to chat online or call if they have a question and they’re used to receiving purchases within a few days of purchasing them.

Make Sure: You have a Chinese speaker available for support when Chinese are online (8am-midnight at least).  You should have stock in China and a trustworthy logistics partner for delivery.

7. Search Engine Optimization is different in China

If you’re hoping Chinese will find you through a search engine, your tried and true Google optimisation strategy will need some work. Baidu accounts for most PC searches and plays by a different set of rules.

Make Sure: You’ve optimized your site for China’s big search players, especially Baidu. For paid search engine marketing, China is also different, so learn the rules and test different scenarios.

8. Analytics for your Chinese site will often be different than your other sites

Don’t expect your traffic to align with China and other markets. Christmas, Thanks Giving and Easter aren’t too important for Chinese, whereas Chinese New Year is big, and there’s Qingming, Dragon Boat and Mid-Autumn Festivals and October National Day.

Make Sure: You familiarize yourself with Chinese holidays and periods and plan your online promotions and messaging around these.

Ensuring your website is up to scratch is one of the most straightforward things you can do and will mean you’ve got your best foot forward in China. Good luck!