This article provides an overview of how optimising the customer experience within the Chinese eCommerce market can have a huge impact.
While researching this market, e-retailers seeking to sell to Chinese consumers may have largely occupied themselves with concerns surrounding the undulating legal system or difficulties associated with consumers paying in RMB for their goods purchased online. Whilst these, and many others previously mentioned in this Passport, are challenges in their own right, such concerns should not form the sole topics of our merchant’s prior research.
Anyone wishing to enter this complex but rewarding marketplace needs to closely examine their prospective consumers’ expectations and online behaviour and develop strategies attuned to optimising a Chinese customer’s experience, ensuring the completion of the checkout processand capturing consumer loyalty, ultimately increasing the likelihood of repeat purchases. eCommerce in China is developing at a rapid pace and as more consumers come online, taking regional variations into account will become more important.
Culturally speaking, China is an unfamiliar market to foreign retailers, and the behaviour of Chinese consumers is, as with any territory, likely to be new and diverse. Complicating things further, tastes and consumer behaviour has changed within China itself in the last decade, largely due to the revolution in retail and eCommerce, as these developments have shaped a totally new set of consumer expectations and desires. Chinese shopping habits have developed from needs-driven pursuits to integral parts of the urban consumer’s leisure activities.
It’s always important to know your customer, but in a country with a population the size of China, this seems a major undertaking. Fortunately, the adoption of Western shopping habits and frequent exposure to international brands in China have made this task a little less daunting. With the explosive growth of this sector, you will find your Chinese customers expecting:
When questioned about their reservations with online shopping, Chinese customers are no different to their international cousins; product information, payments, fraud and lack of physical inspection at point of purchase ranked as their key concerns. An online seller then, should seek to address these concerns as comprehensively as possible when seeking to appeal to Chinese consumers.
Chinese consumers are always searching for the best deal, comparing online products and shops with their bricks and mortar counterparts. In order to remain competitive in this market, an e-merchant catering to the Chinese market should be vigilant as to daily price fluctuations, both online and offline.
Sales vary dramatically across different regions of China, both in terms of numbers and products purchased. Historically it was largely the vast first-tier cities that received entrepreneurial attention, but with the development of populous second- and third-tier cities, there has been a split of retail focus and merchants are looking to expand their remit.
Figure 1: Customer experience in China
As you might expect, in the larger first-tier cities such as Shanghai, many more customers are purchasing holidays, cars and high-end personal care items than their second-, third- and fourthtier counterparts. Consumers in lower tier cities are more likely to concentrate on basic value items. Consumers in tier-one cities are also much more likely to subscribe to brand loyalty than those in less populous locations, though this is a phenomenon spreading across China generally.
In smaller markets such as Dalian or Fuzhou, consumers additionally are much more likely to diverge from their peers in terms of what products and brands are purchased - ‘last season’ products might not bring in much profit in Shanghai, but may still perform well in other markets.
Online spending in China is indisputably geared towards the fashion and accessories market (i.e. handbags, shoes and cosmetics), with luxury goods performing particularly well. Impressively, around 40% of all online transactions in China are fashion and accessory purchases, which are largely made by young, affluent, urban female shoppers. Overall, consumer goods are in strong demand across China. Although Chinese consumers are reputed to be sensitive to price, often shopping around for the best available deal before making a purchase, it is also well-known that the Chinese are willing to pay a premium for quality.
Chinese consumers have developed a growing taste for Western brands, one nurtured by the increasing proclivity of the Chinese to travel to international destinations - often Europe, Macau, and Hong Kong - where they become acquainted with luxury foreign brands. Western brands are regarded as trustworthy, appealing to Chinese consumers who are all too aware of poor quality imitation goods. China itself is renowned for manufacturing counterfeit products, and product scandals in recent years have led to significant health and safety risks. This has been particularly evident in the food and beverage industry with cautionary examples like the melamine-adulterated milk scandal in 2008 being highly publicised, ultimately encouraging Chinese consumers to look further afield for their retail purchases.
Such scandals have dampened consumer confidence in the domestic industry and driven these consumers to purchase foreign alternatives to suspect products – often products where personal safety is concerned such as food and beverages, toys, children’s wear and, to a somewhat lesser extent, furniture, electrical appliances and cars – and these consumer are willing to pay associated premiums to ensure safety.
When expanding into a new territory, online entrepreneurs should aim to treat their new market with the same care and consideration they offer their home market. This means, amongst other things, that all webpages and associated content should be translated into local languages, and local currency options should be displayed for all products and services.
If consumers are able to transact in Chinese on your website, as is recommended, then you should also provide customer service in Chinese or clearly state prior to purchase that you cannot. Localised contact centres are advisable, and specific consideration should be given to time zones.
To inspire consumer confidence, a merchant should provide consumers with clear information on website security and how they handle consumer transactions. Merchants are strongly encouraged to publish their privacy policies concerning their use of a customer’s personal information on their website, as this will garner consumer confidence. A website in Chinese will also increase visibility on Chinese search engines, establishing trust and directing more traffic to your webpage. In addition, prospective Chinese e-retailers should consider implementing platforms for consumers to review their products and/or services.
Finally, regardless of selected location, it’s always vital for a trader to examine key market trends and behaviours in their territory of choice, and localise their product ranges accordingly, taking into account things like consumer demographics and territory climate. A crossborder entrepreneur should also take note of details like territory-relevant phrases, national holidays and events, and effective tones of voice. In every case, a merchant should endeavour to ensure that his advertisements and sales promotions are considerate to the sensibilities, expectations and legal protection of consumers from the territories from which the merchant is prepared to accept orders. Merchants should also make every effort to ensure that unsuitable or inappropriate material does not reach consumers, and warnings should be given regarding material that may be unsuitable or inappropriate for children or other consumers.
This article provides an overview of the China eCommerce market customer experience expectation – we have produced a full country guide covering in-depth information on multiple aspects of trading into this territory including logistics, payments, legal framework and marketing.
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