10 Ways to Localize Your E-Commerce Business for China

Last Updated April 15, 2021

China

Looking to do business in the world’s fastest growing economy? Here’s how to successfully localize for the Chinese market.

With a population of around 1.4 billion, the People’s Republic of China is the world’s most populous country. That’s a lot of potential customers. But before you set up your virtual stall to tempt them with your wares, here are 10 things you should know before entering the Chinese market.

1. Localize Fully: Chinese Customers Buy from Chinese Businesses

Simply translating an existing e-commerce store into Chinese will prove woefully inadequate in a culture that is so unique in so many ways. Using e-commerce localization techniques to further adapt the translated content to satisfy Chinese cultural and regulatory differences is also unlikely to open doors to the vast Chinese marketplace.

What is required is a kind of ultra-localization that not only addresses every cultural, legal, and linguistic nuance, but does so to such a degree that it practically reinvents the business as authentically Chinese.

An example of this is Airbnb, who went as far as renaming the company Aibiying in order ‘become’ Chinese. Without this level of localization, a non-Chinese business will always be overshadowed by its native competitors.

2. Localize Regionally: There Is No Single Chinese Market

Although Chinese is said to be the most widely spoken language in the world, the language exists in many varieties.

There are two distinct written styles: Simplified Chinese, used in Mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia; and Traditional Chinese, used in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Within these broad classifications are many regional variations of the spoken language, including Mandarin, Min, Pinghua, Yue, Xiang, Hakka, Wu, Hui, Hin, and Gan. Then, within these regional variations, are numerous distinct dialects and cultures.

It is not possible, therefore, to localize for a single Chinese market. Instead, a business must target precise varieties of the country’s language and culture, localizing one region at a time. This is true of localization throughout the Southeast Asian market.

3. Rethink Strategy: Chinese E-commerce Is Different to Western E-commerce

Chinese shoppers’ online experience differs considerably to that of shoppers in the West. A common e-commerce localization mistake is not understanding important differences in order to plan your strategy for a new market.

Online shoppers in China want access to every bit of product information so they can fully compare alternatives before making a purchase. If the necessary content isn’t there, they’ll look elsewhere.

Typically, product content will consist of key bullet points followed by highly detailed information regarding the product’s uses, materials, brand history, and more. There will be numerous pictures, at least one video, and a selection of data to convey everything from the product’s official certification to the number of items sold.

Another major difference is that, unlike in the West, many Chinese brands’ online stores are found within messaging apps and groups. For example, Wechat is China’s most popular messaging app with one billion monthly active users, a majority of whom also use the app to pay bills, order food, book flights, and buy from e-commerce stores.

4. Be Tech-Savvy: Chinese Consumers are Digital Natives

Almost every demographic group in China has embraced life online, particularly shopping. According to figures gathered by Statista, an incredible 904 million people in China have internet access, with more than 99% of them using a smartphone to go online.

China has the world’s largest smartphone market, and the country’s highly engaged app-using population contributed about half of global spending via smartphones in 2019. Popular online shopping platforms, such as Alibaba, Taobao, T-Mall, Kaola, JD.com and Xiaohongshu, are an integral part of many Chinese people’s everyday life.

The vast scale of the Chinese commitment to e-commerce is demonstrated by Singles’ Day, the world’s largest online shopping event, which generates more revenue than the U.S.’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

5. Collect Data: Chinese Privacy Laws Enable a Highly Personalized Service

In China, people are not as concerned about online privacy in the way Western shoppers are. There is an acceptance that sharing personal details and habits with the state and state-sanctioned businesses leads to a better outcome for all.

This allows online merchants to collect more data on consumer behavior than they do in the West and, therefore, deliver a far more personalized shopping experience.

For example, western shoppers are familiar with their browsing and buying history being used to offer recommended products. Online retailers in China do the same, plus they also incorporate all kinds of other data, including location history and analysis of social interaction, to build a detailed, comprehensive picture of each individual customer. The result is a fully curated shopping experience beyond anything offered by companies in the West.

That’s how data is changing e-commerce strategies, and the personalized and frequently updating nature of the online shopping experience is one reason Chinese consumers go online to see what’s new, sometimes many times a day.

6. Be Quick to Help: Customer Service Is an Integral Part of Chinese Online Retail

The Chinese love of product research and a personalized shopping experience is bolstered by an always-there, interventionist, online customer service. While in the West, customer service is who you contact if there’s a problem, in China, it’s more like a hands-on personal assistant.

Shoppers ask detailed questions regarding the product, payment, delivery… they even haggle! Chinese people regularly haggle with traders in physical markets, and the same is also true online. Shoppers request discounts and the customer service representative will negotiate while also suggesting other offers, such as multi-buy deals.

Customer service is also there for the vendors, doing whatever they can to boost the performance of Chinese sellers and improve their interaction with buyers.

7. Exude Quality: An Impressive Brand is a Big Selling Point

How a person is perceived by their peers is an extremely important part of Chinese culture. This notion of ‘face’ traditionally reflects the respect, honor, and social standing of a person. Nowadays, this is expressed by the products they purchase.

That is why the Chinese are big on brands. You might have the perfect product to offer someone, but if it won’t impress their neighbor, you’ll have a hard job selling it.

8. Localize Your SEO: Western SEO Won’t Work on the Chinese Web

It is vital for a business to maintain visibility in China’s crowded and competitive digital marketplace. But simply translating, or even adapting, Western SEO for the Chinese online market will not succeed.

This is because online users in China do not use Google to search, they use Baidu—and Baidu only considers content in Chinese. So, if all your five-star reviews and clickbait blogs are in English, Baidu will simply ignore them.

To attract quality online traffic in China, a website should be content-heavy and primed with carefully selected keywords optimized in the visible text as well as the back-end title and description. On top of this, businesses typically battle for recognition using a variety of other online content, such as third-party references and pay-per-click ads.

Clearly, this all requires a native knowledge of the language, culture, and online habits of the Chinese consumer.

9. Be Social: Online Forums Are the Source of Trusted Recommendations

When researching products and services, Chinese people tend to trust personal rather than official recommendations. As the state is so deeply ingrained in most sources of information in China, shoppers turn to ‘private’ forums for impartial insight.

They are highly active on forums—leaving reviews, offering recommendations, and sharing information. This content impacts businesses in another way as well. Search engines, such as Baidu, rate forum posts highly when calculating search results. So, both content created by members of the public and by the business itself have a significant impact on rankings and reputation.

Businesses must be familiar with China’s leading social media platforms, from both a marketing and a social engagement perspective. WeChat Moments, for example, offers users a platform where they can combine text messages, images, and video to engage and interact with everyone from individuals to big business.

10. Deal with Bureaucracy: Chinese Business Regulations are Extensive and Ever-Changing

All aspects of people’s lives in China are highly regulated, and business is no exception. Unlike in the West, Chinese business bureaucracy changes on an almost weekly basis. This means processes, documentation, and agreements must be constantly reviewed and updated to satisfy the latest edicts.

Furthermore, the Chinese authorities treat intellectual property (IP) rights differently to the West, requiring a slew of documentation to be completed with linguistic precision. Without this, a business can’t hope to take full advantage of potentially lucrative opportunities in the Chinese markets.

Does Your Business Speak China’s Language?

To seize commercial opportunities in China, Western businesses must meet all the challenges listed in this article—and that requires e-commerce localization solutions on a scale much larger than the famous Great Wall.

That is why any expansion into the Chinese market should begin with Summa Linguae Technologies.

Contact us today and prepare your business for success in the world’s fastest growing economy.

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