Question: What are Chinese consumers looking for in an online shopping experience? What would you describe as the main reason websites aimed at Chinese consumers fail?
Answer: News about Chinese tech companies making their way to Wall Street has been raising awareness about the vast potential Chinese market for U.S. small businesses. China is definitely interested in American-made goods. Here are some steps you can take to make sure your website is appealing to these new customers.
First, as I discussed recently, you need a website in Chinese. Make sure the site is created by a native Mandarin speaker who can convey the culture of your brand without a clunky verbatim translation that will fall flat, says James Chan, president of Asia Marketing & Management.
The main obstacle to selling online in China is the pervasive fear of being cheated or of buying a pirated product. “You need to find the best way of making a Chinese customer in front of a computer comfortable with the fact that you really have a brick-and-mortar company on American soil,” Chan says.
Pictures are a must: an exterior shot of your office or shop, a map showing your location, and pictures of you and your staff. A video of you talking about your business and its history (include Chinese subtitles) and giving a tour of your premises will go a long way. “Some companies ship orders with a certificate that says, ‘This product is made in America,’” Chan says. “Others will wrap the product in their city’s American newspaper for that day. Anything that authenticates you will help.”
Your site should also feature lots of good pictures of your products. “Use different angles, show different colors, and give detailed written descriptions as well,” advises Stanley Chao, managing director of All In Consulting, and author of Selling to China: A Guide to Doing Business in China for Small- and Medium-Sized Companies (2012). “Seeing is believing for the Chinese.”
Anything you can think of that would allow a wary Chinese customer to feel comfortable with your company will help: Your mailing address, your e-mail address, your telephone number. It will cost some money, but if you can, hire a customer service representative who speaks Chinese and can answer telephone queries or at least provide online chat support. “Also, always include 100 percent-guaranteed refunds, or even an added incentive where they get a small credit for the inconvenience of returning something they did not like,” Chao advises.
The piracy problem has prompted Chinese shopping sites such as Taobao.com to institute multilayered customer rating systems for every product, Chan says. You most likely cannot replicate that, but you can include comments on your site—in Mandarin and English—from your Chinese customers. “If others successfully bought your products, then [Chinese customers will think] maybe you are trustworthy.”
Being a small business will put you at a disadvantage in the minds of most Chinese consumers, Chan says, so if your company has any connection to a celebrity or an iconic American brand—such as a major corporation that buys your products, sells them in its retail outlets, or uses your services—trumpet that connection on your site, with pictures, if possible. “Maybe you make a food product that has been served at the White House, or your shoes were worn by an American celebrity,” he suggests. That will appeal to some shoppers in China. “Just make sure you’re being truthful,” Chan says.
Company websites fail in China for the same reasons they fail in the U.S.: They’re done on the cheap, so they are marred by misspellings, ugly design, bad photos, and technical glitches. “I’ve noticed that successful sites are updated frequently, so users want to come back to check for new information, special deals, or more products. This also shows that the site is active, it’s busy, and there are real people behind it,” Chao says.
The bottom line: Take care of your Chinese customers, and they will recommend your company to their friends, show off your products proudly, and visit your store when they’re vacationing in the U.S. When they do, get pictures and put them on your website, Chan says: “If you can build a history in China, where there are millions of people buying and selling online, you’ll win big business there.”