Anybody who has done business in China knows that it is a distinct market with rules, etiquette and technological variables that differ greatly from those in, say, North America.

To be successful there, you need to adapt your approach and understand the digital, societal and regulatory framework you’ll be working with.

Here’s what you need to know before you launch an eCommerce site in China.

The Great Wall of China: Hosting Architecture

The Great Wall of China refers to the filters the Chinese government uses to attempts to regulate the Internet in Mainland China; anyone who intends on setting up shop in China should play by the rules. These filters can create latency when people try to access your site through the Mainland, or outright block the access to your website. To offer visitors an optimal experience, you will need to put in place a local Content Delivery Network (see next point) or host your Website locally in China. While you’re at it, do your homework and make sure your hosting company is allowed to provide service in China.

Find the right Content Delivery Network (CDN)

If you choose to host your site outside of China, your website should be supported by a content delivery network (CDN) within mainland China to limit latency. Not only will this speed up page loading times, it will also reduce the chances that your content will be blocked. Chincache and Akamai are two well reputed CDN providers with POPs in China. If you choose to host your site on the Azure or AWS Cloud (IE: outside of China), try publishing your site from a nearby geographical location, Singapore, for example.

Get to know your Chinese platforms: Google + Facebook don’t exist in China

Though China’s population is one of the most connected in the world, the digital platforms that North Americans interact with daily have little or no presence here. Most Chinese have never even heard of Facebook, Youtube or Google.

The trick is to know and understand their equivalents.

  • Facebook = WeiBo
  • Google = Baidu
  • Google Maps = BaiduMap
  • YouTube = YouKu (This one could have tried harder for their name, no?)

Not only are the platforms different entities, they also work differently. Baidu, China’s leading search engine, has an algorithm that works completely differently than Google’s. When building the Chinese version of your site, you’ll need to understand these differences and take them into consideration early on. Our suggestion? Find a local Chinese partner that specializes in SEO. Connect with experts in China to obtain the proper API keys for Baidu and Youku. (FYI: most API services need a SMS validation for activation.)

Did you know? QR codes are widely used in China. Huh.

Payment processing is another area where you’ll need to connect with new, local or locally-approved suppliers.Alipay and China Union Pay came highly recommended.

Mobile-Driven Design

90% of China’s internet population owns a smartphone*, so bring a mobile-first approach to planning, UX design, content strategy and, as importantly, to development. Additional, culturally-aware UX and design efforts will be required, as people’s digital behavior, habits and expectations differ from North-American standards. We learned to make sure the search bar is immediately accessible, everywhere, at all times.

Broadband (lack of) Speed

Broadband or high-speed connectivity isn’t as widespread in China as it is in North-America, so go easy on the images, especially large/heavy images or pages with many, many images, which will load slowly and frustrate users (if you think North Americans are impatient in regards to slow-loading pages, think again).

While you’re at it, be sure to remove any direct calls to anything potentially blocked inside China (Instagram, Google API, Twitter, …), since this only will increase your page load time and have no added value to the end user.

Need help building a Chinese version of your site?

We’re more than just a pretty face. We’ve done the homework, been through the headaches and found then optimized solutions. If you’d like to skip the false starts and go straight to producing a beautiful and profitable Chinese version of your site, we should talk.

* According to Connected Life, a study from global research consultancy TNS

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