User Design: East and West

User Design: East and West

Nowadays it should be common knowledge that the “true” localization of an e-commerce site to specific target markets is not just a gimmick. It’s a a necessity. In order to provide a shopping experience similar to local competitors and compete successfully for the attention and spending of local online shoppers, your site must be localized.

One of the major items for online retailers to consider when localizing to a target market, especially markets like China, Japan, Korea, or other East Asian online markets, is the adaption of the UX and web design to match local aesthetic and design best practices and user expectations.

Anyone who has ever visually compared a US/western e-commerce site to a Chinese or Japanese site will agree that design and UX differences are easy to spot – and manifold.

It starts with the home page. On US e-commerce sites, the home page is usually reduced to a few main elements that are designed to grab the attention of online shoppers, like popular products or promotions. This is in stark contrast to Chinese or East Asian e-commerce sites which, for western eyes, may on first view seem overloaded with text, images, links, and moving elements.

This difference is based on a different expectation about the perceived credibility of an e-commerce merchant and how a website of a big merchant should look. Online shoppers in East Asia expect a site to provide as much content as possible on the first page, as well as images, promotions, and multiple entry points into categories.

Research has shown that East Asian online shoppers scan the visual content of a page in a quick, comprehensive way and may therefore perceive much of the content not as overwhelming, but as informative, and they are able to quickly focus on subjective points of interest.

If we look at product pages, we see a similar pattern where US e-commerce merchants may provide only the relevant information of a product, including images from different angles and potentially 1-2 close-ups. Compared to that, product pages on Chinese or East Asian sites tend to be much longer and usually contain at a minimum:

  • Product images from all angles and close-ups of material and labels
  • Extensive product information, usually with many images and icons highlighting the advantages of the product
  • Further instructions on how to handle the product, suggestion for usage, washing instructions etc.
  • Licenses, awards and recognitions of the product and/or the business or merchant itself

On top of that, the power of user reviews and ratings to trigger purchase decisions of East Asian online users is not to be underestimated. Especially in markets such as China where balanced, true and unfiltered information is harder to come by, informative reviews and product descriptions of other users take on a much more important role than in western markets.

While further factors like checkout experience are all important, the suggestions I’ve laid out here should be seen as the minimum considerations for a localized e-commerce site.