Thursday, January 28, 2016

When Clutter is Effective: Cultural Differences in eCommerce


I spent this past winter visiting family in Asia. While taking a break from stuffing myself with dumplings, I explored a few local eCommerce websites. I had heard so much from my friends about the great deals and unlimited options for just about any product on websites such as Alibaba and Tmall, so I decided to try them out myself. It didn’t take me long to notice differences from the online shopping experience that I was used to in the United States. Let’s take a look at two of the biggest eCommerce websites in the world today, Amazon and Tmall. Tmall could be considered Amazon’s equivalent in China. There are glaring differences between the layouts of the two websites. There is much more text on the Tmall homepage as well generous usage of outdated applications, such as flash. Notice how the Amazon website directs the viewers’ attention towards images of the products. In comparison, Tmall’s website displays all the categories of the products. Furthermore, there is copious amounts of text describing deals and promotions.


TMall Cropped

Differences are even more pronounced when looking at product descriptions. Tmall’s website includes pages on pages of photos and specifications. In the example below, the merchants even provided a tutorial on how to differentiate between their product and knockoffs!

Tmall 2 cropped

To the Western eye, this layout may seem busy and cluttered. Yet, many of the most visited websites in Asia are crammed with lengthy text descriptions and an abundance of photos. My first instinct was to think that web developers in Asia are simply behind the curve in design. However, after doing a little research I realized that there are reasons for these differences.

First, there is a cultural difference between Asian and Western consumers. Asian consumers tend to be less easily swayed by catchy headlines or images than their Western counterparts. Therefore lengthy descriptions and technical specifications become extremely important in the selling a product.

Second, there is a difference in the offline shopping experience of Asian and Western online shoppers. Many of these people have a lack of access to alternative retailing. This proves to be especially true for many shoppers living in rural China. These consumers do not have the opportunity to see the product in person before making a purchase. For these people, the pictures posted on ecommerce websites may be the only resource they have before spending their hard earned cash. Therefore it becomes much more important for them to see technical descriptions as well as photos of small details.

In a blog post that Jason Fields wrote a few months ago, he provided some facts about globalization in the digital world. In 2013, 79% of the users of Top 10 Global Websites were non-English speakers. That number increased to 86% in 2014. Globalization is also having a profound effect in eCommerce. Current research shows that 40% of worldwide internet users have bought products or goods online via desktop, mobile, tablet or other online devices. This amounts to more than 1 billion online buyers. Asia-Pacific is currently one of the fastest rising regions for eCommerce. B2C commerce in China alone grew by 63.8 in 2014 alone. Asia as a geographic eCommerce market is now twice as big as the U.S. online retailing market and also growing twice as fast. Some may argue that websites such as Alibaba and TMall are not the most beautifully designed websites. However, when making such claim, one has to consider that they are catered to a specific audience that may prefer such layout. These websites are designed to answer the concerns of the cautious consumers as well as provide a shopping experience for those who do not have the privilege of visiting traditional retail stores.