China’s e-commerce industry has been growing rapidly in recent years. Looking forward, that trend is only going to continue as total projected sales are estimated to reach $364 billion by 2015, rivaling both the U.S. and U.K online shopping markets. This increase reflects not only a surge in the number of e-commerce sites, but also a trend to adopt interaction design patterns common in most countries and implement usability tips specific to Chinese versions of websites. But what specific shifts and trends have emerged as a result?
1. Home pages are more organized and less crowded, especially for sites designed to attract young professionals in big cities. For example, Tmall.com, the largest B2C site in China, has their product information organized in a way that conforms to Chinese users’ expectations of shopping in a typical multi-floor department store.
These sites abandon the principle of putting as many items as possible on the most visible area, which was the hallmark of earlier Chinese sites. Instead, to convey a sense of fashion and sophistication, big images showing featured products or promotion information usually occupy the center area of the home page, similar to many Western sites.
2. A minimalist style is used throughout the site. One reason many Chinese e-commerce sites are less crowded is that they have embraced the minimalist style popular on sites in Western regions. The effects of adopting this style can be seen throughout multiple Chinese e-commerce sites, such as fashion e-commerce portals like JuMei.com and MeLiShuo, which have home pages structured so contents are only shown within a set column area.
Product pages that incorporate large amounts of white space or borderless tables used to be considered odd or incomplete. Now, these same elements are accepted as good design principles for e-commerce sites.
3. Many sites use a low-saturation color scheme. In the past, Chinese e-commerce sites were known for their use of high-saturation color palettes, but this is beginning to change. Sites that sell cosmetic and other fashion-related products in particular are opting for low-saturation color schemes instead.
For example, the popular fashion and group buying sites Xiu.com and MeiTuan.com are known for their application of bright colors to highlight price information, while leaving most of the background area colored with white, light blue, or other neutral tones.
4. Animation is limited to change-on-hover images. While eye-grabbing animation and floating images are still popular on the Chinese portal sites, these flashy elements are, for the most part, absent from most major e-commerce sites. Instead, the more controllable “change-upon-hover” images are used.
Sites like 360buy.com and TaoBao.com, for example, all use the static images to show users promotional information. This allows the user to have control over the changing of the images and choose what they would like to see.
5. Image-rich sites are still inaccessible to most mobile users. According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), 37.5 million online shoppers in China purchased products via their smartphones during the first half of 2012 alone. But since bandwidth for Chinese mobile users still remains limited with expensive data transmission charges, sites with multiple images and animated visual effects are inaccessible to these users.
With Chinese consumers growing increasingly intrigued by the idea of constant connectivity, it’s important for companies to create mobile-friendly versions of e-commerce sites (i.e., sites without high-resolution and change-on-hover images) to circumvent these mobile restrictions and limitations in order to satisfy users who do a large amount of online shopping on their mobile devices.
6. The use of credit cards is cumbersome but easier. Credit card validation has improved over the years, but can still often be cumbersome when making online purchases. Compared to Western countries – where entering a card number, CVC (card verification code), and an expiration date is all that is needed to validate a credit card – cardholders in China are required to have their credit cards associated with a cell phone, so that a verification code needed to complete the transaction can be sent to the phone. This process, however, is an improvement as the earlier use of bank-provided dongles was often confusing to users.
Organizations looking to create Chinese versions of their sites should take into account these current design trends, as well as other user-centered design principles, to create intuitive interfaces for meeting users’ expectations and needs.
Readers, what other Chinese website design trends do you think we’ll see in 2013?
Yilin Zhou is a User Experience Analyst at GfK with an interdisciplinary background in design, research and a special interest in aesthetic perception. Contact Zhou at firstname.lastname@example.org.