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Tower of Babel: Global E-commerce Development Breaks Language Barriers

China officially passed the U.S. in e-commerce in 2013 with $296.57 billion sales in total, which set off a rush for brands entering China. At the early cross border ecommerce stage, Daigou, or overseas personal shoppers who buy and send luxury goods to customers in China, has played an important role and has grown to an estimated market value of about $14 billion in 2014. U.S retailers want to play an active role and a U.S. retailer enabling an ecommerce site for China market is a way to tap the huge and dynamic market.

This move, however, is usually complicated, expensive and not easy to manage for most brands and retailers. While big names like Amazon has resources to open a T-Mall store, run its .cn website and set up local warehouse, launching a Chinese website is not a quick decision for most brands to make at ease. Besides budget limit, the majority of the brands simply don’t have enough human resources to maintain a good Chinese website.

The implementation of a Chinese website can be on the heels of other efforts in this marketplace such as offering shipping and payment support, where UnionPay and AliPay are the predominant players.

Brands can also do performance-based advertising before launching a Chinese website. After testing water in the Chinese market through Internet marketing, branding and advertising, brands can have a deeper understanding of the local market and more knowledge to make the decision whether they want to roll out a Chinese website and soup up their China strategy.

BorderX Lab has served multi-scope clients, including retailers and individual brands. One of our retailer clients has been cultivating in China for over eight years and it launched a fully-translated Mandarin site, email messaging in Mandarin and a weibo account (the most popular Chinese micro-blogging platform) three years ago. It took long before their Chinese website was born.

It reveals that Chinese consumers made $12.5B worth of goods from overseas ecommerce websites in 2013 and the number keeps growing. Chinese customers are growing increasingly savvy about overseas goods. These sophisticated middle-class consumers purchase goods directly from English website. There is not much language barrier for this well-educated group and high-quality goods/services, authenticity and reasonable pricing are their top priority. High-end retailers such as Bloomingdales and Gilt have seen meaningful Chinese traffic without a Chinese website.

There are also online communities and blogs teaching people who don’t speak English how to purchase on English websites ( The information on these websites are detailed and vividly presented with pictures. Chinese consumers can go smoothly with their purchases step by step following the instructions.

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