Why European brands are letting down Chinese consumers

This is a contributed piece by Alex Nam, Managing Director at CDNetworks Europe

With more than 700 million internet users, it is no secret that the Chinese online market provides a huge opportunity for European brands hoping to expand globally. While Chinese consumers are aware of the country’s slowing economic growth, consumer spending has remained steady. A trend towards high quality products and services has helped set European brands apart from their native counterparts. However, this advantage is undermined by the Great Firewall of China, which is causing many European brands’ websites to have unacceptably long load times. A recent report by CDNetworks revealed a staggering 85% of European brands fail to load in 4.8 seconds – the amount of time deemed acceptable by Chinese consumers. The actual average load time of European brands' websites in China is 33.1 seconds – almost seven times longer.

For Chinese web users, expectations of European website performance are far outstripping reality. As expected, web users are becoming increasingly impatient with European websites and feel overlooked and undervalued by European brands. It is clear that failing to conquer the Great Firewall has significant implications for brands entering the Chinese market. Using CDNetworks’ research, we look through the lens of the Chinese consumer to understand the damaging effect that poor web performance is having on foreign brands in China.


The Great Firewall is not an excuse

More than half of Chinese web users are familiar with the technical challenges and regulatory issues which can impede a foreign brand trying to access China. But despite recognising the problem at hand, consumers do not regard the Great Firewall as a valid excuse for slow web performance; especially as they know that there are ways for brands to overcome it.

On the other hand, 46% of users are completely unaware of the challenges that the Great Firewall presents – meaning that these consumers are even less tolerant of slow performing websites.

Either way, Chinese users feel that European brands don’t value their custom. They either know that the brands haven’t bothered to tackle the well-known Firewall problem, or the brands seem to have simply not designed a sufficiently high-performance website. With expectations this high, European brands need to tackle the Firewall quickly if they want to attract the attention of Chinese web users.


Perception is reality

The effect of this poor performance from European brands’ websites means that the majority of Chinese users (60%) are actively avoiding non-Chinese brands’ websites. What is perhaps more concerning is that for 85% of Chinese users, they assume that this poor website performance indicates reduced trustworthiness, reliability and security. Similar to users in Europe, Chinese web users who are made to wait can’t help but feel that the website cannot be trusted. More than half (57%) of users make a link between poor website performance and likely substandard security.


Acting on the suspicions

So what do Chinese web users do once they feel let down or suspicious of a slow website? Unfortunately, the immediate reaction of a third of users is to avoid the website altogether and try an alternative, competitive provider. This is a huge portion of potential web traffic that is immediately lost to a native company. For a European business targeting China, this can be the difference between success and failure in the market. Most Chinese users (54%) are less likely to visit a poorly performing website again, and even those that do try again can hardly be guaranteed a positive experience on the website the second time around.

Eventually, negative word of mouth can harm the reputation of foreign brands that have not effectively tackled the Great Firewall. The majority (69%) are less likely to recommend a brand with a poorly-performing website to their peers, which instantly removes the positive ripple effect of good customer service that so many brands rely on.

It is clear that European brands are not doing enough to meet the expectations of Chinese web users, reflected in the immediate negative effect on sales and reputation. Many Chinese consumers will only discover and engage with European brands online, so a fast-loading, accessible website is absolutely critical to have a chance of success. Where first impressions are everything, businesses need to take the time to understand the Great Firewall of China and how it can affect web performance – and address it. Only by meeting the high expectations of Chinese web users can European brands take advantage of the huge opportunity that China presents.


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