3 Must-Know Things to Design Websites & APPs for China’s Market

ChiaYen Chiu
Dec 19, 2018 · 5 min read
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The first thing I did upon arriving in Shanghai last year was to get a phone number, which is more important than opening a bank account. Why’s that? If you don’t have any phone number in China, you can’t get many things done, especially at the moment when you are about to register APPs. You’ll learn that the only way you can sign up with is a phone number, not even an email.

As time goes by, I’m getting familiar with the local life style and the great difference of China’s internet ecosystems. Being a UX designer who designs digital products for Chinese with one-year experience and observation, I sum up three design tips that facilitate your design of mobile APPs and websites for China’s market.

Subscribe WeChat Official Accounts - No Email Newsletters!

WeChat is the most-used messenger APP in China, driving lots of services and products. So as to design products, you have to understand WeChat ecosystems first. What is the official account while WeChat has several services? We can take it as sort of the Facebook fan page where companies and brands can publish their feeds and articles. Plus, there is a bottom navigation menu companies can put information or links to other websites at. More than that, WeChat official accounts have chatbots, which users input specific texts and will get corresponding answers. Take an official account where I read research reports as an example:

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See photo 2: a simple chatbot. Input the title of the report, the download link will be shown up.

The reason why email newsletter subscriptions are not common is because not only WeChat official accounts can publish news feed by companies and brands but also registration with a phone number is a major way at the most of SaaSs in China. Therefore, we can see emails are rarely used in China’s digital products and needless to say, users don’t subscribe newsletters by email. By contrast, everybody has WeChat and uses it every day. It’s easier and more efficient for people to acquire information on companies and brands through WeChat official accounts.

So when designing the product, we can add a QR code of the WeChat official account that users can scan to subscribe. But you may come up with one scenario, what can we do if users browse the website on the phone? Scan the QR code with just one phone? Impossible! In fact, many users open websites in the WeChat in-app browser, which has a built-in feature to scan QR code in image just by long press. What if users open the website in other browsers? I’ve seen many people do a screenshot of the QR code and send it to WeChat file transfer (it’s like a personal dialog window to take a note or send any file and link to ourselves), and scan the QR code by long press. Interestingly, users invent a new way that people taking cover of this product haven’t thought users would use the product this way.

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Use Mobile Payments - Smartphones Anytime & Anywhere

We’ve heard that mobile payments are very common and convenient in China. Even market and street food vendors provide QR code that you can scan to pay. There’re two major mobile payment services, Ali Pay and WeChat Pay. To use mobile payments, we simply scan QR codes from shops with WeChat Pay or Ali Pay and then finish paying with security verification. However, another scenario is that users need to open mobile payment APPs on the phone to scan QR codes on the PC. The rest of payment process will be completed on the mobile device. So we can imagine users should use PCs and smartphones together to finish paying on a desktop website. We can’t barely rely on websites to finish mobile payments so far. Obviously, smartphones take an important role in China digital ecosystems.

WeChat External Links - a Unrevealed Secret

So here is the most incredible part I personally think. After using WeChat for a while, I’ve found out some links can’t be opened directly on WeChat(blocked websites by China firewall excluded). They always require me to copy the link and open in another browser. Later on, I realize WeChat officially block some external links. It’s not hard to guess which competitor’s services are blocked for good — Wechat’s parent company is Tencent. Here are two examples: one is when I choose to pay with Ali Pay in WeChat in-app browser, it shows up a warning page that suggests me visiting the website in other browsers with the copied address.

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The other scenario is when we want to share a product we see in TaoBao with friends, it turns out a piece of unreadable texts after shared to WeChat. Interestingly, users can just copy the text and open TaoBao APP, and then the product page will be open directly in the APP. We can see how Alibaba deal with WeChat’s ‘policy’.

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So a sweet reminder, if your products have Ali services or any other blocked external links by WeChat, remember to design a page that reminds users of copying the address and visiting in other browsers. As a designer, we can just lower users’ inconvenience with design. Speaking of business, user experience isn’t the priority.

If you like my article, you can encourage me by giving me a clap. Welcome to leave a comment and discuss, thank you :)

Chia’s UX Cha

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