China’s citizens are one of the world’s most distrustful consumer groups. They’ve experienced a litany of consumer safety failures and counterfeit products are also rife. As a result, customers are very wary of what they buy and their decision process reflects this.
Chinese consumers tend to rely heavily on two main sources of information to help them navigate the hazards of shopping. The first is the advice of their peers, and the second is product reviews.
Research from sources including Data Driven Marketing Asia repeatedly shows that Chinese consumers prefer to consult reviews before they make purchasing decisions.
For that reason, it’s highly beneficial to brands to have good reviews that are easily accessible to customers at the right stage in their decision journey.
Good reviews aren’t just helpful for persuading customers to buy your product – having positive reviews can also raise your profile on marketplace sites such as Tmall. That’s an important consideration in China’s crowded marketplaces.
On Tmall, the reviews include scores for service, product and shipping time. The total outcome can influence a customer’s decision to buy from your store on the platform, rather than a competitor’s. It can also help drive traffic to your own store, as consumers will often consult marketplace product and brand reviews before buying directly from a brand’s own website.
With vendors battling for customer attention in China’s highly competitive domestic markets, the importance of maintaining positive reviews has generated some bad behaviour.
It’s not uncommon for vendors to harass reviewers who leave unfavourable reviews of their products, as reported in the LA Times. Taobao has even had to take steps to punish vendors that harass customers leaving reviews.
Since late last year, there have been new regulations aimed at cracking down on sharp practices such as inflating sales, farming positive reviews and deleting bad ones.
Businesses such as Alibaba are also making efforts to clamp down on bad practices and get its own house in order. There’s still a long way to go before review system is a clean one. Unfortunately, it’s a situation that penalises the scrupulous retailer.
Getting good reviews
It’s said that Chinese customers tend to be much more inclined to write reviews compared to other nationalities. Whilst that may be true, it’s still not easy getting customers anywhere to review your products and services.
The restaurant chain, The Pizza Factory, managed to drive valuable reviews in their Guangzhou branch by training staff to charm customers and ask satisfied ones to leave them a review.
In a crowded dining market, the brand aims to delight customers by offering freebies and good service, including actively asking diners if everything is alright – something that isn’t common practice locally.
To understand the review culture in China, it’s important to understand the cultural importance of saving face. It’s probably what motivates vendors to react badly against reviews that are unfavourable.
Because of the importance of saving face, brands should definitely consider responding to all negative reviews in order to repair any perceived loss of respect the brand has shown the customer.
Individual brand websites tend to have low visibility in China’s internet landscape. Instead, brands fight for space in marketplaces and social media platforms. A small number of websites are hugely influential, particularly for luxury brands.
One of these is Baidu Tieba, a community website arranged around different topics. Here, Chinese consumers hotly debate issues, celebrities, products and brands. Baidu Tieba is a good place for brands to create a presence as it’s pretty easy to influence opinion and control your reputation via this channel.
In fact, it’s essential to actively manage this channel to avoid your brand being tarnished by spam and negativity. It’s a good place to face your audience, interact with them, and respond to reviews whether good or bad.
Yoka, another Baidu-owned brand, is a fashion website geared towards high-income consumers and the luxury end of the market. Here, consumers create their own content around brands and products they like.
Other ‘lifestyle’ sites include Only Lady and Rayli, and brands are actively involved with the engaged communities on there in order to influence the chatter.
Brands should also be aware of the power of ‘KOLs’ (Key Online Influencers). These celebrity influencers wield real consumer power in China, often guiding inexperienced consumers through their purchase decisions in ways their immediate friends and family can’t.
One such influencer is Gogoboi (real name Ye Si), a fashion blogger on the Weibo social platform. Louis Vuitton chose to collaborate with the opinionated fashion commentator in 2015 – a controversial decision for the brand and one that divided audiences. Gogoboi is notoriously sharp-tongued, and it wasn’t seen as a smart choice for the brand.
Other influencers in China’s fashion space include Vogue China columnist Dipsy, a milder voice than spiky Gogoboi.
His opinion on fashion collections and his reviews of the latest shows are considered influential. Brands that achieve the right collaboration and find the right blogger voice to represent them can do well in China’s noisy marketplace.
If you’re venturing into China’s noisy marketplace, it’s important to think about your strategy for getting good reviews.
It’s also important to think about where those reviews are – being in the right place online is a vital part of your strategy for penetrating China’ consumer environment. A small number of websites may be extremely important to your success in this market.