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8 app design principles for localising in China

25th October 2021

How could Euro-centric apps be redesigned to better suit the preferences of consumers in China? We've identified 8 key design principles.

In our previous report, we explored Chinese and SEA superapp trends and outlined some experience principles we observed. To take our insights further, we've applied these findings to two industries: e-commerce and payments.

With that said, other complex factors beyond user interface design such as business strategy and design, monetisation and outreach also contribute to making localisation efforts successful.

Payments

China’s “mobile-first” environment led to the rapid rise of mobile payments, with some users completely leapfrogging the use of credit cards. The proliferation of digital wallets and QR scanning has simplified transactions in China, making it convenient to set up and pay peers or merchants.

The Chinese mobile payment adoption rate (86%) is significantly higher than their credit card adoption rate (21%). Coupled with superapp behaviours that Chinese users are accustomed to, there is a greater expectation for financial apps to serve as a one-stop-shop for all financial needs. This paints a contrast to Euro-centric apps that typically perform specific tasks, such as Venmo for peer-to-peer payments. Already, Euro-centric payment apps like PayPal are starting to ride the superapp wave by building parallel financial functions like crypto investments and savings into their applications.

Redesigning payments for the Chinese market

Based on the experience principles we have gathered from studying a range of Chinese superapps, and from understanding their people’s cultural outlook regarding money, we redesigned a Euro-centric finance app to serve these behaviours and expectations.  

Our changes were informed by three design principles: 

  • Create easy access to online-to-offline integrations like QR Codes.
  • Reposition the homepage as a gateway to mini-apps and third-party apps.
  • Capture the significance of gifting money and the importance of guan xi (relationships)
Design principle 1: Create easy access to online-to-offline integrations like QR Codes

Scanning QR codes is an essential way to pay for things in China. Due to the low cost of adoption for merchants, QR code payments have become ubiquitous. QR code scanners, digital wallets and token wallets are given visual prominence in the top segment of most payment apps. 

Chinese apps use online-to-offline integrations, made possible by accessing the hardware components like the camera and GPS of the phone, to create a more convenient user experience. They enable fast, easy payments by prioritising people nearby or recent payees.

QR 01 Finance compressed
Design principle 2: Reposition the homepage as a gateway to mini-apps and third party apps

In contrast to the clean and minimal homepages of Euro-centric apps, it’s common to see multiple icons calling for your attention on the homepages of Chinese superapps. There is a large amount of functionality within a superapp, so the home screen is designed as an entry point to different services that exist within the ecosystem.

Unlike Euro-centric apps that have a dedicated use case, Chinese superapps house a variety of mini apps such as donations, in-app games, bill payments, budgeting and booking services. Additional third party integrations like JD.com (e-commerce) and Didi (ride hailing) allow users to complete all transactions, even if they’re from another service or brand, without having to leave the app. These mini-app and third party integrations allow users to directly purchase products and services from other merchants, instead of having to download merchant-specific apps to make the transaction, building loyalty in this payment method. 

This feature carousel provides a quick way for users to navigate through the ecosystem of services.

Homepage 02 Finance
Design principle 3: Capture the significance of gifting money and the importance of guan xi (relationships)

Guanxi, a fundamental concept in Chinese culture, is a set of beliefs in building relationships and taking the additional effort to purposefully foster trust. This concept can be manifested in social gifting and was one of WeChat’s original features. 

Traditionally, red packets (hongbao) signify good luck and well wishes when gifted to another party. Typically they hold a less transactional, more personal, meaning compared to simply sending money to someone.  

To capture the unique significance of gifting money in Chinese culture, we have added an additional payment mode of gifting a red packet. On gifting a red packet, the background becomes more auspicious and the user is able to attach a voice note or click on the tags to quickly add a message.

This way, the intention behind the transaction for both the payee and the receiver feels more festive and celebratory and less transactional, encapsulating the essence of guanxi and the significance of gifting money.  

GuanXi 03 Finance
E-commerce

China has become one of the fastest growing ecommerce markets in the world, accelerated by the ease and rise of mobile payments. In China, ecommerce superapps are more than one-stop shopping platforms; they incorporate novel shopping formats like livestreaming and group buys, while tying everything together with a convenient payment wallet. 

Chinese shopping formats contrast with Euro-centric ecommerce apps and websites where peer reviews are static with users typically looking outside the application to find rich multimedia content about products. 

Redesigning e-commerce for the Chinese market

As with finance applications, we used our experience principles and insight to redesign Euro-centric ecommerce apps to serve Chinese cultural and digital behaviours. 

We based our redesign on the following design principles:

  • Create a bazaar-like qifen (atmosphere) with seasonal deals and lively banners.
  • Offer alternatives to text input for search.
  • Use more rich media and attractive promotions to promote engagement.
  • Highlight information that builds legitimacy around the merchant and product.
  • Create opportunities for social exchanges within communities.
Design principle 1: Create a bazaar-like qifen (atmosphere) with seasonal deals and lively banners

Monthly shopping and promotions (1.1, 10.10, 11.11) are common in China. Singles’ day (11.11), the Chinese equivalent of Black Friday, was pioneered by Alibaba and its success ushered in more monthly shopping festivals that featured attractive deals and sales across shopping platforms. These festivals encourage shoppers to flock to the app on those days to benefit from flash deals and the joy of getting a good bargain. Such tactics have shown success in consumer retention through repeated use of the platform for online purchases.

Malls and markets are an integral part of the Chinese consumer culture and apps are seen as a digital extension of a physical mall. During these sales and festive periods, apps use digital real estate to advertise exclusive deals, using eye-catching banners to create a bazaar-like atmosphere.

Homepage 01 Ecom
Design principle 2: Offer alternatives to text input for search

Due to the complexity of Chinese characters, as compared to Roman alphabets, Chinese users are less likely to rely solely on text for inputting searches. This means the majority of localised digital apps offer alternative input methods like speech-to-text, QR code scans, images, tags etc. Predictive search functions like prefilling the search box with ongoing and relevant deals better guide people’s search paths with minimal input from them.

Search 02 Ecom Revised
Design principle 3: Use more rich media and attractive promotions to create engagement

Due to the mobile-first nature in China, content is often consumed on the go. Many users prefer rich, bite-sized media as it allows them to consume information quickly. Compared to Euro-centric apps, Chinese apps use more videos and rich images to showcase products in different contexts. Livestream videos also allow influencers to promote products and answer viewers’ questions, providing a seamless and engaging content-to-commerce experience. 

Beyond rich media, promotions and flash deals create immediacy and demand around purchases. Prominent discount banners are often accompanied by countdown timers. 

Rich Media 03 Ecom compressed
Design principle 4: Highlight information that builds legitimacy around the merchant and the product 

With the threat of counterfeiting, the first thing Chinese shoppers want to know is if the seller and the product are legitimate. Compared to Euro-centric apps, merchant information and credibility tags are more common and upfront. Product thumbnails and pages often feature authentication marks like rating stars and refund guarantees as well as seller authenticity labels. Merchant statistics like sales volumes and the number of returns are also prominent.

Trust 04 Ecom Revised 03 v2
Design principle 5: Create opportunities for social exchanges within communities

Social commerce in China is a growing trend where users share their buys with their network for product recommendations or group discounts. Through social media or peer-to-peer messaging, users can round up other buyers to secure group purchase discounts. Chinese e-commerce apps have extended their one-click-sharing features to copying links, downloading pages, sharing to WeChat, videos and more.

Social Media 05 Ecom Revised

Chinese consumers trust and heavily rely on user-generated reviews and recommendations for validation before purchase, as opposed to marketing materials or sponsored reviews. Users do not shy away from posting honest reviews about their purchases, generously supporting them with images and videos. This review section is often more extensive and in-depth than that of Euro-centric apps, serving as a trusted source where users can assess the quality of products.

Review 06 Ecom Updated 02
Wrapping up

What works in one market might not work in another; good UX is not universal. Localising your product for another region requires a deeper understanding of cultural nuances, trends and the reasons behind them. 

Global brands have to stay flexible and be adaptable in repurposing parts of their brand and design guidelines to create experiences that appeal to the preferences of users in different regions.

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