How to Drive Digital Success in Asia: New York Roundtable Recap

June 4, 2019

Last week, ForwardPMX hosted a round table event in our New York City offices at One World Trade Center, led by Chief International Officer, Hannes Ben, and APAC and Russia Director, Yanyan Froud.

The session covered a range of key topics particularly relevant to US-based, as well as global brands, looking to expand successfully into Asian markets, and reach consumers across mainland China, South Korea and Japan – including: an overview of the opportunity, the importance of understanding culture and preferences of consumers in these countries, the nuances of the native platforms, and a variety of case studies to demonstrate challenges and success stories of businesses breaking into Asia.

Brands in attendance came from diverse backgrounds and verticals, making for an extremely engaged and thought-provoking conversation. In fact, many expressed shared challenges when it comes to evaluating new opportunities and determining success in Asia.

“When there started to be a lot of buzz about China, everyone wanted to get into the market. Businesses were pushing a lot of budget in and expecting it to work. But, you need a very different structure in China. There are a huge number of channels – and huge opportunity – but there’s much more nuance than brands might realize.” – Hannes Ben, Chief International Officer

Some challenges we heard:

  • “We don’t know if the data we have is good data. Attribution and reporting is a challenge, as is transparency and trust.”
  • “There’s friction between global consumer expectations and local consumer expectations.”
  • “It’s challenging to enter a market without having local marketing or social teams on the ground that understand consumers and the platforms.”
  • “Translating our story that works in the US to something that resonates and is meaningful for consumers and culture in APAC is something we’re still working on.”
  • “We’re not sure when we should be driving consumers from local platforms to our US websites, or to localized websites.”
  • “We moved full speed ahead in the Chinese market, and things grew too big, too fast before we were properly prepared.”

Some key talking points from session leaders:

Getting the Basics Right: Website Localization Impact

Conversion rates are significantly higher when sites are localized, particularly in Japan, where there is a 345% increase in conversion rate when the website is properly localized. While brand awareness is extremely critical in Japan, trust is even more important. Brands must work to build trust and loyalty by creating relevant (and accurate), local experiences.

In Korea, even though consumers are generally less versed in the English language, they actually show higher conversion rates on US e-commerce websites than consumers in Japan and China.  

“Even the really big brands are still not getting it right because of poor localization of the websites.” – Hannes Ben, Chief International Officer

Getting the Basics Right: Payment Methods & Shipping Expectations

International payment options like PayPal are good to offer, but local payment options are sometimes required. For instance, in Korea, consumers are used to paying through KakaoPay and LinePay.

In China, consumers expect free delivery. In fact, you may have someone willing to spend $1500 on a handbag, but unwilling to pay any amount for shipping. Instead, these consumers will look for another site that offers delivery free of charge. Consumers in China, Korea and Japan are very price sensitive, often comparing and shopping around. Some are more tolerant of delivery time frames. Shoppers in Korea, for instance, are more flexible with shipping time – they’ll wait up to 2 weeks for product, because they know it’s something they can’t necessarily get elsewhere, and so it’s worth the wait.   

Understanding the Consumer: Influencers

“In China, internet penetration is only at around 57% in a population of 1.4 billion people. But even still, this represents huge potential for businesses. Imagine if one day, that percentage grows to 80% penetration. This is the huge opportunity that exists.”  – Yanyan Froud, APAC & Russia Director

In China, the number one thing that people talk about, both on social and in how they search, is influencers. People place extreme value in influencers’ opinions, and quite often instead of searching phrases like “the top restaurant in X”, people are searching “influencer X’s recommended restaurant”.

Influencers Quick Facts:

  • In China, more than 80% of digital shoppers take reviews from social e-commerce platforms into consideration before making a purchase.
  • In Japan, Instagram & Twitter (more for teenagers) have the strongest influence on shopping decisions. Instagram is particularly strong in age group 25-38.
  • In Korea, Naver Blog & Café and Instagram & Facebook have the strongest influence on shopping decisions. Instagram is particularly strong in age group 20-35.

In general, consumers across China, Japan and South Korea are extremely social savvy. 80% of the Korean population are social users, while 75% and 78% of the respective populations in Japan and China are social users. 

For more on how to invest intelligently in China, check out this overview from Yanyan Froud.

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