The mad, mad world of China e-commerce

By Kristie Lu Stout, CNN Anchor & host of “On China”

CNN Anchor & host of “On China”–One hot mess. That’s what you’ll see on the front page of any leading e-commerce site in China. There’s a maddening array of banner ads, and rows upon rows of links and icons touting promotions and discounts. It’s a jarring user interface that seems to bring out the worst in Web design. And it was designed that way. “They want this shopping atmosphere,” says Yu Gang, Chairman and founder of Yihaodian, one of China’s leading online retailers. “Our consumers like a page that is very crowded, busy with a lot of links so they can open lots of windows at the same time.” David Wei, China tech investor and former CEO of e-commerce giant Alibaba, couldn’t agree more: “When I worked for Alibaba, I cleaned the homepage to an international standard. It doesn’t work.” Ahead of the upcoming Alibaba IPO, I got the full download from China’s e-commerce insiders this month for CNN’s “On China.” They tell me that in the mad, mad world of Mainland e-commerce, the rules of the road from the West simply don’t apply. The superlative stats are well known: China has the world’s largest online population with over 591 million Internet users. China is the world’s second-largest online retailing market, clocking in up to US$210 billion in sales in 2012. Taobao, Alibaba’s consumer e-commerce engine, boasts sales bigger than eBay and Amazon combined.

The scale of China’s e-commerce market is tantalizing. But it’s also a tough one to crack due in part to inadequate delivery services throughout the country. “The logistics industry is very fragmented in China, with the likes of UPS and FedEx in China still unable to provide nationwide coverage and quality service,” Yu points out.