August 14, 2014, 10:12 AM

Foreign retail web sites load slowly in China

Slow-loading web sites could limit sales to Chinese consumers, Catchpoint says.

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China leads the world in online retail sales, and shoppers there will buy $446 billion worth of goods from web sites this year, says Beijing-based market watcher iResearch. But slow-loading web sites may be keeping international retailers and brands from selling to those Chinese online shoppers.

Most top e-commerce sites of non-Chinese companies load slowly in China, says site monitoring firm Catchpoint System Inc. Catchpoint says the problem mostly stems from the unique challenges posed by the techniques the Chinese government uses to monitor, and in some cases block, Internet traffic from outside the country, a system often called the Great Firewall of China.

Using 30 nodes inside mainland China, Catchpoint measured the performance of about 50 major U.S. and international brands web sites from July 1-28. Nodes are measurement points on Internet backbone networks. Based in New York, Catchpoint has more than 200 nodes globally.

Catchpoint selected the companies to monitor from non-Chinese companies ranked in the Internet Retailer China 500. The company monitored the Chinese sites of foreign companies that had them and, if they did not, measured how long it would take to measure a retailer’s primary site in the retailer’s home country.

Almost all the sites load slowly in China, Catchpoint says. The fastest site was that of fashion brand Michael Kors, which clocked an average page response time of 3.5 seconds.

Many other sites were much slower. For example, Armani’s page response times surpassed eight seconds. Sites of Toys ‘R’ Us, Dior, Adidas and Gap loaded more slowly, with pages in some cases taking 20 seconds or longer to load. 

“Generally the response times shouldn’t exceed three seconds, otherwise it will impact online consumer’s experiences and decrease the conversion rate.” Dritan Suljoti, co-founder of Catchpoint tells Internet retailer.

Catchpoint says sites hosted outside of China often load slowly, because they are slowed by the so-called Great Firewall of China. For example, sites with the .cn domain—which are almost always hosted within China—typically are more than twice as fast as sites with .com in their domain names, Catchpoint says.

“Although no one knows exactly how Great Firewall of China works, our research results show that it acts like a speed bump and can slow down sites speed from out of mainland China. “ Suljoti says.

In the past several years, many international companies sought to address this issue by hosting their sites in Hong Kong, because Hong Kong is physically close to mainland China. And Hong Kong doesn’t require companies to acquire the Internet Content Provider license required by the Chinese government for sites hosted within mainland China.    

But this alternative is not very effective. It takes a Chinese consumer twice as long to access a site hosted in Hong Kong than one inside mainland China, according to Catchpoint.

“Since Hong Kong is out of mainland China, it is still influenced by the Great Firewall of China.” Suljoti says, “Besides, more and more international companies set up their servers in Hong Kong. If the backbone bandwidth didn’t increase accordingly, then the networks from Hong Kong to mainland China, like a highway, were jammed by increasing vehicles.”   

Catchpoint says if a company is serious about its Chinese business, it must host its web site on servers in mainland China.

But just moving the servers to mainland China doesn’t ensure a site will load quickly. Catchpoint found that pages load slowly if they contain links to non-Chinese sites that the Chinese firewall system blocks.

For example, most U.S.-based social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, are blocked in China. If a page on a web site includes links to Facebook or Twitter, the load time for that page could be dragged down dramatically, even if the site is hosted inside China.

To help e-retailers improve their web site performance in China, Catchpoint provides the following suggestions:

  1. All web site infrastructures must be located in mainland China.
  2. Eliminate third-party social media elements from U.S. sites.
  3. Limit the number of third-party elements, regardless of the source.
  4. Keep web pages as slim as possible.
  5. Avoid using the JQuery JavaScript library hosted by Google, since China blocks Google.
  6. Use compression techniques and minimize redirects.
  7. Monitor performance closely as the China Firewall is consistently changing. 

Readers who prefer to read in Mandarin can find Chinese e-commerce news on dianshang500.com.

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