The online retailer has spent nearly $300 million acquiring three shipping software vendors over the past nine months.
After a year of learning the intricacies of the Chinese market, HollandBoutique.com says it is ready to debut a new site.
When HollandBoutique.com, which sells Dutch-made food products, launched two years ago, owner Frans Buikema thought most of his customers would be Dutch ex-pats living overseas seeking a taste of home, or English-speaking travelers who’d visited Holland and wanted to get their hands on products they’d tried while visiting. What he didn’t expect was that 40% of his customers would hail from China.
The e-retailer started with an English-language site, then seeing the increasing number of customers coming from China, decided last year to add a Mandarin-language version. One product line in particular, a Netherlands-made baby formula powder, gained traction with Chinese shoppers who have been looking abroad for milk and baby formula following scandals about tainted products being sold in China.
“There is huge demand from Chinese consumers,” Buikema says. He says the emerging Chinese middle class, especially those in smaller cities, want products that they can’t find in their local supermarkets. “For them, the world is their marketplace, and they like to shop anywhere in the world, so long as it is a rich country.”
That led Buikema to look at ways he could modify the English-only site to cater to Chinese consumers. That meant assessing the capabilities of his content management system and e-commerce platform to see if and how it could handle Chinese characters (they could, but crankily), enlisting translators (he used freelancers he found online) and figuring out Chinese shoppers’ preferences. A translated version of the site went live last fall; consumers coming from an IP address in China were automatically directed to the translated site, with the option to toggle between the Chinese and English site by clicking a flag icon on the page header.
But HollandBoutique.com went back to the drawing board just three months later after getting negative feedback from Chinese customers. Buikema sums up the experience: “I made all the mistakes that you can possibly make.” The automatic redirect to the Mandarin language site, for example, made Chinese consumers think they were shopping with a Chinese e-retailer, which deflated HollandBoutique’s cachet as a Western company. The translations, too, were troublesome. “The translation was literally correct, but then we got a lot of feedback saying the tone of voice was wrong,” he says.
The e-retailer will launch a new, separate .cn site in September on a different platform, with translated and localized content and which offers features in line with Chinese consumers’ expectations for web shopping, such as Alipay and UnionPay, two popular payment forms, and lots of social media functionality for Chinese social networks like Weibo, WeChat and QQ. The site will strongly emphasize that products ship from the Netherlands because that is a key selling point for Chinese consumers, Buikema says.
Buikema hired a firm run by one of the founders of Chinese e-commerce site Haituncun.com to translate and localize most day-to-day aspects of the site, including search marketing and social media communications, which the Dutch team wasn’t able to manage. For example, a Chinese consumer might send the retailer 10 different messages about a product or her order via social platforms WeChat or Weibo in a day. “[Chinese shoppers] expect a lot more than Chinese text,” he says.
Buikema says he also decided to operate the two sites independently, rather than have two languages under the HollandBoutique.com URL, because he found Google Inc. didn’t index the Chinese content. “Technically, viewing English or Chinese [on one site] works, but from an SEO point of view, it’s a mess,” he says. Holland Boutique will run both sites on the Squarespace platform.
To read more of HollandBoutique.com’s global story, and that of other retailers, including Stella & Dot and DuneLondon.com, check out the story “Language Arts” in the September issue of Internet Retailer magazine. Not a subscriber yet? Click here to sign up for a free subscription.