The concept that Yang Mingyi (楊 鳴一) presents in this book is so amazingly simple that you’ll kick yourself for not thinking of it first. Everyone can think of a product that they’d like to sell to the Chinese, but very few of us have the linguistic ability, business acumen or experience (let alone the money) to set up shop in China. If Web 2.0 is all about targeting the long tail, then surely China must be the perfect candidate. Yang’s book is all about empowering the China-novice (you and me) to target it with minimum expense.
Yang is the CEO of United Cities Japan (UCJ, http://www.ucj.jp/) and recently took the time to explain his business model to stippy.com. He modestly refers to UCJ as a cross border mall but really it is a unique mixture of e-tailing, shosha-style international consulting and value-added translation services. UCJ seeks out online retailers who realize that language should not be a barrier in the world of Web 2.0 and helps them adapt their website and business model to one that fits well with the mainland Chinese. Everything is automated so that Japanese online 店長 (tencho, shop owners) can monitor orders and build their entire website in Japanese. The system even provides for simultaneous translation of queries from Chinese shoppers guaranteeing a seamless experience for both the operator and the client.
To be sure, the concept is popular. Except for the politicians, nearly everything “Japan” is popular these days in Asia, and China is no exception. Yang is adamant that China’s 65 million “new rich” are always trying to get one up on the Jones’ and so the concept of “original”, “niche”, “obscure”, “high-end” plays straight to their innermost desires. The ability to buy cutting edge Japanese technology, newly released designer brands or – heaven forbid – premium kitty-chan goods can be a powerful status symbol for a tech savvy Chinese shopper.
Many e-tailers who rush into the market blind, make the mistake of targeting too broadly. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of internet users in China are either students or public servants – not exactly the kind of target audience that you would expect to spend up big. Remember that the 2,000 yen or so your customer will be paying for EMS postage is a much larger hit on the hip pocket nerve to a student at Beida (北大) than it would have been to you when you were a student. Yang walks you through a couple of smart ways of hunting down high-income users to ensure that find your target easily. I personally found the advice on webpage design to be both practical and interesting. (I’m over simplifying this a little but the short version is to make your page as はで as possible with lots of red and gold!!). UC Malls’ Chinese language page should give you an idea of what I mean.
As you might expect, Yang, has quite an interesting history. After growing up in Shanghai, he came to Japan as a teenager. Just like his sempai, Horie had done a few years earlier, Yang was a rare example of an entrepreneurial Todaisei who created his first company while still a student. Upon graduation from Tokyo University, Yang received a
visa job offer from the top notch consulting company, McKinzie. It only took a day for Yang to decide that he now had a visa wanted to be his own boss and quickly parted company with McKinsey to engage full time in pursuing his dream: to unite the cities of the world (hence the company name). Yang also runs a business in China but that is not directly related to this book.
While this book is tailored toward Japanese SMEs, the concepts are just as applicable to budding gaijin entrepreneurs trying to work out how to get their foot in China’s door. Yang’s business model is all about destroying conventional communication barriers on a micro level. He promised stippy.com that he’d be more than happy to accommodate any “English-only Gaijin” wanting to use the UCJ system if there was interest. It feels as though UCJ will be only the beginning of his expansion plans. Currently a “One China Policy” friendly system is already in the pipeline where you will be able to automatically roll out your site to Hong-Kong and Taiwan, at the same time as the mainland.
- Advice for a Busy Gaijin: If you’re in a hurry, just read parts 4-5 which jumps straight to the nitty gritty of setting up a website. (Parts 1-3 are an introduction to the Chinese consumer and their needs.)