The difference between Chinese and Western designs in e-commerce

Friday, September 21

The art director of AliExpress Russia, Alexander Nazarenko, spoke about the main differences between Chinese and Western designs in e-commerce and why Chinese design techniques do not always attract European customers. Find out about the Chinese approach to design, building interfaces, choosing a palette and images.

China e-commerce market

China is the birthplace of Aliexpress and other popular marketplaces such as, Taobao, Tmall, and so on. There are over 70 such companies in total. Each of them fights for the buyer and uses many design techniques to attract customers.

To be successful in such a competitive environment, products must truly drive people’s attention. Therefore, the product page is a great opportunity to stand out. Consequently, the more “goodies” the seller offers, the better. Many product pages include great offers such as a discount coupon for the next purchase, a charger, a case as a gift, etc. In response to your request, you will be offered high-quality service and many pleasant bonuses.

Many Chinese sites strive to make their website interesting and diverse so that people visit them even if they don’t need anything. We can stick on Aliexpress for hours scrolling through the products, playing games, and adding items to the cart just for fun. And all this happens in the atmosphere of an endless festival: promotions, bonuses, gifs, and bright colors create a good mood and make shopping more enjoyable.

Chinese marketplace Tmall greets its customers with vibrant colors:

The difference between Chinese and Western designs

In China, such a striking design came in with a bang. Therefore, Chinese marketers decided that Western buyers would also like it. But it turned out that our idea of ​​beautiful design and aesthetics is different from the Chinese one.

Chinese Internet culture

The art director of AliExpress Russia believes that the following cultural factors have affected the behavior and patterns of Chinese e-commerce:

  • Closed nature of the Internet. China has developed its own Internet environment. They have their own Google (Baidu), instead of messages in WhatsApp, they communicate in WeChat. For work, they use DingTalk, and while we are usually using Slack for that. Instead of Twitter and YouTube, they have Weibo and Youku.
  • Computer penetration is weak in China.  In Europe, the Internet began with a desktop computer, then appeared laptops, and after that, everyone switched to smartphones. But this scenario didn’t happen in China. Over two-thirds of the Chinese population never owned a computer. They use the mobile Internet only. Therefore, the Chinese are not used to communicating by email. Even with work issues, they use messengers for that purpose.
  • It is important for the Chinese to be in the crowd. The more noise, the better, that’s how they think in China. This nationwide love for being in the company has transferred into e-commerce. While Europeans are reluctant to talk and show their purchases, for the Chinese this is one of their favorite topics of conversation. They willingly share where and for how much they purchased this or that product and where are the best discounts now. Hence, there is a very large offer of group purchases. The more units you buy, the higher the discounts.
  • Huge competition. There are millions of sellers in China and everyone wants to increase their profits. Therefore, they have to not just present their products, but make a show out of this. On Chinese sites, you will see a lot of visual elements, bright colors, photos, and videos. This might be too much for our eyes, but for the Chinese, it is just the perfect picture. Stores also spend a lot of money on advertising campaigns inviting celebrities and influencers. Everything and a little bit more are done to show the advantages of every single item.

The difference between Chinese and Western designs

This is how a product card looks like on a Chinese site: bright colors, a lot of text in the picture, and a video of the product in the carousel.

All of these cultural characteristics directly affect the e-commerce design approach to colors choice, typography, images selection, and other design elements.

The philosophy of color and how it is implemented in e-commerce

In China and Europe, colors often have completely different meanings and contexts. You’ve probably heard that white in China is the color of mourning and grief, and black is their favorite everyday color. Green, which in the western countries symbolizes wealth and growth, is used in China to display some negative trends and decline. Meanwhile, red for them is a color of wealth and prosperity. It is often used in sales promotion apps. Even in stock trading apps, a rise in stock prices is shown in red and a fall in green.

Close to red colors, such as yellow, orange, purple are often used in Chinese shopping apps. The brighter the better. For Western buyers, such vivid colors are distracting and make it difficult to focus on the product. And for the Chinese, these colors convey an atmosphere of celebration and abundance.

The difference between Chinese and Western designs - Power Up Blog

                                                                                           The ideal page, according to the designers of Taobao, looks like this.

This is why it is difficult for Chinese marketers to sell to a European audience. A great example is an unsuccessful advertisement for bed linen on Aliexpress. If in China they like silk bright red sheets, then in European countries they prefer something calmer and made of other materials. Therefore, advertisements for red silk bedding sets did not hit the western market.

Texts and typography

In China, they use a slightly different approach to the text placement on the page. If it is possible to compactly place a large amount of information on one page, this should be done. European customers, in their turn, enjoy minimalist design. It’s easier for us to scroll the page than to figure out in which corner to look for the needed info. Another important thing for European users is spaces and paragraphs. For a Chinese, this is a completely unobvious opinion, because there are no spaces in the Chinese language. Because, you know, why to waste valuable space. You can put so much text if you don’t use the spaces.

Also, Chinese designers rarely use fonts and do not experiment with hieroglyphs size. Each sign is always inscribed in an invisible square, there is always an equal distance between the signs, and there is no concept of bold or italic. And surely no one will large the hieroglyphs because this way less useful information will fit on the page. In addition, word wrapping is a common practice for Chinese marketers. In hieroglyphic writing, the hyphenation can be placed anywhere.

Images and Kawaii

The photos used in Chinese ads are also significantly different from European. For example, in China, it is strictly forbidden to show bare legs, especially feet. This is practically pornography for them. And for the European tradition, there is nothing wrong with bare feet. Another interesting example. An image of an open flame will never be used in Russian advertising for a heater because many people are afraid of fires caused by electrical appliances. For Chinese advertisements, this image would be appropriate.

On Chinese marketplaces, you can often see photos with European models starring. Such photos should highlight the foreign origin of the products and hence, their high quality.

The Chinese love everything cute and sweet. They call it kawaii. Therefore, many marketplaces use images of all sorts of cute animals and characters to make your shopping experience more kawaii. For example, here’s a cute cat from Tmall:

The difference between Chinese and Western designs - Power Up Blog

One-stop shopping

You’ve noticed that the home page of Chinese websites is often overloaded with information. The reason for this is that the one-stop-shopping system has been operating in China for a long time. Aliexpress, Alibaba, Taobao, and other sites are platforms that bring together many different online stores. And the home page is the gateway to each of them. Therefore, the designers’ task is to place on the main page as many products as possible: household goods, clothes, gadgets, cosmetics, games, discounts, etc. This is the starting point for your journey through product categories and shops.

The difference between Chinese and Western designs - Power Up Blog

                                                                             Taobao homepage


The main reason why the design in Chinese and Wester e-commerce is so different lies deep in human nature and how we perceive this world. The color, font, text position on Chinese and European websites are completely different. Now Aliexpress is working to calm down the platform’s design for European buyers while keeping its unique Chinese vibe. So, let’s wait and see their design updates soon.

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