A few days ago, while on the elliptical at my Shanghai hotel, I watched a business show roundtable with three participants discussing China’s online marketplaces.  It was riveting and I tried taking notes with my iPhone.

There were three participants in this roundtable discussion, plus a moderator.  One was from Taobao, one from Yihaodian, and one from Nielson Research.

What I found so interesting was how all three talked about how different China’s online buying is from the United States.

At one point the moderator (a Chinese-American whose name I have forgotten) noted how “chaotic” Chinese websites look as compared to the clean-line minimalist approach of American websites.  The participants all laughed, agreed, and then explained.  “Look at Chinese brick and mortar stores” one participant said.  “They are colorful and chaotic.”  Another talked of how when he first set up his company’s Chinese website, he modeled it on a US one and made it clean and simple.  The Chinese consumers complained.  They wanted chaos.

One participant said that he set up his site to be the opposite of Ebay. Ebay was clean. This site was chaotic.  Ebay made communicating with sellers difficult.  This site put its chat feature central.  Ebay charged for listings. This site made listings free. Ebay had slow delivery.  This site delivered that day by moped.  Ebay would show listings that were about to end first.  This site would show the newest listings first.

All participants talked about how incredibly price sensitive Chinese consumers are.  One talked of how “time isn’t money” for most Chinese.  They also agreed on the importance of having a flagship physical store in China as an adjunct to online selling. They said China’s consumers want to be able to trust their sellers and a physical store helps achieve that trust.

Fascinating stuff, with implications for anyone doing business in China.

What do you know?