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How name-brand cosmetics sites perform on the Chinese internet

Christophe Depeux
How name-brand cosmetics sites perform on the Chinese internet Christophe Depeux

China, the new Eldorado for cosmetics brands, is riding high on the wave of swiftly changing consumer behaviour patterns in urban milieus.

A study published by Kline & Company in 2007 indicated that China had become the third biggest cosmetics market in the world, ahead of France and Germany. The rate of growth lends some force to the forecast that China could move ahead of Japan in some 10 short years, and surpass the United States in under 20.

To impress a name brand or luxury product’s image on consumers, industries must devote a hefty budget to communications, particularly in China where competition is fierce, given the presence of the world’s most important players there.

The internet has rapidly become an inevitable communications tool. Among the many advantages of this medium is that it allows systematic display of the most recent information, a dynamic exchange with the visitor, and accessibility to everyone at any time.

Nevertheless, despite the high stakes, the internet performances of the major brands are highly disparate.

Variable performance
From 11 of the largest Chinese cities*, ip-label.newtest measured the performance of the internet sites of the leading brands of cosmetics implanted in this immense country, in an end-user environment, the way an internet user would perceive it.

The table below is built on a 100-point index on the basis of two indicators: the rate of successful connection to the brand's website, and how fast the pages loaded.

Cosmetics industry in China -- performance
Measurements carried out in September and October 2008

Although most of the sites monitored showed relatively good performances, a few presented a much less radiant picture. Among the latter were the sites of Maybelline, Clinique and Estée Lauder.

*Measurements made from Beijing, Chengdu, Fuzhou, Guangzhou (Canton), Hangzhou, Nanjing, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shenzhen, and Zhengzhou.

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What are the reasons for the difference in performance?
It bears reminding that the primary objective of this type of site is to showcase the products that the visitor is seeking out voluntarily. These are not advertisements posted in streets or television commercials forced on the viewer. It is therefore imperative that these sites respond when people do them the honour of paying them a visit.

Cosmetics industry in China -- availability
Measurements carried out in September and October 2008

It is precisely here -- the rate of successful connection -- that the sites of Clinique and Estée Lauder suffer the most. For every 100 visitors attempting to access those sites, 11 were unable to.

The similarity in performance between the two is not surprising, since the two sites, owned by the American company Estée Lauder, share the same host. Estée Lauder is a victim of the famous "barrier" between China's north and south. While these websites are habitually available from towns in the north, practically a quarter of the internet users in the major cities of the South -- of which Shanghai is the most important and a key market -- had to give up after trying to connect to them in September and October 2008.

Estée Lauder has probably chosen a host in Beijing, which is unfortunate considering that a large majority of potential customers are concentrated in the major coastal cities located mainly in the southern parts of China.

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Available or accessible?
Should a site considered technically available also be considered accessible? The graph below displays the time it takes for the homepage of the 14 sites in our panel to load in full.

Cosmetics industry in China -- page loading
Measurements carried out in September and October 2008

Maybelline, from the French group L'Oréal, or Nivea, owned by the German group Beiersdorf, both show a major technical handicap: the time it takes to load their homepage. It takes nearly 19 seconds to display the entire homepage of Maybelline's site, one second less than required by Nivea's homepage. In contrast, three seconds are enough for the Olay and Neutrogena homepages to appear in full in the visitor's browser.

The slowness of page display for these two sites is attributable to their design, which is based on flash technology. The use of these technical solutions can, of course, work in a site's favor by "pacifying" the user, allowing him or her not to notice that the page is still in the process of loading.

In such a way, flash technology displays dynamic effects that are pleasing to the eye, attracting the gaze and drawing it from one end of the screen to the other. At the same time the page continues to load in the background. This eye-catching solution, however, is not ideal because, in some cases, essential information like navigation options are so slow to appear that the user is not able to view them. Disappointed by a site which, to all appearances has so little content, the visitor moves on to another site without looking back.

Over the period during which measurements were made, our tools registered a 6 percent failure on the Maybelline China site due to slow loading. As many as six for every 100 visitors were unable to view the site's homepage in its entirety.


Anticipating fluctuations in audience
Page design, network performance and exchanges between various operators (peering) go only part of the way towards explaining variations in performances and difficulties in accessing the sites.

There is another element, too often overlooked, which likewise impacts a site's ability to respond correctly: the audience. The more visitors connecting to a site, the more numerous the demands the site has to meet. If the infrastructures are under-dimensioned, there will be some slowing which may end up being a deterrent.

The curve shown below charts the performance trend for a typical day. All the measurements carried out in September and October 2008 on our panel of 14 sites were averaged for every hour and grouped into a "typical day" (local time in China, GMT +8). Variations in performance throughout the day can thus be observed, as can the impact of the audience on site performance.

Cosmetics industry in China -- typical day
Measurements carried out in September and October 2008

Not surprisingly, the best performances are observed late at night, with a gradual slowdown over the morning. Lunchtime is clearly shown, with a dip at noon. The commute home from work is also very visible at about 6 pm, followed by a radical deterioration in performance registered between 8 pm and 9 pm. During this period, the average time to load a site's homepage was practically double that of its early-morning performance.

Such performance deteriorations can lead to access failures and result in visitors giving up, frustrated by excessive slowness.

The internet sites represent the industry's star brands in an ultra-competitive context. Although direct sales is not yet the aim of these sites, except perhaps for Lancôme's online boutique, poor performances can greatly tarnish the brand’s image, as well as incite the consumer to turn towards a competitor despite herself.

Christophe Depeux is general manager of ip-label Technology (Shanghai).


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Commenter: Mathew McDougall

2008, December 06


Interesting post. I would have not guessed that China was already ahead of Germany and France. Anyway, I liked it so much I posted into my facebook group (http://tinyurl.com/5g8maq)