Wine Web Sites Knocking on China’s Door

by randulo on November 11, 2010

in General

Web Sites Knocking on China's DoorEve posted posted about China and the growth of the luxury market, including wine about two years ago. According to the luxury lifestyle blog Luxuo, “China is expected to be the world’s seventh largest wine consumer by 2013 as the nation’s thirst for vintages continues to grow amid an economic boom.”

A new challenge has presented itself in the past few months. After over 15 years experience on the web, I though I’d solved a lot of problems, but we have never had a reason to attempt to serve content into China until recently. After a Chinese-language site opened, we were getting reports of loading times so slow the sites were completely unusable. We visited Shanghai in May 2010, and it’s true that almost everything you look at it is abysmally slow from the average DSL connection. A site that uses Flash and video is not likely to load enough to be seen.

Recently, I did some tests in this area and found more complexity than I expected. The Internet in China, I’m told by one Chinese company, is not interconnected in the same way (peering) that most other countries employ. This means that even if you have hosting in Hong Kong (which you know is considered to be outside the mainland Internet) or in a single city like Shanghai, it still does not ensure decent delivery into other Chinese provinces.

Content Delivery Networks (CDN) exist for this reason, so we did more tests with 4 different CDN and found they all worked very well indeed – except in China! We tested Amazon Cloudfront CDN in Singapore and found it was no better than their US-based servers in delivery to China. There are specialized CDN for Mainland China (Akamai, ChinaCache, but these can be very costly. Most of our smaller producers whose wines are distributed in China will not be able to afford a five-digit monthly invoice to be present there. Even the less modest ones gasp when apprised of the costs involved.

We’re currently working on assembling specialized resources as a solution to this very real problem: Getting a wine web site to be not only visible, but usable. Even non-Flash, non-video heavy sites have a serious speed problem in Shanghai and other provinces, even if they show decent performance in, say, Hong Kong. Other complexities include licensing from the Chinese government, Chinese domain names (.cn,.com.cn), Chinese DNS and a presence of some kind at an address in China. We expect prices to drop significantly in the next two years, but until then, getting your web content into China will be tough going.

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