Olivier Wolton is a project director at Axance who’s leading various missions in Thailand for the account of a world-leader in insurance. Bearer of a sociology phD, he is a specialist in marketing counselling, with an intense digital trendspotting. Today he answers our questions on design, users, market and e-commerce in Thailand.
What is the difference between a thai and a french user, in user testing fr example?
One of the major differences comes from the use of Internet. It’s a country as densely populated as France (67 millions of inhabitants) and Thai people spend an average time of 4 hours a day on the Internet. Their major need is to exchange with family and friends, so their interests focus mainly on social networks.
What about ecommerce?
Online shopping is not yet fully integrated in their behaviour. There are mainly corporate websites with a double objective of information disposal and user seduction. The Thai user is very influenced by everything obvious, like advertising campaign, etc. There are a lot of radio and TV ads… Indeed, those will primarily influence the user’s choice, for insurances or other spheres with strong financial stakes (automobile, bank, housing industry…)
Towards advertisement and marketing, I would say that the Thai user behaves closely like a French user 20 or 30 years ago, regarding the maturity in relation to brands and messages.
Isn’t there a cultural difference that comes into play?
The cultural difference sits in the fact that it’s a country where you can find a lot of food stalls on the streets for example. Thailand bathes in the convenience stores tradition, so every offer on the Internet (to reduce delivery time, facilitate the choice of products, offer the best prices) doesn’t get much interest among them, except when exchanging with family and friends. This is why e-commerce is not highly developed, in any case, much less than in Europe.
Is it because they are used to go directly into the stores?
Yes, they are mainly in a proximity logic where everything is negotiable. It’s an important point: for Thai people, everything is negotiable. So when you enter a store, you negotiate the price, whatever it is. Even in a mall, you negotiate. They still have the reflex to exchange verbally in a real face to face, rather than going online.
How do those particular behaviors impact the website conception for Thaïland?
For the conception, we really face a clash between two worlds. In Europe, our logic is more based on websites with simple outlines, succinct information, clean visuals and seamless navigation. On the contrary, Thaïs are familiar to very dense websites with a lot of information, colours and loads of videos. In the end, they need to be reassured more than to find an answer to a question.
When you are an international brand breaking into a country like Thailand, you really have to mix this local culture with the implementation of goals necessary for a coherent image.
Based on what you said, the average Thaï Internet user is going to spend some time on a website if there are enough videos, animations… Is it to say that they like to have a maximum of information?
Paradoxically, they don’t spend much time on the Internet. They really like to surf. In that sense I don’t think they spend more time on the Internet than a European user. However, everything flashy is indeed going to interest them, or videos. They would rather watch videos than read. It’s an oral culture, not a written one. Therefore they need to be reassured by animated elements. For example, to purchase any insurance, as soon as it gets technical or too dense, they just call an agent or they go directly in a concession or a shop. On the other hand, they have the same capacity as Europeans to use the prices. But when they notice a price on the Internet, they head to the shops to negotiate a lower one, because it’s in their mentality. They know they can negotiate and everybody plays the game.
Is what you’ve noticed for Thailand true concerning other Asian countries?
I think it’s true, partly for Hong-Kong, but Hong-Kong is more westernized than Thailand. Therefore they have an « in-between » approach. They don’t need as much oral exchange and their websites aren’t as dense but their conception isn’t seamless either… They really are in-between in terms of maturity. In any case, I don’t think that each country really differs from the other but I think the sectors make that difference appear.
What particularities has the Thai user in terms of digital culture?
For example, on mobile navigation for service products like insurances, they don’t have the European reflexes such as looking for the small, stylized menu at the top right corner (burger menu). They don’t know what it means. They all have smartphones but they use it to go on social networks, to go on really well defined spheres. However when they surf on corporate websites that can be very different from one another, they don’t always have that habit (of « natural » interactions). Besides, although they have the habit to compare the prices on some categories of products (travels, housing equipment, fashion…), they don’t apply this approach on spheres such as insurance or bank (fill out an online estimate, for example) because it’s not in their digital reflexes yet.
They most especially search for phone numbers. They need dialogue. It comforts them because their confidence in Internet is only relative for everything that is transactional, for example. I think they don’t have the culture of online payment yet because it’s not in their habits. They still depend on purchase of proximity. As this is an economy subjected to quick inflation and deflation, Thais solely trust their bank. The bank often takes on the role of trusted third party, even for the online transaction because you can pay your transaction directly at the bank and there’s an important bank network such as there was in France 25 years ago.
In terms of design, what matters to them is to be able to identify themselves with photographs and videos they are exposed to, particularly on services. If you enrich your website with Western-typed or Asian profiles (Chinese for example), your project is doomed, they’d rather have a Thaï profile. However this is true for every country, anyone wants to be able to identify themselves.