There’s a lesson for researching Chinese end users.
Covid-19 is changing how consumers shop. In China, for example, you are required to wear a mask and have your body temperature taken before you can enter a store. Some stores may give you additional instructions.
I found an interesting message when I was reading Business Insider a few days ago. If you click the link and scroll down, you’ll see a photo showing a notice posted at the door of an Apple store in Shanghai.
It tells you to visit Apple.com.cn to purchase Apple products or receive further assistance. Apple owns Apple.cn, so why does it use the longer Apple.com.cn instead? Let’s go back to history.
In the early days of domain names, many countries only allowed registration of subdomains (third level domains) at a few stipulated domains. In other words, registrations at the second level were not allowed. Over time, many countries relaxed the rules and allowed registration of domains directly. Some recent examples are .uk, .au, and .nz.
When China joined the web in 1990, only subdomains of a few selected domains (com.cn, net.cn, org.cn, ac.cn, edu.cn, gov.cn, mil.cn) as well as geo domains (such as bj.cn and sh.cn) could be registered, according to Wikipedia. No one could register a .cn domain directly.
In 2000, therefore, Apple could only (and did) register Apple.com.cn. It then officially entered China in 2001.
The Chinese government opened up registration at the second level in 2003, but by then, Apple’s Chinese web presence was firmly built on Apple.com.cn. Apple registered Apple.cn but forwards it to Apple.com.cn.
Today, when you search for “apple” using Baidu, you’ll see Apple.com.cn in the search result. The entry is also marked with the words “官方” (official=verified), which indicates that Apple.com.cn is the corporate domain of Apple in China. (By the way, I have not come across such practice outside China.)
Note that .cn now has nine times as many registrations as com.cn.
So, what’s the hidden message? When you are doing end user research, be sure to check both .cn and .com.cn. Otherwise, you might miss out on some potential buyers of your domain.