Understanding what local customers really expect when purchasing from an ecommerce site is an essential factor for success when it comes to international expansion.

Failing to properly localise a website to be in line with local conventions will not only impact how users perceive a brand and feel about using a website, but ultimately effect how likely they are to buy from it at all.

Did you know that German customers expect a wide range of payment options to be available including bank transfer, direct debit and invoice for payment after they receive an order?

Did you also know that Japanese customers require input fields for two different scripts when entering their name? Or that French users expect SEPA (single euro payments area) compliant payment options when inputting bank details?

Oban has reviewed a number of sites over several ecommerce marketplaces, including Japan, Canada, France, Germany, Australia and the UK to assess how successfully in-market websites (both international and home-grown) were meeting the needs and expectations of local users.

Conducted by native speaking experts based in-country, we’ve reviewed everything from labelling convention and local UX preferences through to payment processes and the delivery options available.

Understanding what local customers really expect when purchasing from an ecommerce site is an essential factor for success when it comes to international expansion. Failing to properly localise a website to be in line with local conventions will not only impact how users perceive a brand and feel about using a website, but ultimately effects how likely they are to buy from it at all.

The results across these different countries were varied and often surprising, with important differences between each and every market, even where the same language was spoken.

The recommendations, while specific to these particular regions, are important to consider when planning international expansion (or improvement of existing offerings) within any market. The value of researching the opinions of local people, and making informed changes according to their needs cannot be underestimated.

We’ve summarised our work into five handy golden rules for you to consider.

1) Be clear on local laws and regulations

From having an Impressum page in Germany to displaying prices including GST (goods and services tax) for Australia, understanding and complying with local laws and regulations for each market you enter is essential.

At best not following these rules will mean you may lose out on purchases due to not appearing trustworthy and at worst failing to comply can result in hefty fines.

For example, Boden.de complies with German law and displays their Impressum page which is linked to within the website footer site-wide.

Impressum is a Latin term meaning printed. The closest English terms would be 'site notice' or 'legal notices'. However simply switching the name of an existing page to Impressum will not necessarily suffice, the page must contain a set of defined details to count.

2) Ensure sizes and measurements are properly converted

This rule sounds basic but a surprising number of the websites we reviewed did not convert their clothing, furniture and fabric measurements to the local system for every country in which they operate. This was especially true of marketplace websites where users list their own items such as Amazon and eBay.

Where sizes can’t be changed by market, at least include a size conversion table or link to a conversion table to ensure users don’t feel alienated and abandon their purchase.

Ikea shows good attention to detail with their localisation which displays measurements of fabric in yards for US and metres for Canada and the UK:

3) Labelling and language

Ensuring that labelling and general use of language throughout local versions of a website have been tailored effectively is important. Non-localised category headers can hinder customers locating their desired product and literal translations of text often make the tone of voice sound unnatural or even nonsensical to local users.

Even when the same language is adopted across regions, ensuring that spellings have been adapted to regional customs is important for brand perception and familiarity.

Even seemingly insignificant terminology accumulates to shape the overall user experience for customers. in each market you must decide whether you use ‘basket’ or ‘cart’, call items ‘shipped’ or ‘dispatched’ and decide whether to provide a ‘favourites list’ or ‘save an item for later’ option.

Many popular ecommerce players miss localisation on category labelling. See below the Americanised spelling of jewellery on the Canadian version of the Aldo website:

4) Payment methods and delivery options

Offering all of the expected local payment methods and delivery options is a critical ingredient to successful in-region purchases, yet there are a surprising number of websites that fall short when it comes to catering for international purchasing requirements.

In addition to including all relevant credit and debit card options, it is important to be aware that some markets expect to be able to pay in different ways such as direct debit, cash upon delivery of an item or even by invoice after they have received it.

Here Clarks’ German website has localised to include German-specific payment methods including elektronisches lastschriftverfahren (direct debit) and online balance transfer.

5) Don’t underestimate the importance of ‘feeling’ local

All of the points above form part of the overarching need to create a familiar and local ‘feel’ to your international websites in order to make customers feel confident enough to purchase.

Different businesses employ different methods of doing this. eBay welcomes Australian customers with a playful ‘G’day!’ and Amazon’s international sites use the homepages to promote products relating to local seasonal events and celebrations.

Where concerns regarding the cost and time of shipping might make international users hesitant, explicitly tailoring your website to 'feel local' will help reassure global customers.

The bottom line

Conducting research to understand local ecommerce convention in each market is essential as is getting in-market users to test your website. It provides invaluable feedback on how it really feels to use as a local customer.

A/B testing different variations of your website, to see which version gains the best traction from in-market users will validate any recommendations made. And finally remember, no two markets are ever the same.

Chloe McKenna

Published 15 June, 2015 by Chloe McKenna

Chloe McKenna is International Digital Strategist at Oban Digital and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (1)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

Great article which just scratches the surface. Nobody gets this stuff totally right. My bugbear is sites that assume people have a title, first name, middle name, then family name in that order, using European characters. No they don't - it totally depends on culture and context.

I didn't realize quite how annoying this was until I married a Vietnamese English woman, who is left using multiple versions of her name because of the limitations of websites over the years.

The simplest partial workaround is not to divide up customer names, but provide a single name field (ideally with a choice of IME, or assume people will use an operating system such as iOS that handles the multiple keyboard layouts quite well).

over 2 years ago

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