Put the World in World Wide Web
The Internet Has No Borders, so How WIll You Handle Global Traffic?
The balance is shifting. As few as five years ago, the majority of the world’s Internet users lived within U.S. borders, making it comfortable for direct marketers to conduct transactions in U.S. dollars and English only. Today, the lion’s share of Internet users live outside the United States, which truly makes the Web a global medium.
The worldwide Internet population, according to the Computer Industry Almanac, has reached 945 million, and is projected to reach 1.46 billion come 2007. Of current worldwide Internet users, only 20 percent reside within the United States.
This means you could be missing opportunities to sell your product or service to 80 percent of the world’s Internet population.
Define Your Global Ambition
If you are interested in targeting a specific region or country, conventional wisdom dictates you offer content in the local language of your target audience.
In his book “Business Without Borders,” Don DePalma quotes former West German Chancellor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Willy Brandt: “If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.”
“When people purchase from home, they are looking for a local experience,” says DePalma, founder of Common Sense Advisory, an international research and consulting firm, and a former principal analyst at Forrester Research.
To demonstrate what it’s like for foreigners shopping on a U.S. site, he gives the example of a typical U.S. consumer shopping for a Dell computer on a Japanese Web site. He might have some basic understanding of what is being offered, but likely won’t attempt to make a purchase. He’d have a better understanding of the product as described in English on Dell’s U.K. site, but may incur problems with transaction elements, such as pricing in British pounds and an address template not formatted for U.S. addresses. It’s only on Dell’s U.S. site that the consumer achieves a complete understanding of the product and is more likely to make a purchase.
When is the time right for a U.S. direct marketer to develop a multilingual site? A good benchmark is when you have a significant number of unique visitors to your domestic home page from a given locality. Stephen Eustace, assistant vice president of e-marketing products with Equifax Marketing Services, recommends analyzing your Web data to determine which international domain names appear, and how often.
Until recently, the Web site for the International Fund for Animal Welfare had a U.S. focus, but because 35 percent of its online donors now reside outside the United States, it decided it needed to better communicate with its supporters worldwide. To accomplish this goal, the organization is retooling its Web site to speak to and accept donations in the language and currency of 13 countries. Since IFAW unveiled the first of multiple stage improvements to the site, it has picked up a number of new donors in Russia, Holland and Germany.
Once you investigate your marketing opportunities and make a commitment to a particular market, build a storefront and supporting infrastructure.
Many companies with international Web sites design what often is referred to as a “global gateway.” In the report “Design Practices for Global Gateways,” DePalma and co-author Renato Beninatto define a global gateway as “the international entry point to a company on the Web. This entrance is usually located at the main corporate site, using linguistic or visual clues that alert visitors to country specific or translated content.”
“Keep the design simple—particularly if you offer several languages—and quickly direct visitors to the portion of your site published in their local language,” Eustace recommends. “Don’t make them hunt for it, particularly since they may not read the English language,” he urges.
IFAW, for instance, displays flag icons along the top of its home page to direct visitors to country-specific portions of the site. The Sharper Image positions a button labeled “international” on the far right corner of the banner that appears on each page of its site. Visitors can click-through to a page with flag icons that direct them to online stores for each individual country.
Shore Up the Back End
If you communicate with global customers in their local language, you also must offer them the ability to purchase and make payment in their local currency. To create the most seamless transaction possible, engage the services of an international payment processor.
Also pay attention to your address and shipping templates. U.S. addresses generally can fit into five or six address lines. Foreign addresses often run six or seven lines. Since address formats are varied and complex, use a flexible storage format to ensure no information is omitted.
You also will need to address shipping options and returns handling. Some marketers choose to ship product directly from the United States, while others set up international distribution centers or outsource this function to regional vendors.
Both DePalma and Eustace advise marketers to start small and add content and functionality as needed. When retooling your site, says DePalma, “don’t look at it as a global issue. Look at it as a Web site suited to the particulars of the market you’re in. Once you realize this, [your project] scales back enormously.”
Of course, once you create a global platform that can support different character sets, date data, address formats, etc., you can add country or language-specific pages as needed.
“You can’t spread yourself too thin and be everything to everyone,” Eustace cautions. “Make it simple and functional.”
DePalma cites Lands’ End as an example of a company that has “done a good job understanding [its markets] and creating a Web platform that crosses borders quite nicely.”
The cataloger began by adding an Internet presence to support markets in which it already distributed a local-language version of its print catalog—Japan, the United Kingdom and Germany. In late 2000, the cataloger used the Web as a springboard to three new markets—Italy, France and Ireland—by launching an e-commerce site for each without the support of a print vehicle, a first for the cataloger.
All products are priced in the local currency of each market. For example, the cataloger prices and accepts payment in euros for merchandise offered on its Irish, Italian, German and French sites. All transactions on its U.K. Web site are conducted in pounds.
If you’re going to be selling on the Web, you have to think about what it means to be selling in other markets. The reality is that as soon as you go on the Web, you are irrevocably global.