E-commerce Across Borders
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Tips on taking your web site global
Interested in expanding your potential online audience by 200 million people? Add French, Italian, German, and Spanish Web sites. Add Japanese and Chinese Web sites and you will gain another 300 million potential visitors — without opening a single international office.
Today, there are more than a billion Internet users around the globe. Yet based on my research fewer than 30% of these Internet users are native-English speakers. By 2010, that percentage will drop below 25%.
Savvy Internet retailers have learned to embrace the world; one country and one language at a time. Starbucks, Amazon, and IKEA, to name just a few, have all developed Web sites for foreign markets. This article takes a look at a few such retailers and some of the key challenges you will need to overcome when you take your business global.
Thinking Globally and Locally
Ideally, a company builds its global Web site in two stages: internationalization and localization. Internationalization is the process of preparing a Web site so that it can be easily adapted to multiple locales; a locale may be a country, a language, or both. Ideally, a company will design a “global template” that can then be localized for each new market. Once the template is developed, it is then customized, or localized, for each locale. The best way to understand how these two stages fit together is to see how they apply in real life, such as with the IKEA’s US and German sites, shown below.
Pictures: The US and German IKEA sites convey a consistent global appearance
Notice how both Web sites share similar layouts, color palette, and logo placement. The internationalization stage of the development process would have entailed creating an architecture that could remain consistent across all locales, yet remain flexible enough to allow for local modifications.
During the localization stage, the product selection, promotions, phone numbers, prices, and support options are addressed. Although the two home pages may appear quite similar initially, the differences are significant.
Now look at two Wal-Mart country sites. Notice how the Wal-Mart US and China home pages have little in common. Clearly, no global template was ever created. As a result, Wal-Mart will find it difficult to create a global online identify as well as maintain these sites centrally – a strategy commonly employed as companies develop multiple localized Web sites.
Pictures: The US and China Wal-Mart sites do not appear related
Building the Global Gateway
Just because you build a localized Web site is no guarantee that people will visit. Much overlooked in Web design is the navigation system that directs users to their localized sites. Webmasters at many of the world’s largest companies tell me that up to half of all traffic to their .com domains originate from outside of the US. As a result, it is vital that companies develop a “global gateway” strategy for seamlessly guiding users to their local content.
Too often, these global gateways are buried at the bottom of the home page, such as with Apple.
Picture: Buried at the bottom of this page is Apple’s global gateway
Picture a user who only speaks Korean visiting Apple.com. Will that person have the patience to scroll to the bottom of the page?
Now picture that same person visiting the IKEA home page, shown here.
Picture: IKEA’s global gateway forces Web users to pick their localized site
The IKEA gateway forces users to pick a locale, preventing them from getting lost along the way. Keep in mind that a global gateway is more than a few links or Web pages; it is a comprehensive system of design and technical elements that work together to provide a seamless shopping experience for any user, no matter the language or location. When developing your gateway strategy, consider the following tips:
Finally, sometimes you will need to localize a Web site into multiple languages to effectively cover one country, such as Switzerland. Although a relatively small country, Switzerland has four official languages: French, Italian, German and Romansch (a variation of German). Noticed how the IKEA Switzerland site is available in French, German, and Italian.
Picture: The IKEA Switzerland site is localized into French, German, and Italian
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Globalization Cuts Both Ways
This means that just as you can expand your business into a new market, so too can companies in foreign markets expand into yours. The time is now to begin preparing your globalization strategies. Web globalization is not easy and it is not always cheap, but you will find it is a lot easier and profitable to adapt your Web site to the world than it is to wait for the world to adapt to your Web site.
John Yunker is publisher of the popular Web globalization website and newsletter Global By Design (www.globalbydesign.com). Newsletter subscribers include companies such as Autodesk, FedEx, Google, Dow Corning, and Panasonic. John is author of Beyond Borders: Web Globalization Strategies.
This article was also published in Бcaps Newsletter (http://www.ccaps.net)
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