Modern ecommerce enables customers to visit stores in other countries with a single click.

Business can now attract visitors from all over the world. The exposure afforded by the web increases site designers’ responsibility for ensuring international usability.

Business can now attract visitors from all over the world. The exposure afforded by the web increases site designers' responsibility for ensuring international usability #ecommerce #international Click To Tweet

Below are thirteen tips for designing e-commerce websites for an international audience.

Need an overview? Here you go:

Tip #1. Account for the Difficulties of Translation
Tip #2. Think Visually
Tip #3. Remember Shipping Considerations
Tip #4. Provide Multiple Payment Options
Tip #5. Don’t Forget International Taxes and Duties
Tip #6. Format Forms and Data-Collection
Tip #7. Measurements
Tip #8. Simple returns process
Tip #9. Attract the Right Audience With Localized SEO
Tip #10. Calendar of Special Days
Tip #11. Create a Simple Returns Process
Tip #12. Prioritize Mobile Commerce
Tip #13. Run International Usability Tests
Summary

Tip #1. Account for the Difficulties of Translation

When preparing English versions of graphic materials for local markets, you should take into consideration the fact that English words are shorter than words in most European languages. So, after localization, copy might not suit the original mock up and require adjustment.

Example of hungarian version of banner used in Avon HungaryExample of English version of banner used in Avon Hungary

Example of Hungarian version of banner used in Avon HungaryExample of Hungarian version of banner used in Avon Hungary

Simply translating text on a site is superficial localization. Perfect localization requires knowledge of nuances of the local language. You need to work with a native qualified translator who will adapt the copy to another culture.

In terms of the tone of voice, let’s take the German language as an example. Germans prefer a very formal communication tone, which contrasts with Americans who prefer a more casual approach. As a result, your communication approach to Germans should be more formal and impersonal rather than the more casual tone suitable for English-speaking countries.

Banner on CocaCola US websiteBanner on Coca-cola US website
Banner on Coca Cola German websiteBanner on Coca-cola German website

For multilingual websites, it is important that the name of the language should be listed in its own language. For instance, English should always be listed as English rather that Ingles and Spanish should always be listed as Espanol. If a user switches from one language to another on the site, they should stay on the same page and not be redirected to the homepage.
English version of Avon websiteEnglish version of Avon website
Spanish version of Avon websiteSpanish version of Avon website

Tip #2. Think Visually

High quality and engaging visuals boost online sales. But certain types of visual content in local markets can potentially put customers off.

People across the globe don’t perceive colors in the same way. Here are a few examples of color perception in different countries:

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Red – Germany: unlucky and negative; Denmark, Romania & Argentina: lucky; France/UK: masculinity; USA: love.

Black – Western cultures: grief, sadness; Japan: fear, powerful, expensive; Germany: fear, anger, jealousy; USA: fear, anger, envy, jealousy, powerful, expensive.

White –  Japan: mourning, death; Australia: happiness, purity; USA: happiness, purity.

Therefore, the same color may have the opposite perception in different countries.

When creating global web design it is quite often the case that global models are not suitable for local markets. For example, models in Nordics countries usually have blonde hair and blue eyes and models in Romania have dark hair and dark eyes. This is also true of local celebrities – they are famous in one country but unknown in others. Show different models in graphic materials depending on culture.

Images of individual people tend to work better in the US and UK markets, while in India or China people tend to respond better to pictures of groups.

Just like your original website, your localized website should feature images that load quickly, so choose the right format and size..

Tip #3. Remember Shipping Considerations

Sites often make it difficult for users to know if they can complete international orders. Users don’t know until they reach the checkout process if international purchases are possible.

Therefore, place shipping information in expected and logical locations. It’s better for users to know up front if a site will or will not ship to their country. Always offer alternatives if the site does not ship abroad. For example, place information that users can visit the global company website or choose their country to view the local website.

International customers need easy ways to contact companies, so allow them to contact your help team via social media apps or as on-site chatbot and do not worry about payment for calls abroad and time difference.

Syte presents chat option on every page of their siteSyte presents chat option on every page of their site

European consumers are highly demanding in terms of fast, convenient delivery. Normally, three to five days from the time of order is regarded as a reasonable time for delivery. Polish consumers generally expect the shortest possible delivery time, while those in the Nordics are somewhat less demanding.

Tip #4. Provide Multiple Payment Options

Despite the fact that over half of worldwide online customers use credit cards to make purchases, more than 50% of ecommerce sales are completed through alternative payment methods. In Germany, Italy and Poland, systems such as PayPal hold a stronger position than debit cards. The reverse applies in the Nordic regions, Belgium and France, where the most popular payment methods are debit card or credit card.

To support international customers, sites should be flexible in the payment methods they accept. Allow users to pay using credit cards, bank transfers, PayPal or mobile payment options such as Apple Pay, Google Wallet etc. Where possible, global sites should include the available payment methods applicable to each country to accommodate range of users preferences. Otherwise, when they see unfamiliar payment methods, customers may become wary about security and abandon the shopping cart.

Walmart US site offers 8 payment methodsWalmart US site offers 8 payment methods

Tip #5. Don’t Forget International Taxes and Duties

Shoppers will be concerned about international taxes and duties. They will want to understand if and when the tax would be applied and how much it will add to the purchase price.

Customs Duties and VAT (Value Added Tax) differ from country to country, and must be paid on ecommerce transactions. Sites cannot necessarily determine how much of a duty or tax will be levied when the package is delivered through customs. However, sites can at least acknowledge the possibility of these additional charge so international shoppers are not surprised if such a fee is charged.

Avon US tax presentation on basket pageAvon US tax presentation on basket page

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Tip #6. Format Forms and Data-Collection

One of the most common problems when users are visiting sites from other countries revolves around data entry. Forms asking for personal information simply do not accommodate users in various locations.

In many Asian countries, the first name is the family name, so it’s best to offer a single field when asking for a person’s entire name. Offering separate fields for first name and last name is a recipe for confusion. In some countries, people have only one name, so two fields would stump them as well. So, instead of using two fields, consider using a single field for the name.

Single user name on amazon websiteSingle user name on Amazon website

Another problem occurs when a user is filling a form in a local language. The English alphabet has 26 letters. Most European languages have their own character sets, which all have more letters than English. Therefore, your form should accept an extended character set.

You also need to accommodate house numbers that follow street names and ZIP codes of various lengths that precede city names. In fact, shoppers in Europe use the term “Postal Code” rather than “ZIP code”, which is used in U.S.

Avon UK and Avon US delivery address formsAvon UK and Avon US delivery address forms

The full format for a European postal code is as follows: an optional country code followed by a dash (for example, DK-3660, GB-W2 5RH). The country code is 1-3 letters. The national postal code is 4-7 characters and can be digits, letters or spaces.

For phone numbers, allow for international numbers containing a varying number of digits and a country code.

Tip #7. Measurements

Measurements often cause problems for international users. Some users have trouble understanding weight, capacity and size measurements on international sites.

Measurements often cause problems for international users. Some users have trouble understanding weight, capacity and size measurements on international sites. #ecommerce #CRO Click To Tweet

In order to help users with sizes, do the following:

  • Default to showing sizes in the units for the customer’s location,
  • Use product images to show scale if possible,
  • Provide size charts indicating equivalent international sizing.

Size chart on Victorias Secret websiteSize chart on Victoria’s Secret website

Tip #8. Create a Simple Returns Process

German and Dutch consumers return the most goods relative to the size of the country’s population. More than half of online consumers in these countries have returned at least one e-shopped item in the past year.

The most commonly returned product categories are clothing and footwear, home electronics, car accessories, children’s items, and home furnishings.

Clear returns information is regarded by many consumers as an absolute must. Some sites have returns policies which often don’t take into consideration shoppers in other countries. Short return time-frames can prevent customers from purchasing, as customers would not have time to receive, evaluate, and return items.

E-commerce in Europe 2018 report.E-commerce in Europe 2018 report. Source

Tip #9. Attract the Right Audience With Localized SEO

The success of your business depends on how easily new customers can find your products online. However, your international customers may search in entirely different ways compared to your native customers.

Proper SEO localization can help you to increase website traffic in local markets. Here are some tips:

  • Define the right search words. You need to work with local SEO experts who will help you choose the right local keywords, their alternatives, and commonly misspelled terms.
  • Purchase country-specific domains for every country you want to operate in. The right domain suffix (e.g. .fr for France and .pl for Poland) will indicate that the website is built for the particular country and increase your chances of being discovered by the right audience.
  • Use the blog on the site to attract your users (and search algorithms) with unique, relevant and high quality content in every single language.
  • Remember to localize your meta title, description and tags, and insert the text in the local language.

Meta Title and Meta Description exampleMeta Title and Meta Description example

Tip #10. Calendar of Special Days

Sites that support gift-giving often celebrate special days, such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day and so forth. Some of these holidays are not known all over the world, and some of them are celebrated on different days in different countries.

Check your target markets using “Holidays Around the World“. There are many special days such as Lipstick Day, Hugging Day, Bikini Day etc. which can be utilized in promotions.

Example of Special Days CalendarExample of Special Days Calendar

Tip #11. Leverage Relevant Product Categories

Research international markets using tools like Google Trends, Google Search Console, and Google Analytics. Let’s say your ecommerce store sells cosmetics, skincare, and haircare. A search for this category in different markets shows the customers interest.
Google Trends users interest for cosmeticsGoogle Trends users interest for “cosmetics”

Research of millions of European consumers who have shopped online in the past year, showed that the top twelve product categories bought online are: clothing and footwear, home electronics, books/audiobooks, cosmetics, home furnishings, films, sports and leisure products, food, CDs, car accessories, toys, and children’s items.

The products most commonly bought online in Poland and Nordics are clothes and footwear, home electronics and cosmetics. In Germany and France, they are clothes and footwear, home electronics, and books.

Therefore, when designing your site for international audience, take into consideration preferences in terms of product categories.

Tip #12. Prioritize Mobile Commerce

Having a mobile-optimized website isn’t enough. You need a clean, mobile-first site, a mobile app, and personalized user experiences. Moreover, without a mobile friendly site you’re not only at risk of losing your audience, but with Google’s mobile-first indexing, you’re at risk of losing out on website rankings.

Key metrics to pay attention to when checking if a site is mobile-friendly are mobile usability errors, design, and speed.

The most common mobile usability errors are:

  • Clickable elements are too close,
  • Content is wider than the screen,
  • Text is too small to read,
  • Mobile gestures (like swiping images) are not enabled.

Check your website with >Google Mobile Friendly tool Check your website with Google Mobile-Friendly tool
The overall design template should be interchangeable between the desktop and mobile versions, allowing users to interact easily with your website no matter which device they are using.

The overall design template should be interchangeable between the desktop and mobile versions, allowing users to interact easily with your website no matter which device they are using #ecommerce Click To Tweet

The most important metric is mobile website speed. If your website takes too long to load, even if only by a few seconds, it will lose traffic. Google reported that 53% of mobile users leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.

Tip #13. Run International Usability Tests

Cultural differences are difficult to see from a different cultural perspective. It’s nearly impossible to know for certain whether users in another culture will interpret a description or a design the way it was originally intended. The best way to eliminate any problematic misunderstanding is to conduct international user tests. Here’s how:

  • Conduct tests with 3 to 6 users in each target country.
  • Conduct tests with local users who match your user profile.
  • Conduct tests in the native language of the user whenever possible.
  • Consider remote testing or remote observation of tests.
  • If your budget doesn’t allow for usability testing in each target country, at least have a local usability person review the site for potential cultural issues.

Summary

You can’t expect to attract international customers unless you make an effort to accommodate them. International usability issues include differences in language, addresses, support expectations, payment options, and other conventions. I hope that the tips outlined in this article will help you create a better international website.

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Author bio:

Irina Veligan

Irina Veligan is responsible for the implementation, growth and monetization of Avon online channels, for the omnichannel integration of Avon offline & online stores with the aim to provide customers and representatives with omnichannel mobile shopping experience and to grow Avon sales offline and online. Follow her on Facebook, Linkedin and Medium


Growcode Ecommerce Blog / Ecommerce Optimization / International Ecommerce: 13 Tips on Designing Ecommerce Websites for International Audience

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