|For those international companies that already
have their own web site, an important consideration is
to ensure that the web site is able to ser· vice
foreign customers. A surprising 85 per cent of companies
cannot fill international orders simply because of their
system's inability to register international addresses
or price total delivery costs.|
When devising an internationalisation strategy, one crucial
decision companies must make is whether nor not to have
multiple foreign web sites and how to manage these sites,
On one hand, if an international firm chooses to manage
the global operations from the local country (for example
South Africa), its foreign sites are far more prone to
make linguistic and merchandising mistakes. For instance,
selling goods that might be offensive in certain cultures,
or offering product instructions that are delivered with
the wrong tone.
Such mistakes are less likely if international
companies hire a team in each foreign market to handle
the web site. Unfortunately, this, too, can lead to problems
for companies trying to convey a consistent brand message.
'Customers can spot inconsistencies,' Forrester's Schmitt
say: 'If you have to deal in multiple countries, you don't
want 10 sites with a different look and feel at everyone,
and companies don't want to have 10 different backend
One of the earliest successes in ecommerce
globalization was Dell Corporation, which began selling
on the Web in 1996 and now has sites aimed at 85 different
countries and territories. According to Frank Muehleman,
senior vice-president of Dell's worldwide, division, the
company uses a decentralized approach with its international
sites – click to view their website.
Dell created a common technology platform
for each of its global sites, including a template for
ordering and product information, which ensures a consistent
user experience across their various international sites.
In addition, several hundred country specialists give
advice and training to the local managers, while the local
team handles the rollout.
Just as important, according to Muehlemn,
is that Dell built manufacturing plants in ach of the
regions it serves, including Brazil, Ireland, China, and
Malaysia. Because the company employs local customer
service staff, everytime a customer picks up the phone,
they’re dealing with someone local. In the next
section we discuss a number of issues that international
firms should keep in mind when internationalizing' their
web sites. These include issues such as language, culture,
There is considerable debate as to whether
international firms should have their entire website translated
into other languages. On the one hand, only about 57 per
cent of users on the Internet speak English. In comparison,
as many as 22 per cent of all users are Japanese speaking,
while 16 per cent are German-speaking with 11 per
cent each for Spanish- and French-speaking users.
On the other hand, most of these non-English
speakers can speak English in addition o their mother
tongue. What is more, software exists to translate web
sites from English into other languages (although these
services are till a little weak and slow).
Perhaps the international firm should consider
translating an introductory (i.e. ‘welcome’)page
into the three or four of the most important languages,
say German, French, and Spanish. Alternatively, if a company
targets German-speaking countries, then it might be worth
translating its web site only into German. Management
should at least provide a link on their web site pointing
to an online web page translation service such as Babelfish. The
firm's management could also let potential customers know
that they can communicate with them in their language of
choice. But management will then need to have a translation
service on hand locally to translate these e-mails into
English and this could be quite expensive, especially
if they are receiving a large number of foreign-language
e-mails daily. ExportHelp has a list of translators that can help you with translations. Click here.
If the international firm includes an order
form on its web site, then the form should be created
in such a way as to be compatible with international addresses,
titles, surnames, telephone numbers, postal/zip codes,
etc. Care should be taken as to which fields are made
obligatory. 'Province' or 'state' should not be made obligatory
fields, for example, as many countries do not use these
In addition, forms should allow for any
number of digits for telephone numbers, have a field available
for a telex number (it is still used in some countries),
and allow enough space for complicated street addresses.
In addition, there must be a country field - for obvious
reasons. Titles are important in many countries so forms
should include such a field. The postal code field should
also be able to handle letters as well as numbers, and
the surname field should be capable of handling multiple
last names, such as 'Van der Merwe' in South Africa.
In developing an online form aimed at international
markets, the likely target audience must be kept in mind.
Any information collected from foreign customers
should be kept seperate from domestic information
in order to simplify matters.
Although the Internet is arguably a single
universal environment, culture still plays a role
and should be kept in mind when using graphic features
such as pictures, drawings, and illustrations. If
graphics only make sense if you read them from left to
right, then there might be a problem in countries where
the population read from right to left. With some graphics
this could change their meaning completely. Similarly,
companies should be sensitive to the graphics they use,
as others may not understand them. International
firms targeting Islamic countries, for example, should
take care not to use provocative pictures of women on
their web site, as this is likely to be considered offensive.
Also, understanding that different colours mean different
things in different cultures is important. For example,
in some cultures white signifies purity while in
others it signifies mourning.
Dimensions and measurements
In South Africa we use the metric system
(grams, metres, and litres), but in the US use is made
of the imperial system (ounces, inches, and pints), which
is also still widely used in the UK and some other countries.
International firms might consider offering both measures
for ease of reference.
Credit cards and alternative payment
While credit cards may be popular in South
Africa for online payment purposes, they are not popular
in countries such as Germany and elsewhere. In Japan,
for example, local-Eleven stores are used by consumers
to pay for many services including utilities and many
other types of bills.
The international firm needs to be aware
of these alternative payment mechanisms and they should
be catered for on the firm's web site. If the firm were
targeting consumers in Japan, for example, it would be
no use offering credit card payments, as no one would
buy. Instead the firm would need to enter into an agreement
with 7 -Eleven for them to accept payment on the firm's
behalf and their commission would need to be calculated
into the firm's selling price.
In addition, the international firm should
always offer an alternative way of paying for a purchase
such as provide its banking details or suggesting that
the customer contact them to discuss alternative payment
Global firms should not use phrases that
are local to South Africa such as 'robot' for 'traffic
light', 'lift' for 'elevator', 'torch' for 'flashlight',
'light up' for 'illuminate', etc. Care should also be
taken with spelling. Firms need to remember that there
are many words that are spelt differently in the
US. For example, 'labour' is spelt 'labor' in the US.
If the US is the target market, these misspellings could
For more serious global firms with established
business in specific countries, it is worth considering
creating a local web site, with a local web address, and
with localized content. In this instance, the firm would
probably require someone (the import agent, perhaps?)
in the host country in question to take responsibility
for the web site and to handle enquiries received via
the web site. Such a web site could be translated
into the local language and would be tweaked to meet local
cultural differences (again the agent or local business
partner could assist with this).
Speed of reply
International firms need to ensure that
any enquiries they receive are answered and dealt with
as quickly as possible. As already mentioned, potential
customers may be sending an international firm enquiries
from different time zones and yet will still expect an
immediate reply. The firm may need to set up an automated
e-mail auto response service that sends an immediate reply
to the enquirer thanking them for the enquiry and informing
them that they will receive a more complete reply within
24 or 48 hours.
Web sites not kept up to date will lose
the international firm business. If prices, product specifications.
or any other information change, the firm must make sure
these changes are updated on its web site.
Time and date conventions
Some countries use a 24-hour clock (written
as 13h20), while others use the 12-hour clock (written
as 1.20 pm). The global firm must make it absolutely clear
which one it is using or, better still, should provide
both. Similarly, in South Africa companies generally write
the date either as day/month/year (written as 1/11/2000)
or as year/month/day (written as 2000/11/1). In the US,
however, it is more common to write the date as month/day/year
(written as 11/1/2000). This can be confusing for
a firm's foreign business partners. The best solution
is to possibly write the date as 'I November 2003' in
order to prevent any misunderstanding.
Many customers abroad will not have heard
of the 'rand' and what is more, they would probably
prefer the price of goods and services to be priced in
their own currency or at least in one of the major international
currencies such as the US dollar, the pound sterling,
the euro, or the yen. The global firm needs to provide
prices in different currencies and/or provide a currency
calculator on its web site.
Symbols, icons, and design elements
International firms should use icons, symbols
and design features on their web sites that will not be
confusing to others. The popular sign for 'OK' in South
Africa and in the diving world (the thumb and forefinger
brought together in a circle with the other three fingers
up in the air) has a derogatory meaning in other parts
of the world.