International Ecommerce: Directing Visitors to Localized Content

If you’ve been trekking with us through our internationalization series, you’re familiar with the 6 things you need to consider about going global, and the decision to serve the world through multiple, localized stores or through one “internationalized” site.

Whether you’ve opted for one or multiple stores, you need to direct visitors who arrive at your home country’s site to the appropriate content – whether that’s simply shipping information, localized features (currency conversion, refined assortment) or localized sites.

There are several ways you can accomplish this:

  • Use IP detection and force redirect to the localized site/landing page
  • Use IP detection and show localized content (prices, assortment)
  • Use IP detection and present user with options
  • Don’t use IP detection, but allow customer to manually change region
  • Do nothing except support international transactions (mention international shipping somewhere on the site)

Let’s break down the good and bad of each approach.

Use IP detection and force redirect to the localized site/landing page

Example: Bluenile

If a vistor from Canada types “Bluenile” or “Bluenile.com” into her browser, she is taken directly to Bluenile.ca. Because product selection, pricing and style/model availability varies depending on the final shipping destination, redirection ensures the customer is never shown the wrong product catalog.

The customer is visibly assured that the site is Canadian with an easy-to-spot flag icon in the header. Clicking on the flag brings up shipping information.

Bluenile provides a manual override at the bottom of the page, where the customer can change shipping destination, currency, or both.

Benefits

  • Eliminates the use of annoying country selection splash page. User doesn’t have to think or take action (reduces bounce rate).
  • Eliminates the risk of customers reaching checkout only to find they can’t complete their order.

Cautions

  • Some visitors with non-domestic IP addresses may intend to ship to your home country (expats, gift givers, travelers, etc). Unless you provide a manual override, you risk losing these customers.
  • Redirecting to a localized landing page (as is the practice of American Eagle Outfitters), rather than a localized site can give visitors the false impression of a localized site. As they browse the rest of the (US) site, Canadian customers may assume they are on a Canadian site with prices in Canadian dollars, which is not the case.

Use IP detection and show localized content

Example: Tiger Direct

Tiger Direct shows a conspicuous banner advertising its TigerDirect.ca site. Unfortunately, TD’s site design is so cluttered it may be easily overlooked.

Amazon’s a bit clearer:

Benefit

  • Does not force customers to a localized site when they might prefer to shop the .com (or whatever extension your parent site is).

Cautions

  • May suffer from “banner blindness” effect.
  • Eats up header real estate that could be used more effectively, and pushes content below the fold.

Use IP detection and present user with options

Examples: Nordstrom and Best Buy

Nordstrom serves a landing page asking customers to select their country and currency or proceed as US customer. The preference is saved so the settings are auto-applied for future sessions.

It’s important to save settings. Best Buy doesn’t remember your preference. Each time you return, you need to select your site again. Even worse, after making your selection, if you click on the Best Buy logo to return to the home page, you return to the country/language selection page again.

Benefits

  • There’s no risk of banner blindness with the in-your-face approach.
  • You put the customer in control, and ensure the content they prefer is the content you deliver.

Cautions

  • A customer may change his mind, so provide a manual override option that’s easy to spot.
  • Splash pages are generally annoying and may cause search engine problems. Pay attention to design, usability and SEO best practices. Get Elastic reader, Alan Perkins, comments: “Using IP detection to redirect to a landing page *may* hurt SEO because the search engine spider may be redirected to the English language content for US visitors, and thus miss the English content for non-US visitors and/or the non-English content for all visitors.”

Don’t use IP detection, but allow customer to manually change region

Example: Dell

Many large enterprise sites that have global brand recognition opt for the big pull down menu with every single country (or at least continent) covered. Dell is no exception, using a flag icon in the top left for clarity.

Benefits

  • Gives customers the option to change region without using a cluttered country selection page (Like Nike.com).
  • You don’t need a geolocation tool.

Cautions

  • The links may not be noticeable, and customers may get to the checkout before realizing they need to change region. Flag icons may look cheap but they’re more recognizable than text links.
  • Avoid loading a big country selector page after the user clicks the region link if possible. Dropdown menus are okay, but a flyout menu is both user and search engine friendly.

Do nothing, except support international transactions

Many sites don’t make a big enough deal about international shipping. Information is provided behind “Customer Service,” “Shipping” or “FAQ” links, but not clearly advertised on the site.

While this is the lazy man’s approach to internationalization, at the very least, international shipping information should be easy to find under Customer Service, and through the search box. Just don’t expect as many international sales as with the other options.

Despite which option you choose, keep the following in mind:

1. Don’t assume they know about your localized site. It’s habitual to type Sears.com, for example, into a search engine or address bar. Sears makes no attempt to inform Canadians there is a .ca site (and Sears is the largest Canadian online retailer).

2. Use a flag. It might look a bit cheesy, but like a Noxzema girl, it will get noticed. Put it in the top left, center or right hand corner, not your footer menu.

3. Geolocation tools are not free, but they can prevent your domestic visitors from seeing international calls to action, and serve targeted content to the right ones. Not to mention, the host of other benefits of geolocation.

4. Always provide the option to change to the home country site.

We’ve only scratched the surface. Next post we’ll explore international usability tactics for category, search, product and cart review pages. And we’ll discuss much more in our October 27 webinar Upcoming Ecommerce Webinar – Tapping into the International Online Consumer: What Every Enterprise Needs to Know About Going Global with Forrester Research Analyst Zia Daniell Widger. Sign up today!


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13 Responses to “International Ecommerce: Directing Visitors to Localized Content”

  1. Thanks for yet another thought-inspiring post, Linda.

    I know you end this one that by saying we’re only scratching the surface so far, but I think it’s important to point out some of the SEO issues that the choices you give could create – especially under the “Cautions”.

    You say “Using IP detection to serve a landing page won’t hurt SEO”. You need to be really careful here! Using IP detection to serve a landing page most definitely can hurt SEO, especially if the search engine is only allowed to see the version of the content that maps to their (usually US) IP address. I’ve resolved many, many problems where some well-intentioned but over-clever location/language settings based upon the IP or HTTP request have prevented most (if not all!) content from being crawled, let alone indexed or ranked.

    The rule of thumb I apply is for content I want indexed is:

    Each piece of unique content, indexed once, at the best URL for it.

    What this means in general practice is that every piece of index-worthy content, in every territory and every language, has to be viewable (crawlable and indexable) at one or more URLs (ideally exactly one), where at that URL viewing that content does not depend on IP or HTTP header setting (such as Accept-Language). Once you accept this, then usability – the means of routing people to the correct content for them – can take place. But that usability must not prevent search engines, which tend to be based in one country and use very simple HTTP requests, from seeing all content.

    • Hi Alan, thanks for sharing that. That should have read “Using IP detection to redirect to a landing page won’t hurt SEO.” I have made the correction.

      • Hi Linda

        Hmmm, I don’t agree. But maybe we are talking at crossed purposes. Why not try finishing this sentence: “Using IP detection to redirect to a landing page won’t hurt SEO because …”

        I’ll finish it from my POV: Using IP detection to redirect to a landing page *may* hurt SEO because the search engine spider may be redirected to the English language content for US visitors, and thus miss the English content for non-US visitors and/or the non-English content for all visitors.

  2. Hi Linda,

    Something else to consider is blocking specific countries from visiting/seeing your site.

    Why?

    Certain countries have high credit card fraud issues and/or will demand refunds immediately.

    I also block my Google Adwords from these folks as I don’t want them calling round.

    Sometimes it’s good to be a little choosy.

    Regards,

    Ivan

    • Hi Ivan, thanks for sharing that. That’s a good point, there are countries that are known fraudsters like Nigeria and Indonesia. Any others?

      • I found this article that describes a problem with Israeli IP addresses:

        “To give another example, Israel is typically located as the #2 country (after Nigeria) from which fraud transactions occur. But that’s not because of the thriving criminal underground in the holy land, but rather because an Israeli company called Gilat Satellites has set up thousands of dishes around third world countries, connecting small villages to the Internet. These all map to a particular router in Israel, so IP geo-location will show a transaction originating in Israel. Since lots of fraudsters use this satellite connection, Israel gained top-of-list position.”
        http://www.finextra.com/community/fullblog.aspx?id=4326

        That’s too bad, because there are a lot of legitimate shoppers in Israel.

  3. Hi Linda,
    Thanks for this post, I wonder if you have any data that supports your statement “Eliminates the use of annoying country selection splash page. User doesn’t have to think or take action (reduces bounce rate).”

    • Hi Blas, there is no empirical data, but it is supported by usability studies that any time you present a web user with a page of options for which they have to take an extra action, you risk losing people. What percent you will lose, that depends. When you simplify any process on a landing page, such as removing the country selector and directing them to content automatically, the expected outcome is a reduced bounce rate. It is not an absolute truism, it’s the expected outcome.

  4. Hi Linda,
    I agree! Thanks for this post. I wonder if you have any data that supports your title “Use IP detection and show localized content” because the IP are not so accurate.
    when I buy on american sites usually I never find localized content for my area.
    regards
    Lodovico

  5. Rob says:

    Hi Linda, You wrote –
    “3.Geolocation tools are not free”

    Check out http://software77.net/geo-ip/ , this is free and I have found it easy to integrate.
    Regards
    Rob

  6. Silvestre says:

    Hello,
    I have a e-commerce store that is targeted to latin america. I have been searching the web how I can set up a landing page to have my clients select their country, than once they select which country, they would be redirected to the page shows in their country’s currency. I already have a currency selector on my website, but it has been non stop confusing for my clients to realize its there and select what country they are visiting our commerce site from. Trying to simplify the process for them and which would also help us close sales.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks for the great article. Great explanation of how this all works.

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