International Ecommerce Usability Tips

The beauty of an ecommerce website is that you have the potential to sell products to people around the world, even from your own basement. But many online retailers expect to make international sales yet are not doing all they should to help convert international shoppers. Here are a few ideas to help make the online shopping experience smooth for your international customers.

These tips apply to “international” websites — websites that are based in one country but accommodate orders from other countries — as opposed to localized websites which may be a country-specific subdomain, have a country-specific domain extension (Yourstore.co.uk) or have their own domain (YourstoreUK.com). Localized websites have their own complexities which will be covered in a follow up post.

1. Have an International Shipping page

Sure, you could have it buried in an FAQ section, in the Help area or some other hard-to-find place, but why not make it easy for users to find by making it its own link visible from every page on the site? (The footer menu is a great, conventional location). Backcountry.com hides its international information in the “Help” section which is generally associated with technical site help rather than customer service info. And Provantage.com has an impressive international shipping page, but you can’t find it through their Shipping footer link. Instead, it’s hidden behind an inappropriately labelled site map page labelled “Index” (doesn’t Index usually mean home?) and then under an equally inappropriate sub-category called “Doing Business.”

On your International Shipping page, be sure to include information on international return policies, customer service hours of operation and time zones, estimated shipping times and order tracking availability. Reminding customers that they may have to pay additional duties and taxes is a good idea, because if they’re not expecting them, they might assume you tried to rip them off when they’re asked by UPS to cough up some more to get their goods. Explaining that because these additional costs are sometimes collected by the courier upon delivery, you can’t ship to P.O boxes is also a good idea.

And while you’re at it, make sure your international shipping page can be found using your site’s internal search engine too. It’s a good idea to program your search engine to deliver this page for searches for “international,” “intl,” “international orders” and “international customers” too. But don’t return every product like Discountjuicers.com!

If you want to be a real international ecommerce usability rockstar, you’ll also explicitly list which countries you send to a la FTD and YesStyle (note that high scam risk countries like Nigeria are NOT on the list) and mention which countries you bill to (a Polish customer might be paying for the item to send to someone in Kansas).

2. Mention international shipping availability on product pages

You may carry some products that you can’t ship abroad even if you can ship most products. For example, certain health supplements are legal in some countries and illegal in others. It’s a good idea to mention this before the customer gets to the checkout. Sure, this wouldn’t be so bad for you if you never intended to sell anything outside your country anyway, but if you irritate a user who may buy something else from you it’s in your best interest to provide this courtesy.

3. Convert weights and measures on the product page

I have no clue whether the one-size yellow t-shirt from Korea that’s described in centimetres is going to fit me unless I have a tape measure beside my computer or the etailer was kind enough to build a converter right into the page. Thanks YesStyle!

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4. Convert currencies on the product pages

YesStyle is a Korean site that is very international-friendly. Besides offering FREE international shipping, it provides a Reference Currency tool that will display prices in your chosen currency as long as you’re on the site.

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5. Provide an estimate of the shipping costs on your product pages

The real top-guns of usability are implementing shipping cost tools right on the product pages, which not only helps international customers but also home-grown users. FedEx, UPS and USPS all provide API access for your web developer to make this happen. Just be careful that you don’t boast about your international shipping calculation tools and then botch up the tool itself by only allowing 5 digit field input (Canadian and UK postal codes are 6 characters) like Optbinoculars.com. Offering the tool at the product page level also will reduce your rate of abandoned carts, making you look like a hero at the next board meeting.

GroovyCandies has a great shipping converter that factors in the product’s weight and gives you a whack of prices for different shipping methods.

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6. Post-sale email targeting

C28.com has a good idea to segment its customer database by location so it can send out follow-up emails like “How Can We Improve C28.com for Non US Customers?” If at any time C28 was offering free international shipping, or perhaps even decided to launch a localized C28.ca site, they could easily send an email blast to the appropriate customer segment.

Of course, your own usability testing with international customers is the best way to learn about how your own site can be improved. There are even consultancies that offer international usability testing services.


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