Pitney Bowes

Global Ecommerce Solutions

How to Improve Online Checkout for Global Markets

by John Yunker | December 30, 2013 | No Comments

open-doors-global-ecommerceThe difference between online success and online failure can sometimes be attributed to the checkout process. Perhaps your customer was surprised by shipping costs and abandoned the shopping cart. Or the stated delivery time was longer than expected. Or perhaps your customer simply got confused at some point along the way.

These challenges are compounded when your company begins targeting customers outside of your domestic market. Successfully localizing the checkout experience requires so much more than simply adding “province” to the “state” input field on the checkout form. This article includes a few tips to keep in mind as you prepare to localize your ecommerce website for new markets and improve the online checkout process.

First, Study Successful Ecommerce Websites

From Amazon and Alibaba to Rakuten and eBay, study the ways that these websites have optimized and localized their checkout processes. Don’t limit yourself to studying the checkout form itself; study the entire ecommerce process — from adding a product, to the shopping cart, all the way through to product fulfillment.

For example, you’ll learn that Amazon forces users to create accounts before entering the checkout process. Doing so allows Amazon to provide a more personalized checkout process over time. Apple, by contrast, allows users to choose between creating an account initially or to begin the checkout process as a “guest.”

global_checkout_apple_checkout

Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong, but one approach may be more appealing to your customers in a given market. Also take note of the details, no matter how small. For example, Amazon in the US uses the term “shopping cart,” while Amazon (and other retailers) in the UK use “shopping basket.”

global_checkout_amazon_us_cart

global_checkout_amazon_uk_basket

Most importantly, take notice of the checkout practices that are shared across the leading online retailers — practices that you may be wise to replicate since users are probably already comfortable with them.

Don’t Make Users “Select Country”

Shown below, a user must scroll down a very long list of countries just to get an estimate on shipping costs.

global_checkout_shipping

Using geolocation, you can detect the user’s country with a high degree of accuracy. You can then pre-select the user’s country in any pull-down menu, saving the user considerable time during the checkout process.

Granted, there may be instances in which the user is traveling outside his or her home country and may need to manually select a different country, but in the majority of ecommerce scenarios, the user’s current country is their desired selection.

Think “Country/Region”

Politically, there are differences in what constitutes a country versus a region. China, for example, views Taiwan as a region, while the United Nations views Taiwan as a country. The geopolitically tactful way to sidestep this issue is to use the phrase “country/region.” This may seem relatively trivial, but it’s important to be aware of these cultural and political issues as early as possible so you craft checkout forms that are as world-ready as possible.

A few companies, such as Microsoft, instead use the term “market” to avoid the country/region issue altogether.

Be Available to Help

Because there is no official global standard for checkout forms, a first-time customer to your website is going to have to learn the checkout process. Ideally, your process has much in common with other leading ecommerce websites in the user’s market so the user feels some degree of comfort. But in the event that your customer gets confused along the way, be sure to provide plenty of help information in the user’s local language.

Free phone support is a significant investment but one that can go a long way toward ensuring that users successfully checkout. If you make such an investment, be sure to make the local phone number prominent. Note on eBay Germany how the phone number is colored to stand out on the website.

global_checkout_ebay_de

Localize the Checkout Form

If you’re selling physical goods, it’s vital to understand what address fields you need to support for each country. You can lean the postal addressing standards for most countries here.

But mailing address is just the beginning. You also need to understand what personal information you need for your customers. Shown below are the user address fields on the Apple Store in the US and Brazil. Note the different input fields. In Brazil, for example, users are asked to enter their CPF numbers, which is their tax ID number. This is unique to Brazil and is just one example of how challenging checkout form localization can be.

global_checkout_apple_us

global_checkout_apple_br

What’s Your “Last” Name?

In the United States, we generally use the term “last name” on input forms, but many countries use “family name” or “surname” instead. This may seem like a trivial detail, but it’s particularly important when you consider that this simple text string is key to ensuring a credit cards process correctly, so you want to be sure that your customers enter their names correctly.

Also keep in mind that family names in many cultures can be significantly longer than Western family names, so you may need to adapt your input forms to support longer text strings.

Support the Currency (And Payment Platform)

When you’re selling virtual goods, you may want to allow users to select what preferred currency they wish to use. Adobe’s Creative Cloud allows users to select a currency before entering the checkout process.

global_checkout_adobe_currency

It’s not only a matter of supporting the right currency, but also letting your customers know what payment platforms you support. Sainsbury’s, a UK retailer, prominently displays supported payment options early in the checkout process.

global_checkout_sainsburys_payment

Manage Delivery Expectations

Shipping goods internationally can be time consuming. Be sure to manage customer expectations before they click the checkout button. A third-party fulfillment company can take over this process for you — and is not a bad idea as you begin expanding into new markets.

global_checkout_sainsburys_delivery

In addition, most international shipments will also incur import taxes and duties on top of the selling price and shipping fees, often referred to as the “landed cost” of the product. Taxes and duties vary by country — and product type — and can be complicated.

To avoid confusing your customer or having an order arrive at their door with additional money owed, it’s best to calculate these costs in the backend of your website and automatically include them in the shipping price. That way, the final price your customer sees on the screen is the price they pay without further complication. Most leading companies utilize third-party software to seamlessly perform these calculations for them.

Walk in Your Customer’s Online Shoes

One of the best ways to understand how challenging it can be to purchase goods from overseas is to go through the process yourself. Invest the time to purchase a product from Asian and European ecommerce websites. Note all of the obstacles you hit along the way — from poor or missing translations, to confusing input fields, to lack of support information.

By understanding the issues your customers around the world face during checkout, you will be more acutely aware of the major challenges of localizing the checkout process.

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