October 14th, 2010 | 3 MIN READ

Helping International Users Check Out

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

Victoria's Secret uses a tactic that may improve the usability of your international checkout. VS asks its customers to indicate their billing address in the first step of the checkout form. (Even with geolocation tools, it's good to ask as a user's billing address may be different than their IP location).

Victoria's Secret has designed different checkout forms for different regions. Below is the International form vs the US and Canada.

Notice the subtle differences between the International and the US/Canada:

  • "Care of or Business Name" is removed to prevent confusion and reduce the number of fields.
  • "Street Address" uses 3 lines of input fields to accommodate longer addresses. It's good that VS avoided the common "Address 2" as a label -- a usability study by Jakob Nielsen found that foreign users would often attempt to enter a postal code or city in that field.
  • "International Province or Territory" is open-ended, rather than a pulldown menu of US states and Canadian provinces. However, this may be problematic for users whose countries' addresses don't typically include the province or territory (many parts of Europe).
  • "Select a Country." Self explanatory.
  • ZIP / Postal Code is required for Japanese addresses only. (For an international form, ZIP is irrelevant - it's only used in the US.)
  • "Daytime Phone" is open-ended to accommodate different formats. No XXX-XXX-XXXX example is provided, as it doesn't apply to every country.

This approach works well for an "internationalized" site (one site serving all countries).

For organizations that have multiple stores for multiple countries, each country can have its own checkout forms designed to fit each market. While that's good for usability, there's a potential problem. If a customer is not directed to the appropriate site, either automatically or selecting country manually, he or she may use the domestic site only to find out international delivery is not supported in the checkout.

The country selector on Apple's Store is a tiny link in its footer menu, not easy to spot. When you get to checkout, the form has no country selector. It's USA or go away.

A better approach is to include a message for international visitors who are in the wrong place. Overstock's form has a link that reads "If you are shipping to the US click here." Cart contents are carried over to the US site if selected.

Another way is to use a pre-checkout message near the checkout button, like the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Store.

The important thing is to understand that one design does not apply to all users. Whether you are trying to serve everyone through one site or operate localized stores, effort should be made to make checkout form fields relevant and usable, and ensure customers are presented with the right checkout for their shipping destination.

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