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Oct 13, 2010 | 4 minute read

Taking International Ecommerce Usability to the Next Level

written by Linda Bustos

Last post we looked at the many ways to direct international visitors to localized content and features. Today, we'll look how to maximize the user friendliness of your content and features for international shoppers.

Home Page

As mentioned last post, a clear link to international shipping information is crucial. Place it in a banner or navigation header, along with any other localized features like switch language, region or currency.

Category and Search Pages

Customers assume what they find in your store is available to buy, but that's not always the case for international shoppers. It's best to communicate what products can be shipped outside of your domestic country as early as possible. Ideally this is accomplished by a product catalog filter, items excluded from category and search results through targeted selling. For example, some online sellers ask for a zip or postal code before showing category results (very common for office supply, telecommunications and online grocery).

Alternatively, Overstock uses geoIP targeting to recognize international shoppers and flag products in category results that cannot ship outside the US.

The Etsy marketplace lists items from sellers around the globe, and gives shoppers the option to refine results by shipping country. While this is not as conspicuous as Overstock's thumbnails, it fits better with Etsy's business model. Listings are seller (member) generated, so it would be difficult to get sellers to add their own "don't ship out of US" badges to images.

eBay uses profile data to list only items that can ship to the member’s zipcode/postal code (which the user can adjust if they are planning to ship do a different address):

Users also have the option of sorting results by “price+shipping” for a total landed cost.

Another thing to watch for with categories is labels. Dell sells televisions. If Dell wanted to get cute and name the category “Dellevisions” (don’t worry, they’re not doing this), English as second language might not understand the play on words, and translation tools would not be able to translate.

Product Pages

Customers may land directly on product pages, so shipping information should be prominent on them as well. Amazon boldly indicates when an item is unable to be shipped to a visitor’s country (using geolocation).

If you can’t use geolocation, include shipping availability in the product description, like LL Bean.

I would recommend LL Bean bold the line of text that says shipping is only available in contiguous United States and Canada to make it easier to spot. (It's a "call-to-information" - optimize it as you would a call-to-action.)

Rather than just a text link reading "Change Currency," Karmaloop uses flags to attract more attention and serve as a visual reassurance to international shoppers that they can purchase from the site:

Don’t forget unit converters where necessary – weights, measurements and shoe/clothing sizes differ around the world.

For product descriptions, it’s generally a good idea to write for a low reading level. Many adults have elementary school reading levels or are English as a second language – not just international visitors, but also your domestic.

Cart Review

A common practice is to show "carrots" in the cart, reminding customers they are $X away from free shipping. If your shipping promotion doesn’t apply to international users, remember, not everyone will read the fine print. Including (US only) helps to clarify, but it’s far better to recognize international visitors through targeted selling (geolocation tools or customer selects country/region) and serve an appropriate banner or offer in the checkout.

Shipping and tax estimate tools are very helpful, as is delivery estimate and explanation of any duties or taxes that may be added.

Depending on your chosen shipping carrier, you may or may not be able to estimate up front what customs and duties apply. But keep in mind, being able to offer a total cost with no “surprise” charges upon delivery is a big bonus. Surprise charges anger customers and reflect poorly on your business, though they're outside your control. It might be worth switching to a carrier that collects customs/duties from you rather than your customer.

Finally, consider offering alternative payment options for international visitors that may not have a Visa or Mastercard. (Stay tuned for a post on international payment options later this month). Show your alternative payment methods on the cart page before the checkout, to assure customers they can pay with their preferred method.

What about checkout, you ask? We'll cover that next post.

We've covered a lot on international ecommerce this month in the run up to our next webinar with Zia Daniell Widger of Forrester Research, Tapping into the International Online Consumer: What Every Enterprise Needs to Know About Going Global. Reserve your spot today, it happens October 27 at 9am PST/12pm EST).