Why Website Globalization Should Matter to International Businesses

    October 6, 2006

What kind of financial return should a company expect when it globalizes its website? If it translates the e-commerce pages, will more people buy? Or is English enough for the still English-saturated web?

Some new research answers these questions.

At some basic level, we know that language is important — people don’t buy what they don’t understand. For years the most widely cited statistic in business globalization has been that buyers are three times more likely to purchase something if addressed in their own language (“Strategies for Global Sites” by Don DePalma in May 1998). Until now, there has been no large-scale, independent behavioral study of consumers to validate this contention.

To quantify what actual benefits companies get from tailoring their marketing and sales material to specific national audiences, Common Sense Advisory surveyed over 2,400 consumers in eight non-English-speaking countries about their online buying habits and preferences. At least 300 people completed the online surveys conducted in each of eight languages — in Brazil, China (PRC), France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Spain, and Turkey.

Here are a few of the findings:

Can’t read, won’t buy

The report breaks out results by the level of English competence among those surveyed. Those with no-or-low English spent most or all of their time on sites in their own language (88.3%), but that number dropped to 60.6 percent for those who had some ability in English.

Just 10 percent of the low-or-no English participants make most or all of their online purchases from Anglophone websites, compared to 37 percent of the English-speaking group. Even for those who can read English, more than 60 percent prefer buying from sites in their own language.

Most will pay more for products with information in their own language

Common Sense Advisory proposed that “when faced with the choice of buying two similar products, I am more likely to purchase the one that is less expensive even if it does not have product information in my own language.” In the total sample, 43.8 percent would opt for the cheaper product over the one with their language. However, 64.3 percent of the no-or-low English group would pay more for information they could read in their own language. Those with English proficiency were split nearly 50/50 on this proposition.

The no-or-low English segment was four times more likely to buy products offered and documented in their own languages (82.5% agreed), while 65.5 percent of the English-proficient respondents favored local-language products.

Two thirds of Brazilians (66.7%) and Russians (68.8%) agreed with this proposition, indicating a more adamant stance of having materials presented in their language rather than paying a lower price.

Chinese (50.3%) and French (50.2%), however, led the pack of value shoppers, both opting for the lower-priced product over information presented in their natal language.

Yes, the report finds that language does matter, but that’s not all. Even for consumers who feel comfortable in English, many prefer buying in their own language. Most want customer support that is similarly accessible. And with sites lacking local currency or transaction support, many non-native speakers discover that buying from English-language sites is literally an impossible undertaking. Companies making the business case for website globalization, internationational marketing, or localized products can benefit from using this data in their business cases.

Read the Executive Summary at: www.commonsenseadvisory.com


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Donald A. DePalma, Ph.D., President and Chief Research Officer, Common Sense Advisory

For additional information, visit www.commonsenseadvisory.com or e-mail Melissa@commonsenseadvisory.com.