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October 25, 2007

7 Ways To Improve International E-Commerce Usability

When you run an ecommerce website, 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 without 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.

1. Have an International Shipping page

Sure, you could have it buried in an FAQ section, Help area or some other hard-to-find place, but why not make it easy for users to find International Shipping policies by making it its own link visible from every page on the site?

The footer menu is a common location for shipping information, as is the top right hand corner of your page. Conventions like this train users to check these areas for shipping information. If it’s not there, customers might just assume it’s not available. Placing this information in one of the two areas the customer is likely to look is a good idea. Placing it in both areas is even better.

Some e-commerce websites hide International Shipping information in the “Help” section. Avoid this, as users can’t find it by scanning the page they are on, and Help may be associated with technical assistance with a site.

2. Include Important Information on Shipping Page

Return policies, customer service hours of operation and time zones, estimated shipping times and order tracking availability should be clearly stated. A list of all countries you ship to is also recommended. Remind customers that they may have to pay additional duties and taxes depending on where they live.

3. Make Your Shipping Policy Searchable

Make sure your international shipping page can be found using your site’s internal search engine. 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.

4. Show 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.

5. Convert Currencies, Weights and Measures on the Product Page

North American customers may not buy clothing from Korean shops that display sizing in centimeters or a children’s toy from the UK that can support up to 35 kilograms. Providing conversion tools can increase conversions!

6. Estimate Shipping Costs on Your Product Pages

E-Commerce usability rockstars offer shipping cost tools right on product pages, which not only helps international customers but also locals. FedEx, UPS and USPS all provide API access for your web developer to make this happen. Offering the tool at the product page level also will reduce your rate of abandoned carts.

7. Send a Post-Sale Email

If you can segment your customer database by location, you can send targeted follow up emails to your international customers. For example, as the Canadian dollar rises more Canadians will shop online at US stores. Motivate your Canadian customers to visit you again by offering free shipping, discounts or other offers. Or, send an email from time to time asking how you can improve the shopping experience for international users. Even if they don’t respond, you send a powerful message that your business cares about foreign shoppers.

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. But these seven tips will give you a head start.

Author:  Linda Bustos is an Emerging Media Analyst for Elastic Path Software, an SEO friendly ecommerce software solutions provider. Linda blogs daily at the Get Elastic E-commerce blog about user experience for e-commerce and Internet marketing for online retailers.

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