Few companies are equipped to meet the needs of truly international customer data sets. From varying formats, to character sets, text direction, and language the options are almost infinite. Additionally, many retailers still fail to grasp the impact poor data has on their business. Consequences ranging from a negative brand perception, to reduced productivity, poor business decisions and failed deliveries are just the tip of the iceberg.
Going global requires preparation - particularly when it comes to global data. Research shows that 54% of shoppers believe that international orders are more likely to be affected by delivery issues making them reluctant to commit to an overseas purchase. For optimum performance, retailers should do all they can to collect accurate data from international clients from the beginning. Of course, this is a complex matter. There are over 240 countries and territories, more than 120 address formats, thousands of languages and dialects and more than 40 personal name formats, which can often create a recipe for data disaster for unsuspecting retailers.
Be aware of local nuances
Very few people can claim to truly know it all when it comes to international data. Perhaps a retailer is shipping goods to Italy, serving all customers an Italian-only web experience. What about Italians living in the Trentino-Alto Adige region where German is the primary language? Surely they would be likely to abandon a site that didn’t meet their language needs, or perhaps they would fill out forms in Italian rather than German. Collecting data in Italy without knowing these specific local nuances will risk your internal data quality and your ability to service these customers in the future. So, understanding how international users search, type and communicate locations is important.
Formulate a plan for each region
Beyond language there are other experiential assets that need to be tailored to your customer’s regional needs. Considering form design and field lengths is critical to collecting and shipping to international addresses. Could your form adapt to hold the 163 characters of the full name of the Thai capital, Bangkok? This is definitely something to consider if you want to capture a full name or address accurately while delivering the best experience.
Address formats can be extremely complicated and vary from region to region. Look at virtually any data entry form, and you will notice that it is almost without exception based on the national data properties of the company concerned. For example, French forms will ask you for the building number before the street name, while German forms start with the street while also asking for your academic title, which is essential there as it forms part of the complete customer address. Outside of Germany other formatting instances vary exponentially. Many forms based on a standardized US address format will insist upon a postal code despite the fact that over 70 states and territories around the world remain without a postal code system.
Best practice suggests always matching data entry forms to the patterns and norms of the location concerned. The fields should be presented in the order in which the user would expect to see them (especially important for personal names and postal addresses). Only relevant fields should be presented, and fields only made required when they can always be completed. This can be achieved by asking users for their country and preferred language first, and then presenting them with a data entry form which fits those requirements.
Invest in success
Although this may require extra effort, it will certainly save money in the long run, as there will be less necessity to cleanse and maintain incorrect data. With the right tools, the data captured will be accurate and verified resulting in improved communications, reduced frustration for customers, and the ability to make smarter business decisions.
So, don’t just assume you know it all; get to know your customers, their cultures, languages and local nuances. Invest in getting it right, and not only will your customers have a better user experience, but the data you capture will ensure you can communicate with customers wherever they are in the world. Utilize cultural knowledge and tools to achieve top quality data collection and watch your company go global.
For more information, check out our best practice guide Understanding International Data.