International UX: the details that make a difference


A successful user experience is vital if an online store is to thrive. A strong digital reputation, a user-friendly website and relevant content are important strategic investments. 89% of companies agree on that. But things get more complicated when it comes to establishing a uniform standard for a good international UX.

The bad news is: there isn’t one. As long as Europe is home to different languages, with different purchasing habits and visual preferences from one country to another, optimising your e-commerce site for each country is a must. The good news is: once you know a few tricks, it’s not rocket science.

Here are a few practical tips to make adapting your website to an international audience easier. Of course, entire books could be written full of tips and advice about international UX, but for now, we will offer just a few examples of strategies that any online store can implement without too much effort.

1. Speak the same language

A good translation is vital if you want to get through to a customer. 55% of European consumers make all their online purchases in their own language, while 74% show a marked preference for their mother tongue. But translation isn’t just a matter of replacing one word with another. This is particularly true in e-commerce, where written content often has a direct impact on customer acquisition and customer relations.

Linguistic differences

There are, for example, differences in word structure. While a typical German text often contains long compound words, English tends to use several separate words to express the same idea. “Kundenanmeldung” becomes “Customer registration”, while ” Sofort-Kostenvoranschlag” becomes “instant quote”. Nevertheless, the English text generally ends up being shorter than the German, containing fewer characters, on average.

This also applies when designing a website; for example, a German information field might read “Maximale Bearbeitungszeit von 12 Stunden”, whereas the English equivalent might be “response within 12 hours”. These linguistic differences are particularly important in calls-to-action. Whereas German prefers to use nouns and infinitives (e.g. “Registrierung”), in English, the imperative is not perceived as rude, but rather as a friendly invitation (e.g. “Join us”).

If the click rates for your email campaigns in German are generally low, it may be due to linguistic details like this.

Cultural differences

Other, seemingly minor details can also help dictate whether the translation of a website inspires confidence: addresses have a different structure in French and German, for instance. The same goes for telephone numbers. And while in German all punctuation marks are placed immediately after the last word in the sentence, in French a space must be added before question marks and other signs.

These are subtleties that an experienced translator will be familiar with and skilfully take into account in their texts. If you want the content of your website to be authentic in every language, current and relevant, and likely to result in sales, the most efficient approach is to entrust your translations to specialists who will take all of these factors into consideration.

2. Pictures: more important that you might think

A less obvious factor that is just as important as using suitable language are photos, which must be appropriate. Cultural differences from one country to another are generally reflected by different aesthetic trends. In Europe, those trends are increasingly convergent, thanks in particular to crossborder e-commerce.

But to achieve an authentic overall effect, it is important to use iconic photos and illustrations in key places. You can generally obtain a fairly representative result with a simple Google images search. The classic photos that a French or British person is used to seeing associated with a term will inevitably dominate the first few pages of search results. Compare synonymous terms such as “bunch of flowers” and “bouquet de fleurs”. The differences you see with the naked eye are not coincidental, but stem from cultural differences between the countries concerned.

The same goes for other everyday objects such as houses, certain products, typical means of transport, etc. In order for the customer to feel at ease on a website, the key images must also be adapted. A survey conducted by well-known hotel chain Marriott demonstrated this. The survey revealed that, from one country to the next, the user’s eye is drawn to a different part of the site first, and that users look for important information, about booking for instance, in very different places.

So if you find the structure of your page clear and user-friendly in French, that does not mean it will immediately be so for a Spanish or British user. In this case, to optimise your international UX, it is particularly important to have an “outsider’s view” at all times.

3. Inspire confidence

An aesthetically pleasing and linguistically convincing presentation is never an end in itself for an e-commerce site. It is simply a way of conveying a message, of demonstrating the trustworthiness of your company, and of ensuring that the selection of products and services you are offering and the customer service provided meet expectations.

In Germany, certificates and seals of approval often help create a general impression of trustworthiness. Be it by citing site administrators, quality management systems, or ISO standardsGerman online stores like to prove their reliability. It is undoubtedly a strength to guarantee high data security standards and to be seen to undergo strict audits.

For a French customer, however, too many labels and certifications tend to hinder browsing somewhat. Trust comes more from the aesthetic quality and clarity of the site. Of course, this does not exclude the possibility of inserting appropriate notes in a slightly more understated way (on the edge of a photo, for instance). The same goes for payment methods.

This is a sensitive subject which often determines whether we make a purchase or abandon our shopping basket. The possibility of a direct debit authorisation may be seen as attractive, though if, as in France, the most popular payment method is credit card, the customer will find it strange if bank transfers and prepayment are the first payment options proposed.

We can see, then, that getting your international UX right is mainly about inspiring confidence. However, the variables that determine whether or not the consumer has confidence in your e-commerce site can vary from one country to another. The sine qua non is a professional translation, accompanied by an offer adapted to the local market. Authentic content and localised cultural details (such as contact details or the positions of buttons or menus) will also help build local consumers’ trust. Successfully adapt all these aspects to each of your target markets and you will optimise your site’s international UX and move one step closer to achieving your goals!

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