Languages are a means to an end, a journey as well as a destination

I recently wrote an op-ed for the Seattle Times about the importance and value of thinking globally. Here’s an excerpt:

Consider Starbucks. In 2003, this aspiring global company supported a mere three languages. Today, it supports 25, which may sound like a lot until you compare it to many other global brands. Among the leading global brands, the average number of languages supported is 31, a new high based on my years of research. And then there are those companies that left 30 languages behind years ago — like Facebook, which supports more than 90 languages, and Google, which supports more than a hundred.

This degree of language growth isn’t just a tech phenomenon. John Deere supports 31 languages, Ford supports 42, and even Jack Daniels is fluent in 22 languages.

So while the U.S. leaders are speaking the rhetoric of isolationism, American companies of all sizes are speaking a different language — in fact, a lot of languages.

And here’s the full article.

 

IKEA: The best global retail website of 2017

For the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card, I benchmarked the following 9 retail websites:

  • H&M
  • IKEA
  • LUSH
  • McDonald’s
  • MUJI
  • Starbucks
  • UNIQLO
  • Walmart
  • Zara

For the purposes of this report, the retail segment includes only those companies that support physical retail locations within the markets they serve. While Amazon is in the early stages of rolling out retail locations, I still view Amazon as more of a web services company than a conventional retail company and is therefore benchmarked against sites such as eBay and Google. The reason for this distinction is to focus on those companies that are already physically distributed around the world and may have in-country offices supporting unique country websites.

One of the great web globalization challenges that global retail organizations face is in aligning disparate offices and cultures on shared design templates — a goal that has so far eluded companies such as McDonald’s and Walmart. IKEA emerged as number one this year, edging out Starbucks. 

IKEA added two languages over the past year, raising its language total to 34; only McDonald’s supports more languages in this category.

IKEA continues to do an excellent job of supporting global consistency and depth of localization. But IKEA made a key improvement over the past year that I want to point out.

First, a bit of backstory. IKEA was one of the first companies to use a splash global gateway and continued to use one up until last year, shown here:

In the early days of global websites, IKEA was smart to use a splash global gateway. Geolocation was not yet a proven technology, so the splash page was the ideal way to ensure that visitors from around the world to the .com domain discovered their local websites.

But times have changed and people are impatient. They don’t want to land on a splash global gateway every time they arrive at your global home page. That’s where geolocation comes in.

Fortunately, IKEA isnow uses geolocation to greet you in your locale.

Now, when someone from the US visits IKEA.com he or she sees this page:

And customers in the United Kingdom see this landing page:

IKEA’s global gateway still could use improvement (an over reliance on flags). But this move to geolocation is a big step forward in global usability and a reason why IKEA is now the retail leader.

LUSH also relies on geolocation. Shown below is the landing page that LUSH greets Japanese visitors with. Unfortunately, language support is absent.

McDonald’s is the retail language leader at 41 languages yet still lags most global websites in  consistency. Shown here are three country home pages to give you some idea of how widely designs vary.

McDonald’s could save significant resources by relying on global templates. This would benefit users as well as they would see consistent navigation and branding when they navigate between the .com website and the local websites (which is a common scenario.)

Walmart continues to lag the field in web globalization best practices. But there are small signs of progress. For instance, Walmart now uses geolocation to auto-direct users to local websites. So a web user in Brazil can enter walmart.com and be taken to the Brazil website. While I applaud the use of geolocation, the failure to include a visual global gateway in the header of every web page is dangerous because users cannot easily override the geolocated setting.

To learn more, check out the 2017 Report Card.
PS: All purchasers of the Web Globalization Report Card receive signed copies of Think Outside the Country, among other goodies!

Intel: The best global enterprise technology website of 2017

For the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card, I benchmarked the following 10 enterprise technology  websites:

  • Autodesk
  • Cisco Systems
  • HP Enterprise
  • Huawei
  • IBM
  • Intel
  • Oracle
  • SAP
  • Texas Instruments
  • Xerox

Intel emerged on top for the second year in a row, followed by Cisco Systems and Autodesk.

A new entrant this year is HP Enterprise, which ranked relatively low, due in large part to limited language coverage, but is notable for a world-ready architecture and above-average global gateway.

Intel held steady over the year with support for 23 languages. Intel modified its web design to support a “fly in” navigational menu. The support section also is better integrated into the design this year.

As before, Intel does an excellent job of supporting global consistency. Shown below is the Brazil home page, which shares the same underlying template as other country sites.

The nice thing about placing the Intel logo in the middle of the design is that you don’t have to worry about the logo shifting from side to side when the layout flips for bidirectional text, such as Arabic, shown below.

Notice the globe icon in the header — easy to find and use for anyone who wishes to navigate to a different locale. This is a relatively new (and valuable) addition to the mobile site, shown here:

Cisco remains the language leader of this category with 40 languages. Cisco debuted a new web design over the past year. Shown below are the before and after designs.

The most noticeable improvement is the addition of a globe icon in the header to indicate the global gateway. This is a small but important step forward in ensuring that users more easily find where they need to go.

Oracle most recently added support for Ukrainian and Arabic, increasing its language total to 32. Meanwhile, SAP dropped two languages over the past year, lowering its language total to 35 languages.

IBM is on year two of its new web design. It remains steady with 38 languages. Unfortunately, the global gateway is buried in the footer of both the desktop and mobile websites.

HP Enterprise is a new global website born of a spinoff from HP. The web design uses a lightweight, responsive template and includes the perfect global gateway icon in the header — yes, the globe icon.

Unfortunately, I found the global gateway menu to be buggy and difficult to use — and it is demoted to the footer on the mobile website.

To learn more about these websites along with best practices and emerging trends, check out the 2017 Report Card.
PS: All purchasers of the Report Card receive signed copies of Think Outside the Country, among other goodies.