Amazon’s uneven (and not unusual) language strategy

Amazon Crossing is the Amazon publishing imprint dedicated to translating non-English books into English. In just a few years it has grown to be a leading translator of literary novels.

I noted earlier that Amazon.in doesn’t significantly support Indian languages. But on the Amazon Crossing submission page, you will find support for Hindi, Bengali and Punjabi. The global gateway is shown below on the right:

The gateway is (sadly) missing a globe icon — though I suspect the Amazon Crossing logo is partly to blame (one globe too many perhaps).

Other languages supported include Arabic, Portuguese and Russian. What’s interesting here is that the language mix is noticeably different on the Amazon.com site.

Both Amazon.com and Amazon Crossing support 13 languages in addition to English as noted in the 2017 Report Card, which means Amazon still has a long ways to go before it competes with the leaders in languages. Here is the average number of languages supported by the leading global brands over the past seven years.

But what I wanted to call attention to is Amazon’s uneven support for languages across its different products and services — a phenomenon that is not unique to Amazon. Many multinationals I work with support different language mixes for different properties. The rationale is sound: Different products and services have different audiences, marketing strategies, global and regional partners, and local opportunities.

But how do you balance an uneven language strategy with a consistent global content architecture? For example, let’s say you have one product page localized into Russian and a visitor to that product page goes to the global nav menu and selects another product, naturally assuming this other product also is also localized into Russian, only to discover it is not.

This problem is only going to grow more acute as more companies decentralize their global product content and marketing strategies.

Of course, every challenge is also an opportunity. Where companies can differentiate themselves is in how effectively they manage user expectations, manage language expectations, and how they leverage machine translation to fill language gaps.

To learn more about which companies are doing the best job at managing language expectations, check out the Web Globalization Report Card.

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!