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Forget it, Jake. It’s China.

A timely article in The Wall Street Journal (that I only recently got around to reading): “The future’s not here.” American business people once saw China as dynamic, exciting and wide open. Not anymore.

To which I ask: When was China ever “wide open?”

An excerpt:

For years, American entrepreneurs saw a place in which they would start tech businesses, build restaurant chains and manage factories, making potentially vast sums in an exciting, newly dynamic economy. Many mastered Mandarin, hired and trained thousands in China, bought houses, met their spouses and raised bilingual children.

Now disillusion has set in, fed by soaring costs, creeping taxation, tightening political control and capricious regulation that makes it ever tougher to maneuver the market and fend off new domestic competitors. All these signal to expat business owners their best days were in the past.

Let’s not blame the recent trade and tariff issues. China is a ruthlessly competitive market that, like so many countries, tilts the playing field in favor of its home-grown companies. And intellectual property is (to put it mildly) not well protected. I remember when Bill Gates traveled to China years ago to complain about the epic levels of piracy of the Windows OS (at the time, Windows was the leading operating system in China and yet Microsoft saw little in the way of revenues).

Other companies that have struggled in China include Cisco, Amazon and WalMart. And let’s not overlook the fact that Google and Facebook are still desperately trying to squeeze their way in without selling their souls (and are close to doing just that).

One thing I have been telling companies in the early stages of going global for more than a decade now — if China is your first overseas market, perhaps you should select another. Going global is difficult, no matter what country or culture you target. But add in one of the most heavily and capriciously regulated intranets (China’s Internet is in truth an intranet) and you face a very steep hill to climb. That’s not to say you shouldn’t target China, but go into it with eyes open and a long-term game plan.

And, frankly, that’s true for any market. Every new market is a new frontier — with new rules, cultures, competitors. The experience of going global can be equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. But it is most definitely not boring!

Speaking of… I’m now working on the next edition of the Web Globalization Report Card. Lots of exciting new developments which I will write about in the weeks and months ahead.

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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
  • 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 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 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!
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The worst global websites of the 2014 Web Globalization Report Card

report card

You can be a wildly successful global company and still have a poorly localized website.

A number of factors determine global success and the website is only one of these factors — unless of course you’re an Internet-based company (you’ll note below that none of these companies are “web only”).

I also want to stress that the websites listed below are the lowest-scoring websites in the 2014 Web Globalization Report Card — and not necessarily the worst global websites, period. The Report Card analyzes a carefully curated group of websites, across more than a dozen industry sectors, with the primary intention of noting emerging and established best practices. Some industry sectors simply do a better job at web globalization than other sectors, such as retail, consumer products, and financial services.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten the caveats out of the way, here are the 20 websites that finished at the bottom of the 2014 Report Card:

  • Axa
  • Hilton
  • Toys R Us
  • Sony
  • Citibank
  • Best Buy
  • Visa
  • Hyundai
  • GameStop
  • Costco
  • Dolby
  • Loréal
  • Enterprise
  • Dollar
  • Rent A Car
  • Jack Daniels
  • Kleenex
  • Gap
  • Heineken
  • Four Seasons
  • MTV
  • Ramada
  • Thrifty
  • Walmart
  • Budweiser

Budweiser finished in last place, preceded by Walmart and so on.

A handful of companies have become regulars on this list over the past few years, companies like Walmart, Heineken, Loréal, Sony and Four Seasons.

But there is no “one” reason why these websites finished at the bottom of the list. To paraphrase Tolstoy: All successful global websites are alike; each unsuccessful global website is unsuccessful in its own way. 

It would be easy to blame limited language support and, yes, many of these websites fall well short of the average of 28 languages set by the leading global websites, particularly the websites of Costco and Walmart. But I should note that 10 of the websites on this list support 20 or more languages and Sony and Hyundai support 40 or more languages.

Lack of global consistency is an issue with many websites. That is, each country web team appears to have gone off on its own and created a website from scratch instead of working across company to share common design templates and resources.

Global gateways are often wildly erratic — or missing altogether. A number of these websites offer no visual clues on their .com home pages to help users find localized websites.

One important note: Taking retail global is incredibly difficult. Companies like Costco, Best Buy, Gamestop, and Walmart face steep odds when trying to expand into new markets — for them, the website may be the easiest aspect of going global. Walmart, for example, has struggled greatly in countries like Japan and Germany — and not because of web localization. The type of industry you are in weighs heavily in the challenges you face as you go global.

Having said all this, there is some good news. A few of these companies could vastly improve their websites with relatively minor fixes; that is, they have the localized content but they’re just not presenting it in a scalable or user-friendly manner.  I also know a few of these companies are in the process of rolling out new and improved global websites right now and they won’t be on this list much longer.


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Learning from the not-so-global web sites

I’ve highlighted the top 25 global web sites in the 2011 Web Globalization Report Card.

Now it’s time to focus on the other end of the spectrum — the 25 web sites that scored most poorly overall. Just as you can learn from the best global web sites, you can also learn what NOT to do by studying various aspects of these 25 sites.

I want to emphasize that the scores these web sites received reflect a unique methodology. Use a different methodology and these 25 sites could very well have been ranked much differently. My methodology evaluates how effectively these web sites have been taken global. Specifically, I look at languages, global consistency, depth and breadth of localization, support for local-language social networking platforms, and user-friendly global navigation.

Here are the 25 lowest-scoring web sites in the 2011 Web Globalization Report Card:

  • Archer Daniels Midland
  • Armani
  • Barclays
  • Budweiser
  • Campbell’s
  • Danone
  • evian
  • Four Seasons
  • Godiva
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Heineken
  • Holland America
  • Home Depot
  • ING
  • J.P. Morgan
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • KitchenAid
  • Kleenex
  • Levi’s
  • Louis Vuitton
  • Maytag
  • McKinsey & Co
  • Santander
  • Thrifty
  • Wal-Mart

From Wal-Mart to Barclays to Louis Vuitton, there are quite a few globally successful companies in this list. What I’m trying to illustrate with this post is that a company can be financially successful, even on a global scale, and still support a web site strategy that is not as efficient nor as user-friendly as it should be.

Here are two brief examples:

McKinsey & Co
There are few consulting firms with a global reputation like McKinsey and yet its global web site leaves much to be desired. For a company that serves clients in so many countries, its site supports just 10 languages (English excluded). One may argue that the company’s reputation speaks for itself, but I’m not sure I buy that argument, particularly when consulting-based organizations such as Deloitte and KPMG support more than 30 languages.

But the greater problem is the lack of localized content. Here is McKinsey’s China page:

Most of the links on this page take users back to English content, without warning. I refer to a site like this as a “local façade” because it does a poor job of managing user expectations. McKinsey recently added a Facebook link — and it links to a Chinese-specific Facebook page. And normally this would be a great feature to include, except that Facebook is largely blocked in China.

Now owned by a InBev, Budweiser is, next to Heineken, one of the most globally successful beers. So why is the web site not so successful?

For starters, there is absolutely no global consistency in web site design or architecture across the country sites. What’s worse, the “age gateway” which is popular among alcohol producers is inconsistent as well. Here’s the .com age gateway:

Let’s assume someone from Mexico visits and then plods through the age gateway and then somehow finds the link to the Mexico web site (it’s not easy to find). This person is taking to a Mexican age gateway, shown here:

And, for good measure, here is the age gateway for the UK:

I am fully aware that the drinking age varies by country, but does the age gateway need to vary so dramatically as well? And if someone enters an age into the .com site, can’t that age setting be saved should that person migrate to a different country site, thereby bypassing the age gateway? Right now, all I see is a lot of reinventing of the wheel, on a global scale. A lot of resources are simply being wasted, and users are not benefitting.

I want to be clear that I’m not just calling out Budweiser for these flaws. Nearly every global alcoholic beverage, including Heineken, suffers from similar issues. But I call out this issue because it’s such a resource drain on companies and web teams. To effectively take a web site or application global, you need a consistent platform. If it worked for Facebook, there’s no reason it can’t work for most web sites.

Finally, it’s always important to keep in mind that translation alone does not make a web site global. The 25 sites here averaged support for 10 languages, which is is well below the average of 23. But language accounts for just 25% of a site’s score. There were a number of sites with fewer than 10 languages that scored in the top 100 overall — such as Dow Corning and Renesas. And there were a number of sites in this group of 25 that support more than 10 languages, like ING, with support for 24 languages.

Link: Web Globalization Report Card