Get the customer experience right for your international shoppers

In recent years, many US retailers have made strides in adapting their sites for customers worldwide. Open a large retailer’s site from anywhere in the world, and you are likely to see small adaptations designed to improve the digital shopping experience for foreign visitors. But if you are a retailer who’s targeting the international market, it’s important to check the customer experience on your site and then check it again. And again. 

As an American living abroad. I am a more complicated case than most. And as a customer experience professional, I am more alert to how – and how well -- businesses manage a complex customer like me. Too often, I am encouraged by initial signs of progress, only to be disappointed by the actual buying experience. 

A recent attempt to purchase a t-shirt is a good case in point. Arriving at the site of a large and successful US retailer, I immediately noticed that prices appeared in my local currency. Since previously, when I wanted to purchase from this giant retailer I had to call my order in by phone, this was a good sign!  

As I continued my journey through the site, however, my initial hopes were dashed. Help your overseas customers avoid similar disappointing experiences by checking your site for these common international e-commerce errors. 

Choosing a currency 

While I appreciated the retailer’s localization efforts, I still think in US dollars and wanted to see prices listed as such. But how could I do this? Looking around the site, I noticed some small text at the top of the page that said “Shipping to” with a picture of a flag. Although at this point in my journey, I had not even begun to fill my cart, nothing else on the site seemed more relevant to currency, so I clicked on the flag. And indeed, the page that opened offered currency options as well as shipping destinations. 

Lesson 1: Make messages match the stage of the journey 

While my guess was a good one, certainty is better. At the start of the journey, when customers are checking out products and prices, make it easy for international visitors to choose the currency they wantThe message near the flag should initially be about currency, and only switch to shipping once an item is placed in the cart. 

Catch errors in real time 

The rest of my journey went smoothly… or so I thought. I completed my order, entered payment details, and got a nice thank you message, as well as an email stating that my order was being processed. But early the next morning, a second email announced “an issue with my order” with instructions to call the consumer protection department – effectively taking the purchase out of the digital realm. 

But that is not all! Once I called in, the customer protection rep said that there was an error in my credit card information but for security reasons, she was not permitted to tell me which field had the error. What ensued was a Kafkaesque guessing game. If I hadn’t really wanted the item I’d ordered, I would have said “goodbye” and abandoned the purchase. 

Lesson 2: Keep it online 

The now-you-have-it-now-you-don’t path of this purchase left me irked and annoyed. It took way too much time to figure out which field had the error and cost money for an international call. For the retailer, costly service rep minutes most likely wiped out all profits from the marked-down item I bought, while wiping out much customer goodwill at the very same time 

Alerting customers to errors is a best practice for checkout for every digital touchpoint. In this case, the retailer could have saved on costly service rep time and pleased the customer (me!) with a smooth, one-step, all-digital process.  

Honesty is the best policy 

The story ended with a t-shirt in my hand… and a bad taste in my mouth. After sharing my experience with a number of friends, I discovered that almost every expat who had ordered from that site had a similar story. Did we all mistype our addresses or make other errors in our credit card info? Or was the retailer less-than-upfront about what it took to order from overseas? 

Lesson 3: Make purchase processes abundantly clear 

Make no mistake: I really wanted that t-shirt and would have picked up the phone to order it if I could not do so online. In fact, that’s what I did… but only after spending – wasting! -- the time it took to purchase online.  

If a business, for any reason, cannot deliver a service reliably, it’s way better to say so upfront. Overpromising and under-delivering is a sure way to burn bridges and brand reputations. Just don’t do it! 

For more about best UX practices for international e-commerce that can make purchasing at your digital touchpoints easier for all customers, check out our e-book on How Forms Can Confuse, Confound and Chase Your Customer Away.

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