Going global - all for one or one for all?
The eCommerce marketplace is fast becoming a truly global one, and one of the fundamental questions when creating a global online strategy is whether to have one website to cover all regions, or multiple websites with separate domains (e.g. .co.uk, .it, .de). As an eCommerce supplier, we are often asked which of these approaches are "the best". The answer, as often is the case, is that it depends on a number of factors...here's a handy checklist of things to consider when answering the most fundamental question of your global eCommerce strategy.
How big is my website management team?If the answer to this is "small" (okay so that's subjective, but I usually consider a small
team to be less than 10 in these circumstances), there's a good chance you'd choose to opt for one website to serve all locales. The major benefit of going for multiple sites is that you might consider totally different layouts, page templates, and indeed functionality, but if you don't have the team to manage these things, or the appetite for growing that team, there's a good chance it isn't worth it. The team will already be maintaining regional prices, languages, promotions, possibly payment gateways...and time can be better invested making sure that the language being used and the promotions are relevant to the audience and in-line with cultural habits. Bear in mind when considering this element that you might lose the benefit of separate product catalogues...an outfit in the UK is an ensemble in the US, trousers are pants etc. so whichever way you choose, go into it knowledgeably.
Is one better that the other for SEO purposes?
Shopping in your native language is often a differentiator and since Google and other search engines will seek to return the best results, sites with a top level country code domains (e.g. .de for Germany, rather than a generic .com, which could be located anywhere) are likely to perform better. I often look for .co.uk domains because I know delivery to London is unlikely to be a problem (or at the very least less expensive). That said, you can save on your online marketing budget since you are demonstrating that people always click through to one site, rather than having to maintain quality links into many domain sites.
What is your roll-out plan?
Adding internationalisation to your existing site is a good way to gradually build up international business, and it is easy to dip your toe in the water. Liverpool Football Club's online store for example will show the customer the price in a currency of their choice on a site-wide basis, but payment remains in GBP. Alternatively, if you've got a UK site and your next market to engage in is Korea (which you might well do...Codex Global highlight in their post Why truly Global eCommerce makes sense that Korea is one of the largest online consumer nations), you might consider a localised site to allow for the difference in the language's character structure.
What do people expect ?
With separate sites, customers may have different expectations of country-specific sites. For example, that customer services is localised – static content in local languages and customer service staff speaking their language. Similarly, with returns policies. If they think its a local site, they may expect a local returns method and appropriate costs. With separate sites customers are more likely to compare your offering with local competitors, regarding pricing, service, available payment methods etc
How do people want to pay?
The answer to this question is "differently, in just about every country and culture". It gets messy from a user experience point of view if you try to show all payment methods to all people. You can do all sorts of clever things such as "only show direct debit payment if the user has Euros and German" or similar, but really it's far from a nice solution for either your website maintenance people or your end customer. Ultimately this is easier to handle on separate localised sites. If you go down the single site route, try to keep it as simple as you can...but then, that's my mantra for most things online.