June 9, 2003, 12:00 AM

Retail web sites missing out on global strategies, study says

In a study of the globalization policies of 121 web sites by Byte Level Research, no retailers made the top 10. To earn a spot in the Top 10, sites must provide a truly localized experience for their foreign customers, Byte Level says.


In spite of the widely recognized ability of the web to extend sales worldwide--and the success that some leading e-retailers have had in overseas sales--no retailers made the Top 10 in a study of the globalization policies at 121 web sites by researchers Byte Level Research.

To earn high ranking in the study, sites must provide a truly localized experience for their foreign customers, Byte Level says.

Even well-known global retailers like Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. scored poorly. Indeed, Sears.com and WalMart.com scored in the bottom 10 of the 121 sites because of lack of consistency in web pages, slow-loading pages, and lack of support for key foreign languages. "These web sites are proof that having a global company does not necessarily make for a global web site," says John Yunker, president of Byte Level Research.

Starbucks Coffee Co.`s Starbucks.com was the highest-ranked retail site, in 12th place, followed by LandsEnd.com in 14th. Yunker notes that Starbucks provides a consistent brand image and user interface throughout its foreign markets, and that Lands` End provides good local customer support and local product selection.

Byte Level noted that Amazon.com ranked 20th and could have scored higher if it offered a better global gateway with easier access to its foreign sites. Byte Level also noted efforts by L.L. Bean to launch a Japanese-language web site and Office Depot Inc. to launch a Spanish-language site in the U.S. market. The top-ranked site for globalization was Google.com.

Byte Level also noted:
-- The best global web sites are built for speed, though in most countries, more than 70% of all web users have slow, dial-up Internet connections, forcing companies to keep graphics and multimedia files to a minimum. Even in the U.S., broadband penetration is still under 20% of all households.
-- Companies should not assume that .com stands for North America. The .com page needs to include a “global gateway” that directs users to a company’s localized web sites. Not all local users intuitively know the URLs of the localized web sites.


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