Localization considerations for global ecommerce: global addresses explained

In my last blog, I talked about how important it is to get your customer’s name right in cross-border ecommerce. I’d like to cover another basic but important consideration to global ecommerce localization – address.

Thu Oct 13 15:52:00 EDT 2016
,

In my last blog, I talked about how important it is to get your customer’s name right in cross-border ecommerce. I’d like to cover another basic but important consideration to global ecommerce localization – address.

What’s so important about the address? It’s obvious, isn’t it? If the address is incorrect, the package will not be delivered to your customer. If the package is not delivered, it will end up in a pile of undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail. From there, it will be returned to the sender. You’re left with an unhappy customer, a loss of revenue. Even worse, your carrier will still charge you for the shipment since the package has traveled across the ocean not once, but twice. That’s part of the hidden costs of UAA mail that plague businesses each year.

In order to avoid these problems, your global checkout screen must have the proper layout for your target country. Let’s take an example from Japan.Generally, the mailing address in Japan is written on 2 to 3 lines. This particular example has 3:

〒140-0001 (Postal Code digits)

東京都品川区北品川4-7-35 (Tokyo-to, Shinagawa-ku, Kitashinagawa 4-7-35)

御殿山トラストタワー 12階  (Gotenyama Trust Tower 12th floor)

The first line is the postal code, identified by the symbol 〒. That reveals your first important consideration: Is your ecommerce site actually enabled to support Unicode and display this symbol? Unicode solves encoding challenges that impact the number of bytes required for a computer to represent all of the letters in an alphabet, and for languages with non-ASCII characters (like Japanese), it’s crucial.

The second line offers address details listed in a specific order to suit traditional Japanese geographic distinctions and divisions. Keep in mind that in Japan there are generally no street names – only major highways and main roads are named. So residents use different clues to identify a home’s address.

東京都品川区北品川4-7-35 (Tokyo-to, Shinagawa-ku, Kitashinagawa 4-7-35)

The first and largest identifier is the prefecture, listed here as “Tokyo-to”.  Japan is divided into 47 prefectures, so the purchase form on your ecommerce website should offer a dropdown list that includes every prefecture, similar to what you’d offer for states in the U.S. The next subdivision (listed here as Shinagawa-ku) identifies the city, ward, town or village. The final element (listed here as “Kitashinagawa”) actually identifies the street level block of your address, and it would be equivalent to the street name in a U.S. address. Finally, the number 4-7-35 offers further geographic detail of the property location on that block. 

The third line in our example specifies the building name and associated floor and/or room number.

As you can see, the order is completely opposite from the U.S. address format. If you were to set up an ecommerce website for Japanese shoppers, the purchase form would need to accommodate the appropriate number of address levels and ordering system to make sense to local buyers.

Of course, this isn’t the case just for Japan. Each country has its own unique address format. If you’re using a standard U.S.-based address form across all countries, how can you be sure that a customer shopping from another country entered the right information? You can either learn about all of the different country address formats yourself, or get some expert help.

Address validation software can help reduce the issues associated with wrong inputs, including typos. Certain ecommerce platforms can also automatically account for the technical considerations – like Unicode – or cultural considerations that can trip up your cross-border ecommerce plans.

There are a lot of great opportunities in global ecommerce, but you may not fully achieve the benefits of selling cross-border if your website isn’t tailored to the specific requirements of your target country. Be sure to choose the right partner when starting business in a new part of the world, and ask if they offer a solution that works globally.

Ecommerce customers expect products and material to be available in their native language. Can you deliver? Read more about the importance of localization to today’s shoppers in the Pitney Bowes 2016 Global Online Shopping Study.