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Globalizing your Website

"A Worldwide View of the World Wide Web"
Article 1 of 4 in a series

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* More native speakers of languages other than English currently access the Internet than do native speakers of English.

* The U.S. currently accounts for less than half of total E-Commerce spending and according to IDC this share is expected to drop to 36 percent by 2005.

These statements show why perhaps InternetNews said it best when they wrote "for US companies, multilingual e-commerce and business sites are no longer optional".

Still not convinced? Read on to find out why the Internet is already serving as an international business medium for many companies and why you may not want to be left behind.

In order to consider whether or not to take advantage of the Internet as an international business tool you first need to consider the possibilities it may hold. Who is on the net? Where do they live and what languages do they speak? What do your prospects look like for doing business in Europe, Asia or Latin America?

Although the numbers given in answer to these questions often raise questions of collection and tracking methods, research shows that all of the various statistics and information point towards the same trends. It is these trends which will be highlighted here.

There are approximately 480 million people online throughout the world and only about 35% of them are located in the U.S. As for the remainder, approximately 27% are located in Europe and approximately 24% are located in Asia. Further, roughly 55% of Internet users are native speakers of a language other than English. Out of this 55% of non-native speakers, approximately 30% are native speakers of a European language (mainly French, Italian, German and Spanish) and approximately 25% are native speakers of an Asian language (mainly Chinese, Japanese and Korean). However, as important as the picture of where online populations live and what languages they speak are the estimates for future Internet use and the picture of worldwide e-commerce.


It is important to remember that several countries in Europe, including France and Germany were shopping online as early as the mid-nineties. They used special systems called teletext systems. France's system, Minitel, was the most popular and by 1998 already, 20% of the adult French population had made on online purchase using it. Thus, the phenomenon of online shopping as we know it has a richer history in Europe than in the U.S.

Not only are Europeans receptive to e-commerce, their purchase power is great. Eastern European economies are growing at a respectable rate, and the Western European market has a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of one trillion dollars more than the American GNP. The combined potential of Eastern Europe and Western Europe could actually reach a GDP level of 50% more than the U.S. economy.

In addition, all studies point towards the growth of the online population in Europe as well as a growth in European e-commerce. It is estimated that while in 1998, only 10% of Western Europeans had Internet access, by 2002 one in three households will be online. In fact, since 1999 in France and Germany alone, PWC reports that consumer Internet access rose by 72% in Germany and 60% in France. Also, while e-commerce generated more than five billion USD in Europe in 1998, this figure is expected to grow to over 400 billion USD by 2003.


The number of Asian Internet users is expected to expand by more than 300% within the next 5 years, and some even say that by 2005, there is the possibility that they may rise to the top of the list of worldwide internet users. At the beginning of 2000, the region had about 44 million people online, and by November this number had increased to 100 million. So predictions of over 200 million by 2005 and over 300 million by 2006 do not seem unreasonable.

Further, e-commerce is also expected to explode in this region. In Japan alone, it is expected to expand twenty-fold between 1999 and 2005, from being worth approximately 3 billion USD in 1999 to more than 60 billion USD in 2004.

While the U.S. accounts for less than half of total e-commerce amounts worldwide, it still holds a small lead in B2B e-commerce. It is predicted, however, that the e-commerce market will grow at a more rapid pace in Europe and Japan between now and 2005, by which time B2B e-commerce is expected to reach 1.6 trillion USD.

US Companies are Being Left Behind

If your site is still English-only and is only geared towards U.S. visitors, you are not alone. You are actually in the company of about 75% of U.S. businesses. A prime example of this issue is Gap, an 11 billion USD, American company, with a global workforce of more than 140,000, running more than 2500 stores worldwide and only an English, American version of their site. Not to mention that their site, which does a brisk online business, does not allow for shipping to locations outside the U.S.

This gives European-based companies a tremendous advantage, as most of them already offer websites in multiple languages – remember that Europeans have a long-standing tradition of using multilingual sales practices. European and Asian businesses have more experience with international marketing than do U.S. companies and thus have an edge. For them, the internet is simply another weapon in their international business arsenal.

As a U.S. company you need to remember that because of the Internet, you could have a competitor you don't even know about, located in Europe or Asia, reaching out to your customer base via the Internet. Furthermore, depending on the extent of information offered on your site, your pricing, distribution and other business models can be studied by anyone with a web browser.

And that's not all. Not only might you be losing some business by not reaching out to foreign markets now, you may even be risking some potential future business as well. Remember that if you have a presence on the World Wide Web, you have already, by definition, "gone global". Don't be surprised if there are some who reach your site and are offended at not having their linguistic and cultural preferences addressed.

Natural Advantages

If all of the above information isn't enough to convince you that the market demand exists for you to globalize your website, then consider the natural advantages the Internet offers as an international business tool:

  • You automatically have a potential client base of 480 million people worldwide, mainly consisting of well-educated 25-50-year-olds.
  • By virtue of being on the web, your company is already accessible 24 hours a day regardless of time differences.
  • Research shows that even Internet users who have never made an online purchase often use the web to research products and services.
  • The advent of the Euro can make it much easier to break into the European market.

It actually may not be as expensive or as complicated as you may think to create a multicultural website offering. And most importantly, if U.S. companies wish to avert the potential of European and Asian dominance of Internet business, they best consider addressing the world on its terms – with multilingual, multicultural website offerings.

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