From a business point of view are multiple commerce sites critical to a company. In some cases multiple sites can improve profits but is not critical to the business. On the other hand, in many situations multiple sites are an essential part of a company’s commerce business.
Suppose a company that has a profitable business selling a particular product. The company may generate additional revenue if it created sites targeted to different kinds of needs of the people using the product. However, each additional
site would require additional effort to administer it, such as designing the site, creating the content, and deciding which products it should have. Each site would also carry some cost. Perhaps the company’s owners are perfectly happy with their current business, and are not interested in the additional costs and complexities, even if they could generate some extra income from extra sites.
By contrast, in many business scenarios, multiple sites are critical to successful online commerce. Suppose a company sells to both businesses and individual shoppers. The requirements of business purchasing are different from customer shopping. The checkout process, presentation of products, registration of customers are all different in business-to-business (B2B) compared to business-to-customer (B2C). If a company insists on a single site dedicated to both B2B and B2C markets, either the consumers or business customers will find it complicated to use the site.
Multiple Geographies: Selling in more than one country presents challenges that are difficult to meet with a single site because each country has unique market conditions, culture, and regulations. These country-specific conditions can affect not only the choice of products and the pricing, but also other aspects such as the presentation of the site and advertising. Each country site is designed so that the language, currency, advertising, and even products all correspond to the country’s needs.
Pricing: Even if the products sold in all the countries are the same, chances are that prices will be different. For example, if the USA price is $49.99, and the conversion rate to Canadian dollars is $1US = $1.22280CAN, by simple conversion the price would end up at $24.44. However, it is unlikely that in Canada the product will be priced that way, since this converted price looks uneven, ending with 44 cents rather than the usual 99 cents. Also, the business would probably want some stability in pricing so that it does not change with every currency fluctuation. The price also needs to reflect local costs. In this case, the Canadian price might be $25.99, to make sure that the price is both stable and profitable in the Canadian market.
Another factor that affects pricing is local competition. In our example, if this same product has more competition in Great Britain, the price there might be significantly lower than in the USA.
Taxes: In the US with 50 states and thousands of counties, tax rules are quite complex and vary by such factors as where the product is shipped from, where it is going, and what kind of product it is. In some cases there are additional fees, which are similar to taxes, imposed by local governments, such as recycling or disposal fees.
In other countries taxes are imposed by the national and provincial governments and are also calculated as an additional charge for the product.
Shipping: Typically on a site, buyers choose the shipping method that they want to use for the items they buy. Depending on the item and the shipping method, the buyers might need to pay different shipping charges.
Several shipping companies operate worldwide, such as UPS and Federal Express. Many shipping providers are unique to their locations, such as each country’s national postal service.
A seller might have a warehouse in one country that serves many other countries. In this case, the shipping provider would not depend on the country of the site, but only on the location of the warehouse. To make this situation more complicated, some providers might also drop-ship their orders directly from their suppliers, while some locations allow B2B customers to pick up items directly from the warehouse using their own trucks.
Even for the same products and the same shipping provider, each country can have different shipping charges. In addition, within each country there might be a unique shipping tax that must also be calculated and presented to buyers on the seller’s site.
Language: The most obvious difference in catalog display among different countries is language. In some countries, all information on the site should be shown in a single language, such as French in France or Japanese in Japan. In other countries, however, customers might need to choose their language or preference. Examples of this are Canada, where sites often give a choice of French or English, or Belgium, where Dutch and French are the languages that can be selected. Even within what is described as a single language, there can be significant variations. In many ways, U.S. English is different from UK English.
Products: Language is not the only thing that distinguishes product catalogs in different countries. It is common that some products are available only in restricted parts of the world and are not even shown in other countries.
Product catalog differences can also happen due to companies rolling out products slowly in different parts of the world, where some products are made available in various countries on a different schedule. This difference is typical in the movie industry.
Variations in products can also be due to local regulations. For example, in some states in the United States, you can legally buy a radar detector that helps speeders avoid being caught by police. In Canada, however, this product is illegal and should not be shown on a commerce site.
Page Layout: Aside from product, language, and price differences, often the sites created for different countries can look similar, with identical flow and page layout. However, there are also cultural differences between different parts of the world that can cause country sites to have different layouts. For example, in North America usually the home page of a site fits most of the information on one screen, requiring little scrolling. The tendency is for customers to click on various links to browse through the site to get to the products or the areas they are looking for. On the other hand, in
China you often find sites where the home page is long, so customers can find many products by scrolling down the page.
Another consideration for page layout is that it must be designed to suit the written form of the language. For example, most Western European countries can use the same page layout because their alphabets look similar. However, the page layout must be adjusted in China or Japan, where the characters are not alphabetic, and the translations might not fit into the layout designed for use with Latin-based languages that are written left-to-right.
Legal Differences: Privacy is one such consideration. Different countries have set up completely different privacy rules, potentially affecting such factors as how the company can make use of customer datafor its own advertising. In addition, most sites have a privacy statement that must reflect the regulations of the country where the site operates.For example, in the countries within the European Union, the privacy rules are governed by the EU Directive on Data Protection. This directive governs the storage and processing of personal data, and the liabilities and sanctions that would be invoked if a European company does not comply with the rules.
Emerging technology developments and trends can create a tumbling mash-up of hard-to-understand products and services, from web-connected printers to robots that represent you in meetings.
Smart Browser: All browsers from Internet Explorer to Mozilla Firefox to Safari now host ambitious third party software tools that latch on quickly onto existing browser software. Now once unimaginable services run natively on web tools. Check out design tools like Aviary (aviary.com), complex collaboration systems like Usekit (usekit.com) and communication tools such as Follow-up Robot (curecrm.com).
All this new browser software will make it tougher for businesses to develop code that works across all browsers and the fast moving extension market. The debugging of web based products and services will get very complex.
Apps for Appliances: Apps, like the ones on mobile phones, are spreading to TVs, washers and fridges. Check out TV apps Vizio offers on its sets that enable Netflix, Flickr and Twitter.
Touch revolution (touchrev.com) has a Google Android OS based modules that turn a microwave oven into an app ready web ready device.
Talking to a Computer: Microsoft and other companies now support some sort of voice-activated software. Test drive Naturally Speaking (nuance.com)
PC-Less Desktop Imaging: With printers now a commodity, desktop imaging eventually will free itself from being tethered to a PC. The big mover here is, yet again, Google. The giant is rolling out cloud-based printing that will not need a connected computer. You can expect everything from smartphones to positional devices to be able to easily communicate with web-connected printers.
3D Peripheral: Products like Space Controller (3d-mouse-for-cad.com) and SpacePilot Pro from 3Dconnexion (3d
connexion.com) are offering computer controllers that put depth access in the hands of CAD artists and engineers.
Why it matters: These systems will lower the barrier to entry for creating and developing 3-D content.
Ultraportable Office: There’s nothing like a cutting-edge technology that combines another cutting-edge technology to give you that buy-one-get-one-free sort of feel. Portable hot spots that let small groups collaborate quickly are now available in units like the MiFi 2200 from Verizon Wireless (verizon wireless.com). In addition to giving you a nice productivity boost on the road, portable Wi-Fi is creating an ad hoc network of mobile Wi-Fi coverage.
Next time you need to log in, look around in your Wi-Fi software—a local portable hot spot might be nearby.
Videoconferencing for Everyone: If Skype has a bonus, it’s that it has banished the videoconferencing taboo. Now many vendors are making low-cost video appliances that even tiny firms can use, with development in this area only to increase. Although these units won’t rival those cute Cisco commercials for quality, videoconferencing can be helpful in your firm. And you can’t beat the price. The Vialta Beamer FX video phone (vialta.com).
Everything goes Automatic: As crazy as it sounds, web-delivered, automatic decision-making will quietly creep into the basic fabric of your business. Expect smarter versions of everything from spell checkers to complex decision engines to show up in web office tools and business software. Try out Google’s recently acquired Aardvark answers product (vark
.com), which uses Google Chat to automatically match a person who has a question with a person who has an answer.
Projectable PC Interface: Projectable computer interfaces have long been stubbornly “just around the corner.” Projectable keyboards and other controllers aren’t yet up to full business-class capabilities, but when a unit like the one from Light Blue Optics (lightblueoptics.com) finds its way into smartphones, it will offer a new, simple way for road warriors to communicate on the go.
Smarter Delivery Van: Technologies like Ford’s Sync Traffic Direction and Information (fordvehicles.com/sync) and Rand McNally’s IntelliRoute (trucking .randmcnally.com) make the idea of sending a man and a van to wander around town unsupervised about as smart as using carrier pigeons. And commercial vehicles are set to get smarter still: FedEx is preparing to deploy electric delivery vans. And startups like Boulder Electric Vehicles (boulderev.com) will make such technology available to most any small business.
Making Inventory Talk: If it’s good enough for Wal-Mart, it’s good enough for you. Low-cost RFID (radio frequency identifier) devices from companies like RF*IDI (activerfidtracking.com/rfidi/) will offer tagging and tracking solutions even your small business can afford. Wondering where your stuff went is like worrying about Y2K.
Virtual Self: Be at that meeting without actually having to attend. Anybot the robot avatar (anybot.com) will use telepresence technology to let you attend meetings virtually by rolling into conferences and transmitting information so that you don’t have to be there to get the job done.
Flexible Display: It will be years before flexible screens make it into your office, but not so for getting them into your point-of-sale displays. Flexible, high-quality displays from companies like Atlanta’s NanoLumens (nanolumens.com) are making big, bright screens that can be mounted on rounded surfaces. That means any old column can work as a pricing display or marketing surface.