Does culture affect online behaviour?

January 19th, 2009 by James
Shoping in Europe

Shopping in Europe by supermuch / James

I was asked last week, if culture effects the user experience and the users’ use of the system.

What we have found is that consumers knowledge has a major impact on online behaviour. For example most Europeans hardly use the internet to shop. Therefore they have both little knowledge and experience of online buying. Using numbers from Jupiter and Forester research shows the UK online user spends twice as much online as the German, and French user.

Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy points out that most marketers base their strategies on US research, Ogilvy has done a study that shows key differences between shopper habits offline in the US and the UK. We believe this is the case online as well.

Other significant differences in behaviour that we have found include that the British find reading a timetable from top to bottom easier. Most Europeans are the opposite, and find reading a timetable left to right faster. We do not know if a similar behaviour would exist with product listings, and maybe a study is needed to find out.

Online Shoping by Gareth Saunders

Many other differences in culture and knowledge also affect behaviour. Including time — some people do not understand the 24 hour clock others do not understand the 12 hour clock. The reading of prices — Europeans use a dot to denote thousands, and coma to denote the decimal point. Anglo Saxons do the opposite. This can lead somebody at a fast glance to think a product is cheaper or more expensive than it is.

To make matters even more complex Europe is becoming more culturally mixed. Over fifty percent of Londoners where not born in London. There are so many French people living in London, that President Sarkozy of France visited London during his election bid. He claimed that “London, has become one of the great French cities”. A Polish, or German, or Scandinavian Politician would make the same claim for their country. This cultural mix doesn’t just apply to London, but holds true for many other countries, and cites in Europe, including Spain, Italy, and France.

We have found from previous studies that a Dutch person living in London, is quite willing to go through the whole process of purchasing online in English until they reached the terms and conditions which they want to read in Dutch. They could have switched languages earlier in the process. And the Dutch user wants far more reassurances over being protected from online fraud than the Italians.

What this means for an e-commerce site is that it needs to work with people with different cultural backgrounds in different cities in different countries. It needs to work for an English people living in Spain, just as much that it needs to work for a Dutch person living in Berlin.

Not only have we found many issues on culture, but additionally the configuration of the users computer effects usability. The size of the screen, and if you are displaying rich media, the type and version of the browser, and the power of the processor. Most lab studies are done with one standard set-up of the computer, using the same size monitor.

As Dr. Harry Brignull points out it is critical to use the right participants for your usability testing. If you restricted yourself to a lab, but your users are distributed all around the world, then the question is: “Are you testing the right users?”

Webnographer can help identifying cultural issues, and many more. Using some of our own analytic techniques we can gain insight into qualitative feedback and satisfaction ratings from the questions asked of the participants, but also gain knowledge from the participants behaviour while carrying out the task, by tracking their interactions on the page.

3 Responses to “Does culture affect online behaviour?”

  1. This research seems to suggest that, rather than merely changing a language, we should be serving quite different sites based on locale. Making the anti-fraud page link more prominent to a Dutch person than to an Italian, for instance.

    Or, instead of language & locale (EN GB, for example), we should tailor the user experience to their locale of upbringing or their culture.

    Both would entail a shift in the way people expect online shops to work, so I wonder if the costs (in user confusion and bankrolling the implementation) would be outweighed by the benefits?

  2. Rory Sutherland says:

    I also heard that, whereas the Dutch will use the web in English to find out information on anything outside Holland, they find local information – eg Amsterdam restaurant reviews – in English have no credibility. I suppose as a Brit you wouldn’t really listen to directions given by a man who said Lei-sester Square……

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