Survival Tips for Launching Localized Sites in Mobile-First Emerging Markets

The mobile web now represents the most significant opportunity companies should explore when expanding into overseas markets. Global customers are increasingly using mobile devices to research and buy. To become relevant, companies must engage them—in their preferred language—via this preferred channel.

Those that do can win big in brand awareness, site engagement and sales.

For emerging markets, mobile is where it’s at. According to Pymnts, mobile e-commerce (m-commerce) is outpacing traditional e-commerce by three-to-one. Global m-commerce sales will reach $291 billion next year. That’s nearly triple the sales of 2012.

Launching localized mobile experiences in international markets is good business, but it’s not without its challenges. Here are a few to consider.

Understanding Bandwidth

The performance of a mobile online experience is dictated by bandwidth—the capacity of data that flows through network connections. While most mature markets have fast state-of-the-art nationwide cellular data networks, emerging markets are largely still catching up. This means consumers in different markets have different expectations of an ideal mobile experience.

Bandwidth and data allowances vary wildly, even between mature markets. Let’s look at some information from Akamai’s recent State of the Internet report:

  • The average mobile bandwidth speed worldwide is 4 Mbps
  • The United Kingdom leads the world with an average speed of 20.4Mbps
  • Denmark takes second with 10 Mbps
  • Puerto Rico sports average speeds of 9.6 Mbps, more than double the U.S. average of 4 Mbps

South Korea, famous for its high-speed mobile networks, dropped to fifth place with 8.8 Mbps. Don’t expect the lull to last; the country will soon invest $1.5 billion to deploy a nationwide next-gen 5G network by 2017.

Emerging markets, however, is where bandwidth speeds plummet. Take South America. The market’s middle class is growing, but the region sports some of the slowest internet connections in the world. Companies must be mindful of these limitations when entering this market.

Argentina has the slowest in the region, with an average of 1.8 Mbps. Attractive online markets such as Brazil and Colombia feature better—though still below-average—speeds of 2.5 Mbps.

Understanding this dramatic bandwidth difference is critical, should you want your company’s international mobile presence to succeed. If a market’s bandwidth is slower than what’s needed to effectively present your localized digital experience, your new customers won’t transact there.

Sites that aren’t optimized for slower connections see higher bounce rates. Customers simply won’t wait for your “heavy” site to load.

Understanding User Preferences

In mature markets like the U.S. and Europe, mobile experiences are often used to augment consumption of content in existing “first screen” and “second screen” experiences. This can mean delivering real-time mobile experiences to complement TV shows or online digital programming. Or creating new “access anywhere” omnichannel retail experiences.

Emerging markets are different. Here, desktop computers never achieved the same levels of market penetration, so consumers use mobile devices as their primary internet connections. According to StatCounter, global webpage views on desktop browsers have dropped 13% to 62%. Meanwhile, mobile browser use has grown from 31% to 39%. Unsurprisingly, developing markets such as Nigeria, India, and South Africa are where mobile’s share of web traffic dominates desktop.

These trends aren’t just unfolding in emerging countries, however. This is also occurring among U.S. Hispanics. American companies keen to connect with U.S. Spanish speakers should devote similar attention to ensuring their mobile experiences are localized, and that appropriate resources are dedicated to marketing to this demographic.

On-Site Search & Responsive Design

Offering effective on-site search (OSS) functionality is a best practice for desktop websites, but it’s especially important for mobile experiences. A localized OSS experience that is predictive in anticipating users’ queries—and can account for common in-language misspellings—saves users time, and increases engagement.

Indeed, serving these users quickly may mean the difference between winning and losing a sale.

After Google’s April “mobilegeddon” algorithmic update, companies are more focused than ever on desktop sites with responsive design, and mobile-friendly sites. But as companies increasingly launch localized sites, the question is more important than ever: Should businesses stick with a responsive site, or deploy an exclusively mobile site?

Offering a responsive version of a site has several benefits—namely, companies can use their existing sites, and there’s no need for a separate team (or budget) to be allocated for its maintenance. However, this route becomes difficult when managing a large site, as its complexity may not lend itself well to an optimized responsive experience.

As you localized your company’s site for emerging markets, consider the mobile penetration of those markets. If the mobile web use is quite high, it may not be enough to simply offer a responsive and complementary experience to your main site.

These international users, whose sole interaction with the internet is often via their mobile phones, will interpret a mobile-exclusive site as the only site. In such cases, consider creating a mobile site, to best represent your brand—and to best engage loical customers.

Charles Whiteman is senior vice president of client services at MotionPoint Corporation. 

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